Skip to main content

Probing into Gujarat’s ‘silent’ subalterns

By Rajiv Shah
Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, who has just finished her stint as professor at the Centre for Rural Studies, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, the premier institute which “trains” IAS babus in administrative skills, has come up with a new book – an “ethnographic” account of five major mass movements of Gujarat.
Outcome of her earlier fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Shimla, the book seems unique in two ways: First, even as analyzing the five movements from what she calls “rights-based” perspective, the book does not take any of these on their face value; and secondly, against the backdrop of the so-called Gujarat model of development, they highlight what has been ailing diverse sections of Gujarat society over the last four decades.
Titled “Protest Movements and Citizens’ Rights in Gujarat (1970-2010)” and published by IIAS, the five mass movements the book seeks to analyze are – the Navnirman movement of 1973-74, when led to the overthrow of Chimanbhai Patel ministry in 1974; the two anti-reservation movements of 1981 and 1986; the pro-Narmada dam Ferkuva movement of early 1990s; and the 2009-10 Mahuva movement against the Nirma Cement Plant in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.
The book ends with an Afterword, a chapter on the latest Patidar movement of 2015, where the author seeks to highlight the caste-based “‘rights’ agenda” adopted by the Patels in the context of Gujarat’s “transformative politics and social justice”. She interprets the Patidar movement for reservations – a travesty of the demand to abolish reservation in 1980s – as an expression of the Patels’ perception of losing out in the development race, a “desire for stronger presence in educational sector, which is a gateway to employment in different sectors and immigration abroad.”
Referring to the two anti-reservation movements and the pro-Narmada dam Ferkuva movement, the author says, these were led by “relatively privileged groups” who became “the forerunners in exercising rights”, and succeeded in opening up “debates on citizens’ rights” in such a way that they “subverted the norm of rights, i.e., right to reservations, right to resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R), right to development of the tribal oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.” In fact, what was subverted was “the notion of ‘shared’ resources in terms of educational and employment opportunities, and water resources and other benefits through Sardar Sarovar Dam, respectively”, she says.
The author believes, what also witnessed here was “silence of the subalterns.” Interpreting this silence as the “voicelessness and absence of counteraction or retaliation”, she underlines, “It connotes ‘politics of silence’, which means a process of both silence and silencing – who or which group is silent becomes a unit of analysis along with the process of silence and silencing.” Further: “In philosophy, the silence signifies higher attainment and a positive connotation, while in sociology and political science, silence is analysed structurally. If dissent and resistance makes a democracy vibrant, the civil society responsive, and the citizens interactive; conversely, the silence indicates a lack of space for dialogue, and selective exclusion or segregation or lack of parity.”
Especially referring to the Ferkuva movement, the authors points to how it “spoke of Narmada as a lifeline of Gujarat”, with the result it increasingly became “an act of Gujarati identification with all denominations: religion, sub-sect, class, gender, occupation, regions and simultaneously viewed those who opposed the dam as the radical ‘Other’ of the state.” She controversially remarks, “It also played a catalytic role in consolidating Hindutva in at least two important ways – first, it broke the solidarity of the Left movement by creating an expansive platform around water and development that transcended the secular and non-secular divide. Second, the nativism that arose around the dam was at once secular and amenable to a communal vision given its divisive discursive frame that specified an oppositional ‘Other’.”
The author, however, concedes that, despite their inherent weaknesses, the other two movements – Navnirman and Mahuva – did make some broader impact, as they sought to address some of the more contentious issues facing Gujarat society.
A spontaneous movement which sprang from the aspiration to end “poverty, corruption, inflation and injustice”, Navnirman became the precursor to the India-wide JP movement. She says, the Navnirman movement’s “distinct contributions” include “articulating democratic rights, including civil liberties, right to development, addressing corruption as ethical-political issue.”
Though it did not have “theoretical understanding of societal problems” and talked of “reconstruction in simplistic, uncertain terms”, the author approvingly quotes Manishi Jani, the top Navnirman leader, as saying, “For the first time in history of India, the students of Gujarat entered the Andolan with social commitment, where they felt that we have to perform our duties towards the nation and they participated to curb the corruption…” He adds, students for the first time did not “gossip while standing at the pan shop” but instead discussed “political issues and events and analyzed them as responsible citizens.”
As for the Mahuva movement, says the author, it seemed to bring out “a gamut of issues to the fore with a demand for land for an industrial unit, Nirma Limited’s Gujarat-based detergent company for putting up a cement plant, captive power plant and a coke oven plant.” It ensued a vibrant debate, especially among Saurashtra farmers and beyond, on “the present development paradigm that supports industrial development” and the “consequence of undated land records, which could take away livelihood of large number of citizens”. Led by ex-BJP MLA Kanubhai Kalsaria (now with Aam Aadmi Party), it helped bring together civil society and political groups.
Drawing a parallel with the Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan, the author says, the Mahuva movement sought to give the hope that it would be possible to “win over” through a legal battle, which ultimately turned into its weakness, too. “The Andolan articulated the right to development and the right to participate in decision making and planning regarding desired development in the region”, she notes, adding, it resorted to several “protest programmes like padyatras, submitting of memorandums and advocacy with political leaders”, all of which were “measures of deliberative democracy”. However, she regrets, it relied too much on legal means to fight for justice, raising the question whether “any people-centric achievement is possible in a post-judgement scenario”.
---
This article was first published HERE

Comments

TRENDING

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Letter to friends, mentors: Coming together of class, communal, corona viruses 'scary'

By Prof (Dr) Mansee Bal Bhargava*
COVID greetings from Ahmedabad to dear mentors and friends from around the world…
I hope you are keeping well and taking care of yourself besides caring for the people around you. I’m writing to learn how is the science and the society coping with the prevention and cure of the pandemic. I’m also writing to share the state of the corona virus that is further complicated with the long-standing class and communal viruses.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Case for nationalising India's healthcare system amidst 'strong' private control

Counterview Desk
A draft discussion note, prepared by Dr Maya Valecha, a Gujarat-based gynecologist and activist, sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as also a large number of activists, academics and professionals as an email alert, is all set to create a flutter among policy experts for its strong insistence on nationalizing India’s healthcare system.

Oxfam on WB project: ICT 'ineffective', privatised learning to worsen gender divide

By Rajiv Shah 
A top multinational NGO, with presence in several developed and developing countries, has taken strong exception to the World Bank part-funding Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project in six Indian states – Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha – for its emphasis on information and communication technology (ICT)-enabled approaches for teacher development, student assessment and digital platform for early childhood education.

Coal blocks for tycoons: Rinchi village tribals may be declared forest land encroachers

By Gladson Dungdung*
On June 18, 2020, the Government of India initiated the process for auctioning 41 coal blocks for commercialisation. These coal blocks are located in different states within India and most of them fall under Fifth Schedule areas. The Indian government claims that their decision to auction these coal areas is a big step towards making the country Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant) in the energy sector.