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   Wednesday, January 17, 2018
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Manmohan's policies behind tribal alienation
By Devinder Sharma



It is high time the country gets over its mindless obsession with the economic growth built on criminal exploitation of the tribal resources

Occasionally Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks as if he has rediscovered his old socialist zeal with which he used to serve former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. To add to the confusion, sometimes he openly expresses doubts over success of the liberal economic agenda introduced and propagated by him since 1991. Contrary to his policies, his words display empathy and concern for the poor and marginalised. Recently, amidst rising Maoist activity and security forces' mobilisation to curb their spread, Prime Minister acknowledged that there had been a 'systemic failure' in ensuring the progress of tribals. "We've failed tribals, want to rectify that", he said.

His address during a conference of chief ministers and tribal affairs ministers in New Delhi, on November 4 was not the first time the Prime Minister made such statements or come out in the open acknowledging the faults that prevails in the official system. Remember once he talked about crony capitalism, and then on one occasion he had expressed his disagreement with the massive pay packages of corporate and business heads at a time when the country was faced with hunger, poverty and growing unemployment.

"The alienation built over the decades is taking a dangerous turn," said Mr Singh. "There has been a systemic failure in giving tribals a stake in modern economic processes. The systematic exploitation of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated."

Very powerful words indeed! Coming from the Prime Minister himself it gives the nation an impression that man at the top is after all humane, and is willing to set the house in order. It looks as if the apathy and crime that the civilised India, and that includes the Corporate India, or call it modern India, has been inflicting on the tribals will come to an end. But don't forget, it is often said that if dreams were horses, beggars would ride.

I remember soon after he had taken over as Prime Minister for the first time, Manmohan Singh had in one of his speeches said that there were 161 districts which were inflicted with Maoism. Today, nearly a third of India, close to 235 districts, is faced with Maoist violence. The people who support Maoists have picked up the gun, not because they are trigger-happy, but because of the decades of oppression and suppression that they have been subjected to. What do you expect when someone is driven to the wall, and that too for ages.

The ruthless exploitation of the simple folks in the tribal areas has gone on for generations. They can't go on chanting bhajans and hope that the Government would listen to them. Picking up the gun comes as a last resort, and we must accept that it is because of our failure as a society that the tribals are on a warpath. No amount of fire-fighting or sending the army to fight the tribals mobilised under the Maoists is going to be helpful, the Prime Minister must know this.       The ruthless exploitation of the simple folks in the tribal areas has gone on for generations. They can't go on chanting bhajans and hope that the Government would listen to them.

I agree that "no sustained activity is possible under the shadow of the gun," as the Prime Minister stated the other day. But no 'sustained activity" is possible when the government on the one hand is busy facilitating the process of continued exploitation of the tribal lands, and at the same time bringing in economic policies that displaces the tribals and forces them to sell their daughters and wives as a last resort to survive the State onslaught.

Mr Prime Minister, let us first acknowledge that it is your own economic policies that are alienating the tribals. The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) for instance that your government is aggressively pushing, the massive land acquisitions that your government is again thriving on, the usurping of the traditional rights of the tribal communities and above all the systematic destruction of sustainable agriculture all over the country, are primarily responsible for growing violence.

A Planning Commission report had very clearly brought out that roughly 360 districts in India (out of the 600-odd) are faced with one kind of strife or the other. If you leave aside communal violence, much of the fault rests with the Planning Commission itself for perpetuating policies that have acerbated the crisis, by alienating the people from their natural resources, by taking away their right of life.       The Special Economic Zones, the massive land acquisitions, the usurping of the traditional rights of the tribal communities and above all the systematic destruction of sustainable agriculture are primarily responsible for growing violence.

We all know that the tribal lands are rich in natural resources, including forests, minerals and diamonds. We know that the economic growth the country talks about is actually built on criminal exploitation of these tribal resources. You call it growth economics, I call it violent economics. Violence not only in the form of the gun culture that prevails now, but includes the global economic crisis which also is the outcome of this violent economics. The climate change the world is faced with is also the result of the flawed economic thinking, another form of violence that has brought the world closer to a tripping point.

And then you say that "Nor have those who claim to speak for tribals offered an alternate economic or social path that is viable." This is not true, Mr Prime Minister. The fact is that you actually do not want to see any reasoning in what those who speak for tribals are trying to say. There are ample suggestions being put forward. If not, you can spend some time visiting the tribal leaders, setting an example by leading from the front.

The reality is that it is only you who is not keen to listen to these voices of reasoning.

Please tell the nation when was the last time you sat with them to find out the reasons behind the cult violence in the tribal lands. When was it that your government (or the State governments) have even thought of putting together a 'sustained activity' to restore the pride of the tribals. Your only interest is to see how the Corporates make more profits, because that is what will add to GDP, your sole rating criteria. You have your self said once that SEZ is an idea whose time has come. And how many of these SEZ are coming up in the tribal lands, will you please tell the nation.

There are enough reasons to get more worried. Privatisation of natural resources, including water, destruction of the sustainable farming practices, and the policies that are meant to push farmers out of agriculture, the population shift that your government is contemplating, will add on to the existing crisis. It will lead to a still more 'dangerous turn'.

You will therefore agree Mr Prime Minister, every great leader must find some time to introspect, to see where he/she is going wrong. It is high time you re-discover the human side of Manmohan Singh, and then initiate policies and actions that can make that historical correction that you often talk about but never meant it. I am sure you can do it. You have the ability, and the capability. Do it, Mr Prime Minister, and this nation will remain eternally grateful to you.

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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