Published on Zmag, by Radha D’Souza, January 04, 2010.
… Democratic Values and ‘Sandwich Theory’
Middle India values democracy, and most will agree that, in principle, democracy demands respect for every man, woman, and child, rich or poor, urban or rural, of any caste or nationality. Respect for all entails crediting all human beings with basic intelligence by virtue of being human. Democracy is based on the belief that all people possess the capacities to determine their destinies. If this is true, then the ‘sandwich theory’ is fundamentally undemocratic.
Most people in middle India today agree that the Adivasis and rural poor have real and legitimate grievances against the economic policies of successive governments. According to the ‘sandwich theorists’ the Maoists exploit their grievances to further their own ends. This precludes the possibility that at least a section of the Adivasis and rural poor may have chosen to go with the Maoists.
The argument denies the Adivasis and the rural poor their agency, their capacities to determine what is and is not good for them, and basic intelligence to decide who they wish to support and why. The attitude implicit in the ‘sandwich theory’ masks the latent authoritarianism that lurks beneath the facade of compassion for the poor. Of course, the Adivasis and the rural poor do not articulate their political choices in the language of scholars from Harvard and Oxford, IIT and JNU, or theories of democratic development, civil society, post-communism or post Marxism, but that is not to say they are passive victims without self-determination. By portraying them as hapless victims of Maoists and the State alike, middle India can avoid engaging with the Adivasis and rural poor as political equals.
The representation of Adivasis and rural poor as voiceless victims is not new, however. It is an idea that has been developed and refined in India at least since independence. The development discourse at the end of the World Wars was about ‘poverty’. It was a crude concept, a rough and ready term. Soon it became apparent that like ‘the invisible hand of the market’, the mysterious ways of development rewarded the few and impoverished the many. As disenchantment with development grew, the ‘poor’ was replaced by a more nuanced, exotic sounding term: the subaltern. The subaltern are untouched by modernity, outside the pale of civil society, innocent, an idea perilously close to the ‘noble savages’ of colonial thinkers. The subalterns are people whose aspirations cannot be understood without being interpreted and represented by middle India. From subaltern to victim is a quick and easy step. As long as the Adivasis and rural poor remain victims, middle India is not required to speak in its own name, about its own interests and aspirations; it is enough to interpret for “them”. How true is the picture that the Adivasis and rural poor are victims caught between the combatants in Operation Green Hunt?
Who Exactly Is ‘Sandwiched’ Here? … //
… Envisioning The Nation Under ‘Globalisation’
Once again, India is in a situation comparable to the early twentieth century. Like Britain in the early twentieth century, the United States which assumed the leadership of imperialist nations after World War II, is economically weak and reliant on militarism it can ill afford. Once again, the loosening grip of imperialist reins offers Indian industrialists and financiers an opportunity to expand their operations. The lure of ten percent growth based on many more nuclear plants, mining corporations, industries, special economic zones, and speculative investments promises them a whole new world, if only they would dare to conquer it. The new world of their dreams requires conquering the Adivasis and the rural poor. Where will they go? What of the social contract? This much is clear even to middle India.
‘Globalisation’ erodes the idea of a nation, however. Indeed it is premised on the idea that nations no longer matter, and if they matter at all, they do so only on the condition that they are homogenised and adapted to the global marketplace. There is no longer an industrial, propertied, elite in India, therefore, that is interested in joining ranks with middle India to renegotiate power with imperialists. Instead all negotiations on power have shifted to the international arena; they will happen henceforth in the UN, the WTO, the G8 summits, and the World Economic Forums. The pesky Adivasis persist with their jal, jangal and jameen. Having accepted the ‘inevitability’ of ‘globalisation’ middle India is left without the conceptual tools to envision a nation, to flesh out self-determination. How should the India of their dreams look like? And what is the ‘down payment’ they are willing to put down (to use the language of WTO trade negotiators) to secure their vision of an India of their dreams?
The UN’s World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 was a turning point. Al Gore the then Vice President of the United States declared at the Summit that aid and development assistance to the Third World would from then on would be channelled through NGOs, and aimed at ‘good governance’. ‘Good governance’ resonanted with ‘responsible government’ of the colonial era. What did Al Gore and the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development ramify for the Adivasis and the rural poor?
The language of discourse changed in India. Indian NGOs and voluntary organisations were awash with funds. More importantly, they were armed with new ideological and conceptual resources developed by international organisations: ideas of ‘empowerment’, ‘democratic development’, ‘good governance’, ‘civil society participation’ and such. In fairness many applied the funds to save the social contract. But the social contract was never about ‘democratic development’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘good governance’. The social contract was about self-determination, equality, redistributive justice, power-sharing and equity, about satyam eva jayate, not transparency.
More NGOs and voluntary organisations, more funding for the non-governmental sector, more ‘empowerment’ and ‘good governance’ programmes did not equate to more representation of the Adivasis and rural poor. If anything it was the opposite. The more funding became available for NGOs and voluntary groups, the more the Maoist influence increased. Yet, there are no social theories, no quantitative or qualitative research methods that can establish any correlation between the two.
The NGOs and voluntary groups took up all the issues that the Adivasis and the rural poor raised: the model of development, traditional water systems, land management, forest conservation, corruption, criminalisation of politics. They balked at one central question: the question of political power. This was the only question that the Maoists took up. Middle India wants the Adivasis and the rural poor to trust their word when they say middle India is with the Adivasis and rural poor. How should the Adivasis and rural poor do this when they are reduced to voiceless subalterns, when they are no longer political subjects with agency? Moreover without a vision of a nation, even many in middle India are not forthcoming with that implicit trust.
Middle India Caught In The Crossfire? … (full long text).