This is G o o g l e's cache of
G o o g l e's cache is the snapshot that we took of the page as we crawled the web.
The page may have changed since that time. Click here for the current page without highlighting.

Google is not affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its content.

The Hindu on : Political parties & people's power

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, May 18, 2001

Front Page | National | Southern States | Other States | State Elections | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Opinion | Previous | Next

Political parties & people's power

By Surendra Mohan

SEVERAL FACTORS have worked together to erode the confidence of the people in our political parties, though they still cherish the democratic polity in the country. That three successive ruling formations, as single parties or as fronts, pursued the same policies in the economic sphere, with greater or lesser speed, in the whole preceding decade certainly made the people wonder how they can be distinguished from one another. This issue becomes even more relevant as some parties oppose these policies when in the Opposition and implement them when in power. Yet another cause for the people's disillusionment with political parties is the corruption at all levels in the administration. Then, there are the usual complaints of the failure of Governments to get the Lokpal Bill enacted for over three decades.

At the same time, the political process has deteriorated in several respects. Elections have become inordinately expensive. Political opportunism of desertion of parties for greener pastures and frequent changes in the composition of alliances is now a settled practice. Grassroots democracy is becoming scarcer in a large number of parties; nomination of office-bearers at lower levels from above appears to have become the rule. There certainly are exceptions, particularly the Left parties; yet, even they have to make serious compromises. On the other hand, mass agitations by political parties have become fewer though the people's grievances have increased enormously. Wherever such agitations are launched, they perform to a set routine, and are, therefore, considered ineffective by the suffering masses.

Under the circumstances, local-level activist groups have started coming to the fore. Groups which have been able to mobilise the people in their areas are action-oriented outfits which have no party affiliations, but in which persons from Gandhian, socialist and marxist streams are to be found in large numbers. Talking with them, it becomes obvious that their disillusionment with their respective parties and groups led them to this non-party activism. Gradually, however, these groups have realised the need to band together to achieve results. The leaders of the activist groups among farmers, even large organisations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union, understood this much earlier and built up strong agitations. The groups which have been concerned with the displacements of tribal communities by big industrial or irrigation-cum-power projects also work together.

During the last few years, activist groups from different fields and working with different communities have created some federal structures. The most well-known is the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) which has brought together the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Fishermen's Federation, the Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha, the Sarva Sewa Sangh, the Adivai Mukti Sangathan and the like.

The Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti in Rajasthan has fought for the people's right for information for the last five years, and under the effective leadership of a former IAS officer, Ms. Aruna Roy, succeeded in pressuring the State Government to grant that right. However, the MKSS found that getting the right meant much more than mere passage of the Act, and that its implementation required a determined struggle on the ground. The effectiveness of its campaign even made the Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh visit the MKSS conference in April.

The campaign on the Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar dams has already achieved international publicity, although it has only brought out the utter insensitivity of the authorities and the highest judiciary to the plight of thousands of families who have been, and are going to be displaced because of it. The indefatigable Ms. Medha Patkar, now joined by Ms. Arundhati Roy, has continued the battle. With them has been Baba Amte, that doyen of the Gandhian constructive workers of modern India, who has been living on the banks of the Narmada in a village which would be one of the first to be submerged. The protest against the Tehri dam, being constructed in a seismic zone, also goes on, and recently saw Mr. Sundarlal Bahuguna go on a fast. The NAPM has been no less active in championing the rights of fishermen.

The struggle for the restoration of civil liberties and human rights brought together several legal luminaries and activist groups, particularly since 1976 when the fight was joined by them to challenge the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency in 1975-77. The People's Union for Civil Liberties and the People's Union for Democratic Rights have been active since 1980, and some other organisations have also sprung up. The most prominent in this field have been Mr. V. M. Tarkunde, who was joined by the late Gobind Mukhoti, Mr. Rajindar Sachar, Mr. A. B. Kannabiran and Mr. Tapan Bose.

Ms. Mahashweta Devi, the eminent Oriya novelist, has concerned herself with the liberation and rehabilitation of the former criminal tribes. Mr. V. R. Krishna Iyer, along with Swami Agnivesh, has taken up the cause of bonded labour and child labour.Lately, the displacement of hutment dwellers in metropolitan cities has galvanised several political leaders and social activists, and the former Prime Minister, Mr. V. P. Singh, has espoused this issue. However, activist groups such as Sanjha Morcha, a non-party formation, have been active in Delhi for long. More recently, the tribal communities have become the targets of the repression in several States, as the new policy is to turn over the forests to the corporate sector.

Police firings in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh and Koil Karo region in Jharkhand have underlined the basic approach of the powers that be. Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the Congress(I) and Jharkhand by the NDA coalition. In the first case, the tribals were accused of stealing wood from forests and in the second case, they were punished for opposing the construction of the dam. The mid-term plan appraisal, 2000, has remarked that during the last 50 years, 25 million people, of whom 40 per cent were tribals, were uprooted for public projects. Although a law of 1996 gave substantial powers of development to the district panchayats in the Scheduled areas and the Supreme Court prohibited mining and other industrial activities, excepting by cooperatives of the tribals themselves in these areas, the exploitation of the tribals has only increased. For, the forests are now considered a commercial resource to be exploited.

Hence, the emerging discontent among the tribals and other forest dwelling communities has thrown up new activist groups. Women are always at the receiving end in social violence. Women's groups are therefore raising their voices in defence of their rights.

Political parties from the BJP to the Congress(I) have kept themselves aloof from the activist groups. These groups also do not trust them. Their apprehension has been that different parties would exploit them for partisan gains, might divide them or swallow them up. The parties sometimes would not agree with the approaches adopted by these groups which are considered exclusivist, or mistrust their sources of funding. Nor would a party trust a group which does not put all its eggs in its basket. The association of some of the activist groups with foreign funding organisations also creates impediments. Moreover, most parties have their mass organisations, which sometimes compete with the activist groups. The latter also react negatively to the performances of the parties whenever they are in power and also the manner in which they make compromises with vested interests.

Under increasing popular pressure, however, prejudices on both sides are being reviewed. In several conferences of the farmers, political parties and activist groups shared a platform. The consequences of various policies related to globalisation have created common bonds among them to jointly mobilise the people for resistance. They should meet regularly. Together, they can discuss positive steps for the future.

Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Section  : Opinion
Previous : Dangerous precedent
Next     : Kalahandi's agony

Front Page | National | Southern States | Other States | State Elections | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Copyrights © 2001 The Hindu &, Inc.

Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu &, Inc.

Copyright © 2001, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Indiaserver is a trademark of, Inc.