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Economics That Causes Militancy: W(h)ither The Republic?

By S.G.Vombatkere

28 June, 2010

India is in thrall to economic growth, which is measured by increase of GDP. Money spent on weapons and ammunition for police and military gets added to GDP. Thus, beyond the ever-present problem of budgetting for government expenditure, the finance ministry has no problem with expenditure, whether on welfare, combatting armed militants or some other account. Basically, money spent adds to GDP.

The investment to establish an industry means increase in GDP. Big spenders contribute more to GDP. But adivasi people live very simply. They produce little that is sold in markets, and purchase little from markets; they hardly contribute to GDP. Thus establishing industry on adivasi land – replacing a low-GDP activity with a high-GDP one – is good for economic growth. The problems of displaced adivasis becomes the responsibility of some other ministry; displacement is externalized. When adivasi people resist take-over of their land, police are deployed and GDP rises! When some adivasis organize armed resistance like Birsa Munda did in British times, police operations are up-scaled and it becomes merely a problem of budgetting and fund allocation.

Adivasis and land

Historically, zamindars, landlords and moneylenders, joined after Independence by forest, revenue and police officials, have exploited adivasis. More recently, exploitation has assumed corporate dimensions. Many prime deposits of key minerals needed by industries are in the forest lands of central India where adivasis live. Multi-national corporations (MNCs) demand huge tracts of land for mines and mega-industries, which will boost India's economic growth. Governments vie with one another to attract MNCs and sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with them. The Orissa government has signed at least 52 MoUs for steel industries and mining, and Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh governments are known to have secretly signed hundreds.

Land is a primary economic asset for MNCs. Unfortunately the same land is also a primary economic asset for adivasis for their physical, social and cultural survival. This is the primary conflict of interests. Adivasi land is being acquired even though the law mandates that it cannot be purchased by non-adivasis. The law is circumvented to acquire adivasis' village and forest lands through benami deals to which governments turn a blind eye, or by governments de-notifying the entire adivasi community living on the land, or flagrantly violating the Panchayat (Extension) to Schedule Areas (PESA) and the Forest Rights Acts.

MoUs bind governments to provide MNCs with land. Thus adivasi villages and huge tracts of forest need to be vacated. Notwithstanding government promises, most adivasis do not want to leave their villages and way of life because they know the experience of adivasis who were induced or forced to vacate. Adivasis who refuse to vacate become an obstacle not only to fulfilment of MoUs, but also to national economic growth and development. This provides justification for governments to use force to evict adivasis who stand in the way of India's rise as an economic power. Their resistance inevitably leads to violence, which escalates as government uses police force to evict them. Whether the protesters or the police start the physical violence, the first cause is economic violence initiated by government. Some adivasis form or join already formed resistance groups committed to armed militancy.

Armed militants ambushing or attacking State power is bad news concerning everyone. But neglecting first causes and suppressing the symptoms by up-scaling police action (like Operation Green Hunt) only enlarges the circle of innocent adivasi people caught in the crossfire and paying with their lives and livelihoods. The nation as a whole loses.

A committee set up by the Planning Commission of India (2006), ascribed people’s discontent and growing militancy to failure of governance, and a direct relationship between extremism and poverty. Maoist militancy is only found among poor people, and almost all adivasi people are poor and have suffered displacement or exploitation over many decades. This, combined with neglect and more recently active oppression by governments, has brought India to a crossroads.

MNCs influence government officials by corruption, threats or blackmail to violate laws or look the other way when violated, or circumvent rules to acquire land. The poor pay with their lives and livelihoods due to the myopic development paradigm of economic-growth-at-any-cost. Corporates and others who suffer no loss, reap huge benefits. Historical accumulated injustices, exploitation and neglect have caused serious discontent among adivasis who have ceased to trust the State and its agencies. Growing Maoist power is the terrible symptom of mal-governance and abdicating power to MNCs. Not addressing the fundamental causes of militancy will have irreversible negative consequences for the Republic of India.

Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi, in 1996 after 35 years in the Indian Army with combat, staff and technical experience. He holds a PhD degree in Structural Dynamics from I.I.T., Madras, and the President of India awarded him Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered in Ladakh. Since retirement, he is engaged in voluntary work with Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He coordinates and lectures a Course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for undergraduate students of University of Iowa, USA, and two universities of Canada, who spend a semester at Mysore as part of their Studies Abroad in South India. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA. E-mail:sg9kere@live.com