The Churning In Gujarat

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A larger debate about what constitutes development looms

Tridip Suhrud 
Social Scientist, Ahmedabad

 

Photo: Vijay Pandey

STOP SELLING Gujarat.” This rebuke from Justice SJ Mukhopadhyaya, Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court, to the Advocate General in a PIL filed on behalf of the farmers of Mahuva region against the government’s decision to grant land to Nirma Industries for a cement plant, and the court’s decision to stay the construction of the plant, marks a departure in the discourse on development in Gujarat. The cement plant, admittedly situated on a water body, would have destroyed agriculture in the surrounding villages.

The agitation led by sitting BJP MLA Kanu Kalsariya and the court ruling pose the most serious challenge to Gujarat’s idea of development in the last two decades. Earlier, the movement against the construction of the dam at Narmada raised fundamental issues of development and ecology and helped create an ethical-legal framework of right of rehabilitation. But since then, there has been a broad political and social consensus in Gujarat as to what constitutes ‘development’. In this model, development equals industrialisation led by corporate capital. Agriculture, especially by the small and marginal farmers, was rendered obsolete. It was assumed that the state had an absolute right over all natural resources and could acquire them for “public good”, which was interpreted to include land acquisition for private corporates.

Both the BJP and the Congress share large contours of this process. The entrepreneurial capital of Gujarat is an equal partner and a large beneficiary of this consensus, which it has helped foster. This consensus is best exemplified by the debates on the Narmada dam and the widespread acceptance of genetically modified seeds in cotton cultivation. Middle-class Gujarat remains unwilling and intolerant of any dissenting imaginations that question the larger notion of development. This has allowed for a massive privatisation of ports, creation of industrial complexes and the new SEZs without sustained and significant opposition. The consensus on this model is deep. The Congress in Gujarat does not challenge this, as it would have been seen as a violation of the very idea of Gujarat, vibrant or otherwise.

This developmental process was coupled with the weakening of the cooperative movement in Gujarat. The cooperative movement provided a ground from which interventions in the local or regional political processes became feasible. The cooperatives provided twin models of opportunity. One, it became the source of transfer of technology and economic prosperity. Two, it was a process of empowerment as it created ground for social and political mobilisation. The erosion of this movement further marginalised the small farmer, as also the tribal, and made political mobilisation on issues of natural resources ever more difficult.

A large part of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal among Gujarati society derives from this consensus he has stren – gthened. In fact, he has come to symbolise that — as evident from corporate India’s endorsement of his style of governance.

The High Court ruling is the most serious challenge to Gujarat’s idea of development in the last two decades

The ongoing agitation of the farmers, and a growing movement that believes local bodies must be the final arbiters on natural resources, has introduced a new dimension to local politics. It is a movement local in its origin, led by local leaders who are ready to challenge the official party line. It is not possible to invoke the politically charged idea of the “enemies of Gujarat”. This agitation and the court’s intervention will create a possibility of a larger debate about what constitutes development and notions of obsolescence that it carries with it.

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