Monday, February 12, 2007

Jabberwocky: Singur thoughts
Jabberwocky: Singur thoughts
Samantak Das

IF Singur does not bother you, you can safely avoid reading this piece. What is happening there right now is a matter of considerable concern for substantial numbers of people and I do not intend to add to the debates raging around the acquisition of land, the lies and obfuscations, state repression, police brutality, the claims of the one-lakh-car versus the people’s right to their land, the fairness or otherwise of the compensation paid (or not), and so forth and so on.But it might be possible to consider Singur in the light of some larger changes that have been taking place in India (much of it outside public scrutiny and off the pages of newspapers), which seem to spell a sea change in the way our elected leaders (irrespective of where they are located in the political spectrum) are looking at the single largest occupational group in our country — the unsung and ignored farmers who comprise (by conservative estimates) some 65 per cent of all Indians.First, our netas appear to have come to the conclusion that the only way to ensure the future of our farmers and, by extension, of our production of and security regarding food, is by gradually withdrawing the state and its support from the farm sector. (In witness whereof one can cite the proposed Seeds Act, 2004, and the Draft National Policy for Farmers of April 2006, both of which speak favourably of a reduced role of the state in farming.)Second, the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the state is sought to be filled by the private sector (which includes transnational corporations). The two documents alluded to above both speak of a much increased role of the private sector and “public-private partnership” in increasing the quality and quantity of farm inputs, outputs and incomes derived from agriculture.Third, industrialisation is seen as an unmitigated good to be pursued, even at the cost of food and (perhaps more importantly) water security.Fourth, only lip service is paid to issues of ecologically safe and sustainable practices, especially when it comes to agriculture.Fifth, in all of this, little or no effort is being made to seek the views of those likely to be most directly, and drastically, affected by these proposed changes, namely, the farmers themselves.If all of these changes come into being, as seems very likely to be the case, their net result will be a severe compromising of our national food and water security, an increased dependence on (patented, hence costly) technology, a further impoverishment of farmers and a severe deepening of the rural vs urban, agriculture vs industry, rich vs poor divisions.What is happening in Singur is not only about repressive state machinery swaying to industrial capital’s siren song, nor is it about the future of a “resurgent”, industrialised West Bengal. It is really about the name and nature and future of “development” itself.Singur is not an isolated incident and if, by some quirk (such as the Tatas’ withdrawing their offer), the status quo (prior to land acquisition) were to be restored, things would not revert to “normal”. It is a symptom of a much larger malaise — one which, if left unaddressed, not just by political parties, but by civil society, by ordinary citizens like you and me (who might not have a direct stake in what is happening there), could well spell the end of a way of life we take for granted. The question each one of us needs to ask herself or himself, at this critical juncture of our country’s history, is — which side am I on?

(Samantak Das knows just which side he is on, but isn’t sure it’ll do anyone any good.)