Dialogue  April-June, 2006, Volume 7  No. 4

The System against the people —A Revolt by the Disinherited

Dr. B. D. Sharma

The total surrender of man before the powerful System is on the cards at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, the irony is that the people everywhere are bewitched by the achievements of that System. Some are busy in harvesting the gains; others are busy in equipping themselves for better participation and greater luck; and even those who are not so fortunate as to be in either category are not only hopeful but even confident about the turn of tide in their favour as the bright images of tantalising future are inundating even their dingy hovels called homes day and night with no break of any sort. The biggest challenge in the current phase of human history is how to make the people realise that there is a real challenge, which the human society is facing today, and enable them to have realistic appreciation about its nature.

The perception about “what is at stake?” is basic. Because the answer to this question would depend on what the people consider as the goal of their very being and the purpose in life. Broadly, there are three possible ways of looking at the prevailing situation including the System, which are mutually dependent. The first possible perspective is that the System in its ideal form is a product of the totality of social and economic forces, given the biological and physical parameters of human existence, spanning the entire history of mankind in all its diversity. It has to be accepted as a “given” boundary condition for the people as actors to play. The undesirable elements of the current situation “if any” in this frame have to be traced to the dissonance of the System as it exists from the ideal which is ordained by the totality of complex processes referred to above. The search for malfunctioning in concrete terms could lead to certain concrete issues like distribution, which may have been intentionally distorted by vested interests. Even the most ardent supporter of leisseiz faire cannot deny that there is no reason why every one in the world should not have sufficient for physical survival at a level accepted as minimal by consensus. All other element including the differential in rewards can fall in line, being accepted as necessary condition of the System for its smooth normal functioning.

The second possible perspective can be that the System with the sordid history of ruthless imperialism and ravenous capitalism is itself iniquitous and anti-people. It sustains on plunder and by its very design is expected to serve the handful who can maneuver to command it. The neo-imperialist capitalist frame is just a refined version of the earlier mould. Naked physical force has been replaced by subtle market and monetary operations and manipulations. Accordingly, the issue is not limited to specifics like iniquitous distribution, but concerns iniquitous System itself, which needs to be restructured. What is at stake is the legitimacy of the System itself.

The third possible perspective goes beyond the mere design of the System and questions the premises on which the System is built. After all, the structure of a System depends on the basis premises of its design. This search leads us to the question “What is development?” The current paradigm almost literally equates development with the production and consumption of physical goods and services. This paradigm, in its turn, is a product of the social and economic situation in those nation-states, which had the privilege of defining the same. Can we accept the current paradigm of imperial vintage as universal and eternal?

That the concept about development has been changing is borne out from the history of mankind. That the state of knowledge, technology, physical, biological and social parameters have influenced the concept cannot be disputed. But there is something beyond all these outer conditions ingrained in man as human values and purpose in life, which also have vitally influenced that concept. To what extent those elements in the present System, which may be considered as undesirable, are relatable to it’s malfunctioning or to its iniquitous structure or whether they are rooted in the very paradigm of development will have to be examined in detail.

That the System is perfect; the dissonance between the ideal and the real is responsible for all ills plaguing the World; therefore, let us work together towards that ideal, can be the only stand of victors in the game of life. This premise not only legitimises their position but, what is more important, makes for its enduring stability with continuous renewal of hope even amongst the vanquished at every gesture of good will, real or otherwise, in their favour. The minimal condition for a System- global, national, regional or local-to qualify as equitous even to the first order, let alone ideal, is that it must have sufficient scope, within the realm of reasonable realisation, for accommodating all people, the entire human kind in the global context, as participants in meaningful activities with dignity behooving the man.

The dominant System all set for global hegemony is a product of the capitalistic logic under Imperialist umbrella. This System was obviously concerned with the problems and prospects of the people in the Imperial nation-states. The colonies were taken by this System as extensive resource-reserves of raw materials and labour. These reserves could be drawn upon by master-nations in accordance with the rules of game formulated by them as per their perception, about their respective possessions. The scope of this frame was very wide from genocidal expropriation at the one end to mutually beneficial exchange on the other. Nevertheless, there was one minimal common theme in this entire frame. The requirements of the System were the first charge, which had to be met as per the conditions of the System. The people in the colonies were inconsequential. They were expected to manage within the residual. The formal ‘liquidation’ of Imperialist order has not made much of a difference for the erstwhile Imperial countries. The earlier process is continuing with only a change in the outer form of their relations with colonial possessions. The situation in the erstwhile colonies, however, has drastically changed. A dualistic economic System, with well-known character of internal colonialism, is getting consolidated. For example, there is veritable population explosion in India, but the command over resource of the people subsisting on them is fading out like the grin of Cheshire cat. The ruling elite, on the other side, is consolidating its hold on the same in the name of state, public sector bodies of countless brands, private parties and enterprises under the growing influence of money, market and corporate devices. The co-option of this group and selective incorporation of the organised sector in the world economy, in the name of globalisation and contrived rules of game paraded as free-market, would make for the complete sway of the neo-imperialist forces and establishment of a Grand Global System under the command and direction of select Board Rooms to the exclusion of Cabinet, the archaic institution of gone by era.

The transformation, which is taking place in the developing countries, under the insidious dictat of the global forces aided by hidden persuaders, is ostensibly in accordance with the rules of game incorporated in a formal frame. This frame is ironically authenticated by the concerned authorities in the name of the people themselves. The objective is simple development. Once a frame is accepted, its consequences have to be taken in their stride. It is within this frame of reference that all questions about the nature of the System have to be answered.

If we accept that the System as a “given” of the global scene and every thing is for the welfare of the people, what needs to be probed is the matrix of transformation adopted by each nation in the national interest and its operation. It is in this frame of mind that there is a call for giving human face to the process of development, or humane operationalisation of the matrix of change. But a closer examination shows that the situation is not that simple. The new System is incapable of accommodating all the people of the developing countries, which are coming under its hegemony. Indian economy, which has been largely following the West, notwithstanding the valiant efforts to guide its course through planning, has already entered the phase of ‘jobless growth’. The issue, therefore, cannot be deemed to concern merely the rules of game during the impending transformation or their operation. The focus of our discussion must shift to the structure of the System itself.

The System is inexorably moving towards total centralisation of power, perhaps the ultimate form of capital-labour dichotomy. All the people on this globe will have nothing, which they could claim as their own except perhaps their own labour. And even that labour would be redundant. There can be no real claims of the people in such a System unless it can be said that the System is a creation of the people’s will and is at their command. This is not the case now as the Boards, not Cabinets, are commanding the System. The people can have only doles, possibly with some attractive packages to remove its sting. But such a System cannot be accepted as satisfying the minimal conditions for qualifying as an equitous System set out earlier even in the limited context of the developed countries, the location of the power base of the global giants. Some rumblings are already there against this possible destiny, distant though, as the shadow of that future is becoming discernible. The System is responding with palliatives so far, as the shock still can be absorbed by the ‘other world’, deeply divided within itself.

What will be the final shape of things to come cannot be predicted and need not unduly engage us at this stage. There is no law of history beyond the ambit of conscious human intervention. But the System, as it is with all its weak and strong points, is relentlessly moving towards a dualistic structure of the Victors and the Vanquished. The former are acquiring total command of the global resources. The battered economies of the third world countries are facing the final collapse with a small section in each of them getting globalised with the role of agents of the neo-Imperialist Capitalist forces.

The real question, therefore, is the validity of the dualistic structure and not the rules of game of that phase transformation. This dualistic structure is inequities, ex hypothesis, as the command over resources and control of other means of production would vest in one set of people while the multitude, particularly in the developing countries, will have to fend for itself with no claims for meaningful participation in that System. Any question of dignity in such a setting would be a far cry. Therefore, there is no point in quibbling about the way the System is functioning. The challenge, which the people are facing, is inherent in the structure of the System, which must be attacked straight and direct.

The Disinherited Revolt

It is clear that the victors comprising the ‘top-ten’ in our country, who commandeer 55% of G.N.P. will not question the dualistic system in which they are all set to consolidate their position for good. To expect that they may question that paradigm of development that has given them the hope of partnership, or at least some stake, be it as a dalal or even as retinue of the new lords, in the global loot and affluence is a far cry. The way the colonial frame has been continued and reinforced without even alluding to the nature of inequity, taking advantage of the trust, which the unsuspecting people have placed on their own kin, whom they considered as enlightened, is the most shameless act of any group in history. The ignoble surrender of the nation before global powers, largely prompted by the self-interest of this group, expose its fiendish character. Those who are aspiring to join this group, therefore, cannot question either the System or the paradigm of development. The way the vital question about the polity, the economy or even the basic human rights, which we will presently discuss, have been ignored by our elite is a proof of total lack of sensitivity towards the interests or even the ignoble condition of the disinherited who largely comprise the rural folks and the unorganised workers.

 The tribal people are the worst victims of this paradigm shift. It is a tragedy that with the adoption of Indian Constitution after independence, the living system of self-governance amongst the tribal people was totally ignored except in the North East. The general legal frame of colonial vintage was extended to these areas in routine. It resulted in the eclipse of their natural right of self-governance and ‘criminalisation’ of entire communities. In the face of State’s claim of eminent domain, the community also lost its natural right over livelihood resources. This paradigm transformation has been at the root of the continuing confrontation between the disinherited tribal people and the omnipotent State even after independence. It was so notwithstanding the formal, at times even sincere declarations about enabling the tribal people to develop according to their own genius. The situation has become explosive in the wake of unprecedented attack of the neo-Imperialist Capitalist Global Combine under the garb of liberalisation and globalisation. The first attack of the Combine is on the resource-rich tribal areas with the clear objective of capturing the same.

The tribal people have been resisting this super-imposition of the exotic System as also the associated undermining of their traditional command over their habitat. It is a pity that neither the problem-resolving approach of the State nor the anti-state violent reaction has accommodated the tribal’s perception and aspirations of self-governance. The basic reasons for the confrontation, therefore, have remained untouched. But the Gandhian paradigm of non-centralised polity, which has been forgotten after independence, questions the authority of the State without negating the State in its totality. It fully accommodates the tribal aspirations for self-governance within, however, the overall nation-state frame of a different texture. The nascent struggle for self-governance in the tribal areas around the central theme of ‘Hamare Gaon Main Hamara Raj’ or ‘gram-swaraj’ gives expression to the people’s deep-seated aspirations, which are rooted in the reality of their small face-to-face communities, and the extensive habitats, which sustain them. This formulation may appear to be radical, may be dubbed as archaic, or even anarchic, depending on the ruler’s perception of the situation. But it is in consonance with the basic tenets of self-governance at the village level enshrined in the Constitution under article 40 which has been ignored, distorted and even despised by the vested interests.

The assertion of natural rights over natural resources and self-governance questions the centralised polity, which is an important feature of the Constitution itself. This dissonance between the premise of self-governance at the village level and the structure of the rest of the Constitution was noted, nay passionately debated, by the Constituent Assembly itself. The contradiction was allowed to continue with the hope that the institutional frame will be gradually adapted to this basic provision, without which the common man would not have been able to recognise the Constitution as his own. Great Faith was also evinced in the inherent strength of Indian people in that prophetic statement that ‘Constitutions are not only made, they also grow’.

This movement of village self-governance in the tribal areas has the potential of graduating in to a pan-Indian people’s movement, which may force the ruling elite for a basic structural transformation. The most distinguishing feature and the real source of strength of this movement is that it not only gives expression to the people’s aspirations in terms of an idiom which the people understand, about which the people can deliberate, which the people can guide and whose theme is the experienced reality of every citizen.

The scope of self-governance struggle in the tribal areas is amenable to gradual enlargement with the growing consciousness about basic issues concerning the structure of the System and the paradigm of development. There are some other issue-based specific struggles as well, which have a similar potential. That the resources on which people subsist for their living cannot be deemed to be property, that the people have an inherent natural right over the same as a means of livelihood which is superior to the state’s claim are two key formulations which are also in consonance with the Indian tradition in this regard. This stand of the people also blunts the edge of capitalistic onslaught as it has the effect of making the natural resources- land, water and forest- out of bounds for the market-forces. The issue is no doubt very complex, as individual ownership of land and the idea of land as property have struck deep roots in our country. But in the face of near catastrophe, which the common man in the village is facing, the idea is appealing and may become generally acceptable. It is already so in the tribal areas when the stakes are high and land as property is a nascent concept.

The idea of inalienable right of the people to use resources for their livelihood, the questioning of displacement for development which essentially means alternative use of resources, the right of self-governance, which losses much of its significance without effective command over the habitat, as also the concerns about environmental fall out of modern industry, have led to the questioning of the present concept of ownership of industry which generally goes with the contribution to its capital base. This practice goes against the Constitutional provision under Article 39 which enjoins on the State the responsibility to ensure that the community resources are so used as to sub serve the common good and there is no concentration of wealth and economic power. Moreover, it is now asserted that the command or the ownership of the community is non-negotiable and they are not money-convertible either. Accordingly any right in an area can at best be relatable to the alternative use of resources since no resource in a country like ours is unencumbered. The new formulation advanced by the people envisages community ownership over industry in which the person with capital can assume, at best, the role of a manager. The proposed frame with about seventy per-cent non-capital share holding (fifty percent of the community in the lieu of the goodwill and permission for the use of resources, ten percent of the farmers whose lands are taken and ten percent of the labourers in lieu of their respective contribution) will tame the process of structural transformation. It has the potential of a new alignment of forces with the community, the farmers and the workers on one side with the lone capitalist on the other. It will be in sharp contrast with the present situation in which the community and the farmers are hapless witnesses to the devastation of their economy in the name of development as the capitalist and the workers fight for the booty amongst themselves. The state in this horrid game does not even play the role of a referee but becomes an instrument of imperialist capitalist assault.

Even the people’s assertion, notwithstanding its potential discussed above, is nascent and cannot be said to comprise a frontal attack on the paradigm of development. There is a lot of ambivalence at almost all levels from individual to the community, on to the state and national scene. What can be claimed in its favour is that it hits at the root of the System and the Paradigm. It is possible that the assertion may prove to the precursor of the ‘turning of tide’ and a revolt of the human spirit against the State and the Market, along with all their formal linkages and institutions. It may herald the establishment of a new social order with community and family as basic units. It may pave the way for a new process of development, which is imbued with the ideals enshrined in the Constitution, and is dedicated to the enrichment of the cultural life of the people and realisation of the full potential of every person unrelated to money and market.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati