Who will keep India democratic?

Who will determine the course of India's democracy: a corrupt corporate state or social movements?

    India's economy has been growing quickly, but activists say democracy is suffering because prosperity is being hoarded by a small group of corrupt elites [EPA]

    2010 was the year of scams in India – the 2G telecom swindle, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh and plenty of others.

    2011 has emerged as the year of the fight against corruption – with Anna Hazare's fast for anti-corruption legislation known as the Jan Lokpal Bill and yoga guru Baba Ramdev's fast to bring back black-money stashed away in foreign banks.

    The police crackdown on Baba Ramdev's popular protest was yet another signal of the undemocratic tendency of the government to crush social movements and social protests. At the same time when Ramdev's Satyagraha or soul force protest was attacked in New Delhi, 20 battalions of police were being used to crush the anti-POSCO [Pohang Iron and Steel Company] movement in Orissa, as well as to destroy the betel and vine gardens which are the basis of people's prosperous living economy that brings the small farmers Rs. 400,000 ($8,900 US) per acre.

    Violence and the use of force has become the norm for the government's dealing with people's protests.

    In a democracy, which is supposed to be by the people, of the people, and for the people, protests and movements are supposed to act as signals of what people want or do not want. Listening to people is the democratic duty of governments.

    Corporate power

    When governments fail to listen and use force against peoples' peaceful movements, they become undemocratic, they become dictatorships. In addition, when governments, who are supposed to represent the peoples' will and interest in a representative democracy, start to represent the will and interest of corporations and big business, government mutates from being of the people, by the people and for the people to becoming of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

    The state is becoming a corporate state. And this mutation transforms democracy into fascism. Neo-liberal economic policies have political fallout in terms of inducing this mutation of government from being a democratic representative of peoples' interests to being an undemocratic representative of corporate interests. Not only is neo-liberalism leading to the privatisation of seeds, land, water and biodiversity, health and education, power and transport, it is leading to the privatisation of government itself. And a privatised corporate state starts to see people fighting for the public good and economic democracy as a threat.

    It is in this context that we need to read the repeated statements of government ministers that peoples' protests and social movements are a threat to democracy. Social movements are raising issues about economic justice and economic democracy. Corruption is a symptom of the deepening trends of economic injustice and the undermining of economic democracy. We need to connect the dots between the diverse social movements of tribals and farmers fighting to defend their land and natural resources, the movements of workers fighting to defend jobs and livelihoods, and the new anti-corruption movements whose faces are Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev.

    Corruption is the unjust, illegal and private appropriation of public resources and public wealth, be it natural wealth, public goods and services, or financial wealth. The ecology movements, and the tribal and farmers' movements, are fighting against the corruption involved in the massive resource and land grabs taking place across the country for the mining of bauxite, coal and iron ore. The ore is to be used for mega steel plants and power plants, for super highways and luxury townships.

    Farmers fighting the land grab along the Yamuna Expressway were killed on May 7. While they received a mere Rs. 300 ($7) per square meter for their land, the developers who grab the land in partnership with the government by using the 1894 colonial land acquisition law sell it for Rs. 600,000 ($13,300) per square meter. 

    This is corporate corruption. 

    I recently received a SMS advertisement:

    Lush Green Farm Houses in Noida Express way
    *10 minutes from South Delhi
    *Clubs, Swimming Pool, Cricket Stadium
    *Government Electricity and Roads

    Farm houses of farmers are burnt and destroyed to create "farm houses" for the rich. Farms are destroyed to create Formula 1 race tracks and swimming pools for the elite. This obscene, violent, unjust land grab is the cruelest face of corruption in today's India.


    The privatisation of our seed, our food, our water, our health, our education, our electricity and mobility is another facet of corporate corruption. In the case of the privatisation of seed, farmers are paying with their very lives. Seed costs rise and farmers are trapped in debt. Farmers' suicides need to be seen as part of the web of privatisation as corruption. The government of Maharashtra state has signed deals with Monsanto to hand over seed, the genetic wealth of farmers' research, and the knowledge wealth of society to a seed multi national corporation. This is corporate corruption. The Government of India wants to totally dismantle the public distribution system to benefit agribusiness and corporate retail. Corporate corruption is undermining the right to food.

    The appropriation of public and national wealth through bribes and black money is the third facet of corruption.

    When all their streams of the fight for economic justice and economic democracy join as one, we will have a strong and vibrant movement for defending and deepening democracy. Social movements are the life blood of democracy.

    The government will, of course, try its best to crush democracy in order to protect the powerful economic interests it represents.

    The two faces of government who most frequently make statements about social movements subverting democracy are Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram, both of whom have represented corporations against the public interest in their legal careers. They carry these corporate loyalties into their political careers. They will do their very best to use every undemocratic means to crush movements for democracy and justice. Operation green hunt in tribal areas, and the midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev's Satyagraha are just two examples of the use of violence to protect corrupt corporate interests.

    The corrupt militarised, totalitarian power of the corporate state is not democracy.

    Peoples' vibrant movements fighting the concentration of economic and political power and the corrupt means used for concentration of that power, are at the very heart of democracy.

    It is people and social movements who have kept, and will keep, democracy alive in India.

    Dr Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers' rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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