In the current election, campaign, mainstream parties were once
again caught napping on their environmental commitments, spurring a
novel people's protest
AS POLITICAL parties got busy cleaning
and covering up their corrupt records,
or exposing their rivals' misdeeds, grassroots issues were pushed to the back-burner once again during this election.
Undeterred, a few still tried to push for a
An eyecatcher was the colourful
rally by the tribals of western Orissa
demanding marketing rights over
minor forest products. These people's
moves, sometimes, could bring about a
few corrective steps like people's trial of
candidates, introduced by the National
Alliance of People's Movements (NAPm)
. But incidents of the disruption of'
the BJP campaign meeting in Dehradun
and later, manhandling Of BJP leaders by
anti-poll Uttarakhand activists stand as
a testimony.to how incensed people's
mood could be. It even reached a frenzied climax with electoral offices getting
choked with nomination papers from
irrate farmers in Tamil Nadu and
In the Nalgonda and Mirvalugudu
constituencies of Andhra Pradesh, 500-
odd farmers of the Telengana Jalasadra
Samakhiya, have filed nomination
papers in a unique move, Their protest
is against the non-implementation of
the Srikakularn Left Bank Canal and the
Sriramsagar-n irrigation projects, which
featured as issues during the past elections. In Tamil Nadu, protesting the
non-implementation of gin irrigation
projeet, 1,049 candidates initially filed
nomination for Modakurichy assembly.
The most spectacular statement,
however, came from the tribal women
of Rayagada, Orissa, when 5,000 of
them rallied to the district headquarters
On March 29, demanding a commitment from political parties for protecting their marketing rights over minor
forest produces like broom grass and
spices. Similar rallies organised in other
parts of Orissa - Phulwadi, Gajapadi
and Kalahandi - also attracted large
Orissa tribals are upset over the
state-run Tribal Development
Cooperative Corporation's (TDCC) collection of broom grass through corrupt
middlemen at cheap rates. The TDCC
was, originally set up to ensure fair
prices to tribal broom makers. As it outlived its role, local mahila mandals,
(womens' fora) began training the local
women in broom making and then
marketing the product.
Despite erstwhile chief minister
Biju PatnaiVs assurances, the tribals'
independent ventures were quashed by
powerful traders in connivance with the
forest department and the TDCC.
Disgusted, tribal leader Gomti Jhudia of
Kodakini village, Kashipur, says, "We
will not allow candidates to enter our
areas unless they give us written commitments." The villagers are geanng up
to erect barricades following their counterparts' example in Koraput
during last year's Assembly polls.
In neighbouring southern Bihar,
tribals displaced by various development projects - Koel-Karo, Aurnaga,
Piparvar and Kutki dams and Netarhat
Field firing range - have been meeting
political parties for pushing their agenda for tribal'self-rule and community
Says Ghanashyam, coordinator of
Abhiyan, a local organising- group, "We
lost belief in local parties like the
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, as they
started supporting these projects once
they entered the Jharkhand Council."
On the w iestern front too, all was not
quiet. In Ratnagiri, where Enron
remains a live issue, the Konkan Bachao
Sangharsh Samiti - an NAPM ally -
fielded its own candidate. Elsewhere in
Maharashtra, the NAPM is organising a
trident attack on established political
parties by going 'for lok adalat, lok
nivada and lok sankalp (people's court,
opinion-poll and resolution).
The alliance will collect people's
opinion and grill candidates on issues
like habitat, water resources, and environment. A significant casualty could be
the Shiv Sena, whi 'ch promised to rehabilitate 40 lakKUumbai-slum-dwellers
but failed even to moot a relevant action
In Madhya Pradesh, a conglomeration Of NGOs have prepared their own
manifesto and orgapised a rally, in
Bhopalon 'April 13. In south Gujarat's-
Surat, tribal representatives from the
eastern tribal belt met on March 31,
implicitly demanding a separate tribal
state. They are fielding tribal leaders
Chhotubhai Vasawa and Ramanbhai
Chowdhuri as candidates possibly with
political support from the National
Frorit-Left Front combination.
In Madras too, alums have become a
burning issue for grassroots, groups. About 40 'per cent of the 46 lakh Madras' population live in over 2,300 slums. Recently, the Madras Slum People's Organisation led 350 slum- dewllers to releas~a manifesto, including demand for title deeds for the slums.
It has also demanded a judicial enquiry before eviction and relocation of slums. "Or else we will boycott the polls," says an enraged -activist.
Poll boycott threat is becoming a reality in northern India. Such was the fury that in last summer, when Garhwal pin~ forests were burning, local villagers refused to douse the fire calling them "government's forests". When rest of the state went to the panchayat polls five months ago, Uttarakhand was exempted for fear of violence.
Of late, India has bee~ witnessing widespread disenchantment with the prevalent political system bordering subversion, but or:ganised militancy is not in yet. Noted social sctentist Ashish Nandy sees the reason rooted in main- stream political parties' failure to realise grassroots aspirations. He said, " All over the world political parties are like that. The interest is in sustainable cash, not sustainable development.
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