DNA India, Sunday, December 31, 2006 23:59 IST
If we wish to look for signs of change in the new year, we must look beyond the political establishment and its equally established opposition
Welcome to Hoshangabad for a peep into the political possibilities of 2007. From November 22 to December 22 of the year gone by, the Kisan Adivasi Sangathan and Samajwadi Janparishad carried out a unique sadbudhi satyagraha in this advasi belt of Madhya Pradesh. Every morning some adivasi families would come to the district headquarter, take a dip in the holy Narmada, garland the Gandhi statue and pray that their own democratically-elected leaders come to their senses. No demonstration, no slogan shouting, no demands, no memorandum, just a plain and simple prayer: get sane soon.
What made this political Gandhigiri unusual was that it was practiced not by a bunch of middle-class Munnabhai clones but by a group of adivasis whose families have over the last few decades experienced multiple displacements ---- for a dam, a proof range and a tiger reserve. Undaunted, these adivasis have won the right to fish in the reservoir created by drowning their land and have created an extra-ordinary fish co-operative. They want their co-operative to be granted an extension and for those living in villages inside forests to have right to live a normal life.
No, it is not the story of transformation of the heart of the Lovely Singhs who lord over the forests and tribes. Year 2007 is not going to be a simple Fair and Lovely story. Last heard, the district administration had declared these non-violent satyagrahis as Naxalites and had demanded extra security force to deal with them! Over the last decade both the Congress and the BJP have taken turns to attack this movement.
Needless to say leaders of these big parties were nowhere to be seen in this satyagraha. Congress is waiting for people to get fed up of the BJP so that the electorate can kick it into power next time. Hoshangabad allows us to put in perspective the mainstream politics and its limited possibilities. It forces us to confront the meaninglessness of happenings we have come to associate with what we call political news. It invites us to look beyond the monotony of party politics and the news coverage around it. Sadbudhi satyagraha enables us to look for fresh possibilities of alternative politics in the new year.
A year with four major elections ---- Presidential elections besides three rounds of assembly elections involving Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttaranchal and Manipur, all scheduled for 2007 ----- cannot but be eventful in this age of 24-hour news coverage. But it is unlikely that any amount of electoral oscillation this year will change the nature of political choices for the people; some new faces are bound to replace old ones, but it is unlikely that the face of politics will change very much. Whatever the outcome of these elections, the UPA government is not going to face a serious challenge.
After coming to power without popular mandate in 2004, the Congress has gained in popularity and recovered some of the social constituency it lost in the 1990s. This trend may not see much change this year: none of the states would be seen as a 'bell weather' states. Uttar Pradesh election might show some general trend, but neither the Congress nor the BJP has much to gain or lose in this election. The BJP is not in any serious danger of losing its position in national politics, notwithstanding its current leadership crisis. It would take a routine alternation in Punjab or Uttaranchal for the leadership to regain its sense of purpose. A possible victory for the BJP in Gujarat can make media sing different tunes.
If the two big parties are not going to undergo or bring about a change this year, can we look to other parties for signs of political change? Here too, we should be surprised if the trend of the post-Mandal politics is reversed. These years have seen an expansion of the third space in politics and at the same time shrinking of the parties representing the third force in politics. A surface reading of political competition in UP might suggest otherwise, for this election will be fought mainly between SP and BSP.
But neither the current favourite BSP nor the Samajwadi Party holds much hope for the cause it ostensibly represents. With the Janata Dal as good as dead, the leadership of the third force is likely to fall on to the already aching shoulders of the CPM, a party unable to negotiate between its revolutionary rhetoric and pragmatic politics, between radical postures in Delhi and establishment face in the states where it rules.
If we wish to look for signs of change in the new year, we must look beyond the political establishment and its equally established opposition. Just look back at most of the significant political movements in the year that has come to an end: the protest against Khairalanji brutality or police firing against protesting farmers in Orissa, the successful resistance to bureaucracy's attempts to take back the Right to Information, the opposition to the real-estate scams in the name of SEZ, agitations about the plight of the farmers in most parts of the country.
Almost invariably these movements were led by non-party, though not non-political, organisations. Medha Patkar's fast in Delhi saw the coming together of most of these organisations. Some of these organisations are willing to take on the party political arena: the formation of People's Political Front in Maharashtra, Loksatta Party in Andhra Pradesh and stirrings for formation of alternative political formation in many other parts of the country are small but significant signs in this direction. The satyagraha in Hoshangabad was led by Samajwadi Janparishad, another such attempt to build alternative politics.
If you are as sick and tired of 'politics' as many citizens in this country are, here is a New Year resolution that you could consider: I shall stop complaining about politics and politicians and will spend that much energy into building a new kind of politics. When I meet an upright and talented young person, I shall encourage him or her to take to politics. Media may give any amount of space to 'big' parties, but I shall edit it in my mind and give more attention to 'small' but significant initiatives for alternative kind of politics. I shall devote at least a portion of my time, energy and resources to realise this new year resolution.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies