June 12, 2006EconomyPublic Policy

Championing poor farmers

Then and now

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Both the ugliest dog in Karnataka’s manger and those protesting against building a dam on the river Narmada claim to be acting in the interests of poor farmers. Both are taken with varying degrees of belief, scepticism and most of all, resignation. In democratic India, the politics of land, it appears, stands in the way of the politics over development. (Ignoring of course, that H D Deve Gowda and his clan are about as democratic as the Pakistani military establishment when it comes to their use of political power to corner land).

Since this is about protecting the interests of the poor and the downtrodden, let’s compare the today’s champions — the saintly and the political — with those of another era.

The execution of (the Hirakud dam project in Orissa) necessarily involved the immersion of large tracts of land. The Government of Orissa started acquiring these lands on terms very favourable to the tenants. Land acquisition has a way of creating resentment among the peasantry and the (ruling princes) of Orissa began to exploit the situation. The anti-Hirakud agitation was started and sustained at a high pitch…Even Gandhiji’s appeal to the rulers not to support such an obviously anti-national movement fell on deaf ears. [V P Menon/Integration of Indian States (Orient Longman)]

The three-man committee that approved the Hirakud Dam project included Dr B R Ambedkar, who was Member for Public Works in the Governor-General’s council at that time.

The Hirakud was another case where Nehru faced concerted and determined resistance, as early as 1946, to the construction of a large dam on the Mahanadi River at Hirakud, Orissa. In fact, local Congress leaders even organized workshops to debate its social and economic benefits, costs and rehabilitation for those who were going to get displaced by the project. Nehru admonished the people by crudely saying that they would have to suffer so that the country could move ahead and inaugurated the dam in April 1948.

…Two decades earlier Mahatma Gandhi had urged those being displaced by the Mulshi Peth dam being constructed by the Tata Power Company to negotiate the best deal they could get…Nehru was not an anti-thesis to Gandhi.[IIC Delhi]Today’s agitators — the cinematic, the theatrical, the political and especially the saintly’ — have only ended up projecting the interests of poor farmers’ as antithetical to the larger interests of the nation.

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