Displacement: Indian States War on Its Own People

Asit Das


A bridge with no river
A tall façade with no building
A sprinkler on a plastic lawn
An escalator to nowhere
A highway to the places
The highway destroyed
An image of a TV
Of a TV showing another TV
On which
There is yet another TV

The blood bath in Nandigram and Kalinga Nagar reflected the contradictions between the Indian people and the predatory land grab by national and international big business. The Indian state in the service of its imperial masters and their agents in India has unleashed a ruthless war on its own people. Under the neo-liberal regime the Indian state has resorted to brutal terror and repression on its own people especially the Adivasis, Farmers, Dalits and other marginal communities to forcibly evict them from their home and habitat. World imperialism led by the U.S has forced all the subservient third world states to sell their land, forests, water, natural resources including spectrums for the profit hungry multinational corporations and their junior partners in third world countries. Taking a cue from their imperial masters the Indian state and its provincial administrations have resorted to massacres and tortures in trying to facilitate land grabs by greedy corporations. From the massacres in Kalinga Nagar and Nandigram to police firing and killing of farmers and Adivasis in Bhatta Parsaul, Tappal, Kathikund, Kashipur, Karchhana (Allahabad) Sompeta the list goes on not to mention the genocides, custodial deaths, fake encounters in Kashmir, North East and Central India. Unprecedented in the history of state repression on its own people the Indian state has unleashed operation green-hunt with hundreds of thousands of paramilitary forces, including killer brigades like Cobra, Greyhound and the Special Operation Group backed by the India army. Operation Green-hunt has been, launched to grab land, forests, water, mines and other natural resources in the resource rich regions of Central and East India. The national and international Corporations are out to grab the iron ore and other mineral resources in Bastar that the local Adivasis are resisting to save their land, livelihoods and habitat. The government sponsored mercenaries of Salwa Judum have displaced more than two lakh Adivasis from 250 villages in Bastar to hand over the mines to the corporates.

Millions of hectares of rich multi-crop land, forest land, and coastal villages has been forcibly grabbed by the state for factories, mines, dams, infrastructure, special economic zones, resorts, malls, multiplexes, highways, sanctuaries, national parks etc. Hundreds of dams are built in Uttarakhand, Assam and the entire North East, which will inundate vast tracts of farmland and forest making millions destitute.

The entire Ganga will vanish from Uttarakhand making it into a tunnel to generate electricity for private corporations. According to Shri K.B. Saxena in the past 20 years after the neo-liberal agenda was imposed in India more than 108 lakh hectares of agricultural land has been converted from agriculture to non agricultural use. This is happening at a time when there is an acute agrarian crisis. The neo-liberal reforms have turned terms of trade totally against agriculture, more than 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 10 years both under NDA and UPA regimes. The years since the early 1990 have also been a period when, because of long years of neglect by the state, the agricultural sector has been in crisis, with the viability of crop production under challenge in an environment of lower subsidies and higher costs. Yet, for lack of alternative opportunities, land remains an important source of livelihood for the majority. For a few from outside agriculture, however, the diversion of land to new uses appears to be the route for substantial profits. This is partly because, during these years, governments, using the argument that they are strapped for funds, have presented the private sector as a far more important player than in the past in any strategy for development. The government’s role is therefore, seen as one of incentivising and facilitating private sector led development, among such scarce assets one is land.

The long history through which the ownership and user rights to land came to be vested with states, communities or individuals is replete with instances of occupation, forcible eviction and acquisition endured though the use of force. In the event, the claims of some are better defined than those of others. What matters is that, when well defined, such rights can be transferred, making land a tradable asset like other commodity. While limited in terms of physical availability, the value of land within a geographical boundary can enhance considerably by investment. Such investments are directed not just at improving the physical productivity of land, but at building infrastructure, obtaining and exercising the right to mine resources, establishing factories or construction living spaces. The returns on such investment include not just cost and revenues that can be estimated reasonably, but also the uncertain extent of appreciation in the value of that land given the way markets are structured, the prevailing prices of land do not reflect adequately the gains that would accrue to the buyer because such appreciation. Thus, finding a price that shares fairly between the buyer and seller the capitalised return from land over some reasonable period is difficult. Since the appreciation of land value that accompanies its first use is uncertain, the land market tends to attract investors who look to gain from appreciation and therefore look for land that is likely to appreciate or can be made to appreciate in value because of independent or influenced decision taken by other agents.

The police firing and atrocities in Bhatta and Parsaul reflects the conflict between corrupt politicians, speculators, builder’s mafia and the underworld. NOIDA and greater Noida authority had forcibly acquired land from the farmers for Rs. 700 per square metre and sold it the builders for Rs. 10,000 per square metre. The builder’s mafia then sells prospective flat buyers and make many times more money. In the seventies the Noida authority had acquired land for as low as Rs. 11 per square meter. Hence, the farmers in Noida, and greater Noida feel cheated and they revolted under the banner of Kisan Sangharsh Samity. Tens of thousands hectares of land have been acquired for the Yamuna express highway and handed over to the builders. The 9500 crore Express Way will need 43, 000 hectares of land. As many as 1191 villages have been notified for the project. The high tech city is expected to affect nearly seven lakh people and 334 villages in six districts of Noida, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura, Agra and Mahamayanagar. The average land holding in this area is two to four hectares. The Ganga expressway is a public-private partnership project with JP infratech. This highway seeks to link greater Noida in western Uttar Pradesh and Ballia in Eastern Uttar Pradesh a stretch of 1847 kms. To be built at an estimated cost of 40,000 crore, it requires more than 10,000 hectares of land and will displace more than 5000 villagers.

In the neo-liberal era which has resulted in crony capitalism, the compradors, the robber barons have used the subservient state to snatch millions of hectares driving people to destitution. More than 50 million farmers, Adivasis, Dalits and marginal communities have been displaced, since past sixty years. A majority of them without any dignified and secure livelihood land up in urban slums to join the brutalised city underclass. It is necessary to say here that this forcible land grab is justified in the name of employment. However, in reality what we are witnessing in the neo-liberal world is jobless growth. Since the start of economic reforms two decades ago, the general job situation has become much worse. Retrenchment of employees in the public utilities, computerisation and privatisation all contributed to job loss. The Indian state cut back sharply on development spending, especially in rural areas, and the results are there to see from successive national sample survey studies a sharp rise in daily and weekly status unemployment for male and female workers, both rural and urban, and a rise in the numbers of the openly unemployed. The net change in employment between 1993 and 2005 has been adverse. In such situation of job alternatives, the rural producer with a bit of land will naturally cling to it and resist any attempt at dispossession. That bit of land is security against unemployment and destitution. No matter if the neo-liberal attack on agriculture, combined with exposure to global price volatility, has caused acute a grain distress and forced land grab leading to forced pauperisation.

This is the most horrifying aspect of this modern primitive accumulation or accumulation though dispossession with brute state violence where direct producers are forced out of their means of production to work as cheap labour at very low insecure subsistence wages. This is the hard reality, of the US led neo-liberal world, where the Indian lackeys are too happy to lick the boots of their imperial masters.

In the neo-liberal age, corporations are able to roam the world, with most obstacles to free trade that is the free mobility of capital removed while labour, unable to move easily, is rooted in particular nations and localities due to immigration laws, language, custom and numerous other factors. What David Harvey has called ‘accumulation by dispossession’ associated with massive global removal of peasants from the land by agribusiness and peasant migration to over crowded cities, has greatly increased the industrial reserve army of labour worldwide. On top of this, the fall of the Soviet bloc and the integration of China into the Capitalist World Economy increased the number of workers competing with each other worldwide. All of this has led some corporate analysts to speak of the great doubling of the global capitalist work force.

This means that the global reserve army of labour has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades, making it easier to play increasingly desperate workers in different regions and nations off against each other (for details see David Harvey ‘The New Imperialism’. New York, Oxford University Press, 2003) what has grown in the world especially by forced land grab is inequality. Inequality in all its ugliness is, if anything deeper and more entrenched. Today the richest 2 per cent of adult individuals own more than half of global wealth, with the richest 2 per cent of adult individuals own more than half of global wealth, with the richest 1 per cent accounting for 40 per cent of total global assets. (James B. Davies, Sussanna Sand Strom, Anthony Shrroks and Edward N. Wolff. ‘The world distribution of household wealth’ in James B Davies edited. ‘Personal Wealth from a Global perspective’ Oxford University Press 2008).

Explaining, the present onslaught of capital in the name of Globalisation, John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. Mcchesney and T. Jamil Jonna say; ‘The supreme irony of the internationalisation of monopoly capital is that this entire thrust towards monopolistic multinational corporate development has been aided and abetted at every turn by neo-liberal ideology, rooted in the free market economics of Hayek and Friedman. The rhetoric invariably promotes human freedom, economic growth, and individual happiness or democracy in popular parlance on a global scale, with no outposts of ‘tyranny’ remaining. There are in the Hayekian view, two enemies of this rosy future, labour and the state (insofar as the latter serves the interest of labour and the general population).

This neo-liberal campaign for the internationalisation of monopoly capital is not merely an attack on the working class. Rather it must be understood, more broadly as an attack on the potential for political democracy, that is, on the capacity of the people to organise as an independent force to counteract the power of corporations. With no clear notion they are contradicting themselves, much less denying reality, neo-liberals paint a picture of small ‘liberation’ state that gets out of the way individuals, business, and free markets worldwide. Yet to paraphrase the old calypso song this millionaires ‘libertarian’ heaven is the poor person’s hell.

In fact, state spending across the planet has hardly shrunk, instead, states increasingly serve the needs of national and international monopoly capital, by aiding and abetting ‘the take’ of their own giant corporations with political elites corrupted by pay offs, which come in innumerable forms. At the same time, these quasi-privatised state systems have become ever more preoccupied with incarcerating and oppressing their domestic populations (see John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. Mechesney and R. Jamil Jonna ‘Internationalisation of Monopoly Capital’ Monthly Review June 2011).


This predatory neo-liberal regime in world and India has not only created a social crisis like displacement and destitution but also a severe ecological crisis which threatens the very existence of this planet.

‘Notwithstanding the depth and horror of the social crisis, an even worse crisis is looming, threatening to knock down the basic pillars of the economic production and development process. This crisis has to with the ecological foundations of not only the economic production process but life itself. The logic of capital accumulation and the economic process of industrialisation and modernisation have pushed the system well beyond its ecological limits. Ecologists of various persuasions have raised their voices in unison about an impending ecological crisis evident in clear signs that the carrying capacity of the Earth’s ecosystem has been stressed well beyond its limits, with irreparable and irreversible damage to the systems that sustain human life and livelihoods.’ (James Petras and Henry Velt Meyer in ‘System in Crisis – the dynamics of free market capitalism’ Aakar Books New Delhi-2010).


However the heroic peasants and Adivasis of India have refused to be forcibly evicted by the Indian state who acts as a bloodthirsty agent for the rapacious greed of the corporate sector. They have put up brave resistance against forcible displacement across the length and breadth of the country.

Peasants and Adivasis have valiantly fought the state terror and encroachment of their habitat in Kalinganagar, Nandigram, Gopalpur, Koel Karo, Raigad, Kathikund, POSCO, Niyamgiri, Aligarh and numerous places. Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh has become a theatre of war between people and the state. Farmers and Adivasis have put up a strong resistance against proposed nuclear power plants at Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Haripur (West Bengal), Fatehabad (Haryana), Mithivirdi (Gujarat) and Chutka (Madhya Pradesh).

The six yearlong anti-POSCO struggle of Dhinkia, Gadkujang and Nuagaon Panchayat of Jagatsinghpur district Odisha under the banner of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity has become an inspiring symbol of resistance against forcible dispositions. It has become one of the advanced outposts of anti-imperialist struggle in the third world challenging the might of a giant transnational corporation POSCO. Since 4th June this year thousands of Men, Women and Children of Govindpur, Dhinkia and Patana have formed a human barricade lying down on hot sand in the scorching heat fighting this.

This ruthless accumulation through violent dispossession has been done by the state using the anti-people colonial. Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which confers the power of ‘eminent domain’ to the state which shamelessly uses it for the ruthless capital accumulation by the MNC’s and their lackeys the Indian Corporate sector.

Various mass movements and progressive organisations have been struggling relentlessly to scrap the act. Sangharsh a collective of different mass movements held a Dharna at Jantar Mantar From 3rd August 2011 to 5th August demanding the scrapping of the oppressive land acquisition act

Displacement in India and the trajectory of destruction:

After the transfer of power in 1947, the Indian state chose a strategy of development which perpetuated dependence on imperialist capital and preserved the legacy of colonial rule. The state of the Indian economy was alarming at the end of the Second World War. A stagnant market, absence of infrastructure for industrial development, and absence of capital goods industries meant that the needs of the economy could not be left purely to the market forces. Thus began the era of Nehru’s planned economy. What followed were large PSUs, dams like Hirakud, heavy industries, roads and mines. Licenses, quotas and nationalisation of banks benefited the domestic big industrialists who could avail the quotas and licenses because of their close association with the government. Dependence on foreign aid, loans and technical knowledge from countries like the US, Germany and the Soviet Union meant that India was not really independent. Feudal land relations in the countryside did not fundamentally change through these years. Token land reforms ensured that large landowners and dominant castes remained in power.

Conditions of the people remained miserable even after two decades of planned economy under the care of a welfare state; social and economic indicators of poverty, inequality, illiteracy and disease did not improve much. Development projects, heavy industries and the Green Revolution did not benefit the workers, peasants, labourers and the unemployed. These people, many of whom had to make way for this development, had hoped that the benefits would reach them too, sooner or later. Over the years, this hope gave way to despair and disillusionment. In 1980s, the big industrialists had taken advantage of the infamous license raj to grow further and consolidate their position in the economy. Now, they no longer needed the government controls. Instead, they required foreign collaboration and investment. This was needed both to venture into newer sectors of the global economy, as well as to enter those industries, which it could not have done earlier, because of its own limited capacity. This was also the period when the advanced capitalist world was trying to recover from recession. One of the ways out was to export capital goods and luxury consumption goods to underdeveloped countries like India. The interests of the imperialist Capital and the domestic big industrialists converged. The post-1990s saw conditions worsen for the majority of the people. The rhetoric of planned development and the veneer of a welfare state have been finally abandoned. Inequalities have widened and the poor have become more impoverished and marginalised. Disparities have increased between the beneficiaries and the victims of reforms and development.

The magnitude of displacement due to development projects has increased manifold. According to studies, as many as sixty million people have been displaced and affected due to various development projects in the country from 1947 to 2000. The beneficiaries of development and the victims of displacement have not changed over the years. What has increased, is its intolerance and repression (See “Abandoned: Development and Displacement”, Perspectives, New Delhi.)

It is the small and marginal farmers, landless, Dalits and Adivasis who bear the brunt of displacements. A Planning Commission study has shown that 73 per cent of cultivable land in the country is owned by 23.6% of the population. An increasing number of farmers are being displaced through land acquisitions for SEZs, food processing, technology parks or real estates, accumulating land further in the hands of the elite and resourceful, with Chief Ministers acting as agents of the corporates. Farmers are forced to handover their land. Food security and food self-sufficiency are no longer the country’s political priorities.

The World Bank has estimated that 400 million Indians would willingly or unwillingly move from rural to urban centres by 2015. Subsequent studies have shown that massive distress migration will result in the years to come. For instance, 70% of the population of Tamil Nadu, 65% of Punjab, and nearly 55% of the population of Uttar Pradesh, is expected to migrate to urban centres. These 400 million displaced agricultural refugees will constitute the new urban underclass. According to the Ministry of Steel, the Government of India’s target for the steel industry stands at 110 million metric tonnes by 2019-20, an achievable number if all the MoUs signed recently come through. Different state governments have signed more than 102 MoUs. This will add up to 103 million tonnes (mt) in steel capacity and investments of over 5,994 million dollars – of these more than 40 are in Orissa alone. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are the other two states that lead in signing MoUs in the mining sector. Of the total investment committed, about 17.9 billion dollars form the FDI component coming from two large steel projects. The first by the South Korean steel giant Posco in Orissa, and the second from Mittal Steel in Jharkhand. What is really a matter of concern is the negative fallout of the pro-market policies that will affect natural resources and livelihood of many dependent on these mineral rich areas, which are mostly forested, and dominated by Adivasis and other indigenous populations. However, this has not acted differently for a country that is globalising its economy by exploiting its mineral wealth. These projects have invariably led to the marginalisation and impoverishment of affected people, creating an alarming situation, particularly for those from the weaker sections. The manner in which these projects have been implemented has raised questions of equity, fairness, justice and equality before the law in the matter of distribution of benefits and the resultant destitution.

More than one lakh hectares of forest land (almost 11% of the total forest area diverted in the entire country since 1980) has been diverted for non-forest use in the three mineral rich states of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

The neo-liberal development process currently taking place in India has led to the destruction of basic livelihood sources of the majority of the people, predominantly Adivasis and Dalits. These resources include land, water and forests. Degradation of the environment is the direct outcome of the process of capitalist development. Forests in the on-going development programmes are considered just for consumption or for mining. Consequently, in the scheme of economic growth, forest as a resource does not exist. The current development model does not consider the need to strengthen the relationship between natural capital and economic growth resulting in an acute livelihood crisis for the vast majority depending on these resources for survival. A target number of problems are emerging for the livelihood of poor people. Adivasis have faced displacement and extreme hardship since the early 1950s, when planned development was introduced with greater emphasis on infrastructure development such as dams, industries and power. Aggressive growth-centred development has adversely affected all sections of rural people nationwide. States with a high tribal concentration such as Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, face the worst scenario. The nature of consumption, access to goods and services, and cultural forms, have all been adversely impacted. There has been a rapid collapse of stable livelihood among the peasantry and a perceptible change is visible in the pattern of work that used to ensure minimal level of income. The traditional forms of protection based on family and community groups, are fast receding and institutions created over the years for public protection are fast becoming redundant.

There has been very significant increase in open unemployment rates; people are unable to find any kind of a job – be it part time, a subsidiary job, or even very small low-paying jobs. Another offshoot of this aggressive growth is unprecedented migration in search of livelihood, from rural to urban areas. The current development paradigm is aggressively reducing the ability of small-scale producers to survive, resulting in the collapse of rural employment generation. The aggressive growth model being pursued violates the fundamental legal obligations of the state, regarding non-transferability of tribal land, for the benefit of corporate sector. Projects belonging to the mining industry, power, information technology and other sectors, are causing total disruption of livelihood, cultures and the physical environment. Over the years, people have developed sustainable systems of utilising and maintaining natural resources. Communities, rather than individuals and governments, have been central to such a system. Principles of conservation and moderation, rather than exploitation and profit, have driven these systems. Face market economics, rolled in the concept of individual profit rather than in community sustainability, does not just disrupt such a system but creates inequitable and exploitative relationships between people and nature.

The displaced people, deprived of their land and livelihood, normally do not get employed in other sectors of the economy. The growth of employment in the organised sector has been very low since 1991.

The marginal increase in organized sector employment from 1991 to 1997 was more or less completely reversed by 2003. The rate of growth of employment has fallen every year from 1997 to 2001 – even now the precipitous slide continues. In this scenario of declining opportunities, the displaced have little chance of getting employed, as most of them have not been trained for the required skills. Experience and statistics show that there has been a consistent decline in the number of people employed even in the mining and quarrying sector. This is in spite of an increase in the number of mines and their output. Although the number of mines rose from 2,480 in 1996 to 2,518 in 2001, the total employment declined from 7,16,183 to 5,99,301 over the same period. According to the Tenth Plan document, between the Ninth Plan and the Tenth Plan the incremental capital output ratio, which shows the increase in the mining and power sector, shot up from 5.44 to 7.99 indicating a massive leap in the mechanisation and capital intensive methods in the mining sector.

The fruits of the mining and industrial projects have no relation whatsoever with the needs of the people who have been living in these areas for generations. The output of the mines and the industries is meant either for generating private profits or for consumption.

Rehabilitation of the displaced people has been negligible. Despite talk of a more human rehabilitation policy, evidence till now has shown utter callousness and contempt for those displaced. Even in sheer numbers of people rehabilitated, the experience has been dismal. For example, twenty-five years after the massive Bhakra Nangal project was completed, only 730, of the 2,180 families displaced in the early 1950s from the Bilaspur and Una districts of Himachal Pradesh, have been resettled. Official indifference and callousness is also evident in the lack of data regarding the total number of people displaced by different development projects.

The story of other big dams is not very different. Hydroelectric and irrigation projects have been the largest source of displacement and destruction of habitat. Apart from the fact that people displaced on account of big dams are usually not the beneficiaries of the same, there is also a debate as to whether big dams are strictly required and whether small dams and watershed projects with much lower human costs can provide the same benefit.

Globally, conflicts created 20-22 million internally displaced persons. In India, internal displacement caused by development projects was over 21.3 million in 1990 and is probably 30 million today. [‘India Disasters Report: Towards A Policy Initiative’, by S. Parasuraman and P.V. Unnikrishnan. Oxford University Press, New Delhi (2000)]

Displacement, as a result of development, has recently become a highly politicised and globally important issue. Big dams, mines, industrial establishments, wildlife sanctuaries and parks are not phenomena restricted to India. Nevertheless, there seems to prevail a certain disease of gigantism specific to this country, which is not likely to be questioned in the near future. As a consequence, a large number of people, among them a high number of tribals and Dalits, have to endure the trauma of being displaced from their natural habitat.


In the early 1970s, after the oil shock and end of the post-war boom, advanced capitalist countries entered into recession and then they imposed neo-liberalism all over the world to bail out the crisis-ridden global capitalism.

The Neo-liberal Order

Neoliberalism asserted that intervention into the market by government only triggered inflation while it slowed growth and fostered unemployment. On the contrary, market forces free of government regulation would create jobs and spark strong economic growth. Based on these principles or ideology, neo-liberalism helped to justify a sweeping revival of the economic and political power of the capitalist class in the United States and the rest of the world in the following two decades. Under the neo-liberal regime, economic growth and profits recovered in the first world but to a level well below the golden age. More seriously, weaker average growth and the decline of the states’ economic role were accompanied by rapidly increasing inequality and declining levels of public welfare. Under the aegis of neo-liberalism, the fate of the third world was much worse. Overwhelmed by debt, most of the countries of Latin America and Africa were forced to surrender control of their economies to western banks and international financial agencies controlled by western governments. As a condition for loan bailouts, such countries had to raise interest rates, lower tariffs, and open their economies and massively reduce social health and education spending in an effort to clean up their financial balance sheets. Such neo-liberal prescriptions were designed to restore economic equilibrium and stimulate growth and exports. In only a few cases did they do so. Rather than growth, most underdeveloped countries suffered massive economic regression. Wages fell while unemployment, poverty and social inequality grew. Major new capital investment was evident in Asia. But in the rest of the developing world, the US and European capitalists generated profits instead by taking over land, or publicly or locally owned manufacturing capacity, and through the privatisation of financial resources such as pension funds, accumulation occurred through dispossession rather than investment. Everywhere the wealthy enhance their position by simply appropriating a greater share of existing wealth at the expense of the rest of the society. (For details, see The Neo-liberal Order in Henry Heller – ‘The Cold War and the New Imperialism – A Global History, 1945-2005’, Monthly Review Press, New York.)

The general capitalist accumulation; which governs the dynamics of capitalism; and, generates increasing wealth and affluence, at one pole of society and growing poverty and degradation at the opposite pole does so not only within nations but as a global or world system, among nations as well, leading necessarily to the polarisation of the world into centre and periphery nations between rich and poor nations, and between rich and poor within a nation. This double process of polarisation is imminent in capitalism – its permanent and basic feature, a product of structural logic of capitalism. Contemporary globalisation is no exception, in relation to third world it is imperialism all over again.

Writing about the role of the state in the neo-liberal era, eminent social scientist, David Harvey says: ‘Neo-liberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human wellbeing can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and the trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices.

The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. State interventions in market must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions for their own benefits’. (See ‘Introduction: A Brief History of Neo-liberalism’, by David Harvey, Oxford University Press, London.)

There has everywhere been an emphatic turn towards neo-liberalism in political-economic practices and thinking since the 1980s. Deregulation, privatisation and withdrawal of the state from many areas of social provision have been all too common.

This, however, does not mean that the state has weakened; in fact, the state has emerged much stronger and intensified to facilitate capital accumulation. The globalisation theory postulates decline of the nation state and national capitalist classes, the transfer of sovereignty from state to the organs of some kind of unified transnational capital; however, nothing like this has happened and seems unlikely to ever happen. Instead, the trans-nationalisation of capital's original political forms, the national state, and this state is more universal today than ever before. Again, as globalisation has it, an inverse relation exists between the inter-nationalisation of the economy and the power of the state. Instead, globalisation presupposed the state and while the state may have lost some of its traditional functions, it has gained many more new ones, especially as the main conduit through which national and multinational capital is inserted into the global market. Far from being rendered irrelevant, the state is today the main agent of globalisation with its penetration of the capitalist logic deeper into societies of advanced capitalism and spatially throughout the world. The neo-liberal state plays a central role as capital is channelised into the global market, as the creator of the right environment for capital accumulation, and as the capital's main line of defence against internal disorder. As the main agent of globalisation, states are becoming more and more attuned to accommodating and fostering capital accumulation on a world scale. They do so by creating and sustaining global markets. It is they who are making the necessary changes in the rules governing capital movements, investment currency exchange, trade and forcible acquisition of land for capital accumulation. (For details, see ‘Globalisation in Marxism, Socialism, Indian Politics – A View from the Left’, by Randhir Singh, Aakar Books, New Delhi.)

What we are seeing today is history repeating itself as a tragedy. The horrors of Dickensian Capitalism are being re-enacted through ruthless global enclosures where millions of peasants and Adivasis are thrown out of their habitats, livelihood and commons in a bloodthirsty primitive accumulation of Global Capitalism. All over the third world, including India, millions of peasants are thrown out of their land for mines, factories, townships, ports, luxury villas, golf courses, entertainment parks, highways, etc. Iraq was devastated and decimated for oil. Through the connivance of the neo-liberal state, national and international big businesses swallow up natural resources and commons. These are the bloody symptoms of the present era of accumulation through violent dispossession. The present epoch is brilliantly explained by Samir Amin in a review article in Social Scientist ‘The centre/periphery contrast is inherent to the global expansion of the actually existing capitalism at every stage of its development since its inception’. Imperialism as an outcome of capitalism assumed naturally diverse and successive forms in close relation with specific characteristics of successive phases of capitalist accumulation. Mercantilism (1500-1800), classical industrial capitalism (1899-1945), post-Second World War (1945-1990), and the ongoing project of globalisation beyond the particularity of each of these phases, the actually existing capitalism has always been synonymous to the world conquest by its dominant sites. We will, therefore, not be surprised that colonialist dimension would entail an important element in the formation of political culture of the countries concerned. Nevertheless, articulation of this colonialist dimension in other aspects of political culture is specific to each of the regions and countries in question. For Europe colonialism was external, in America it was internal. A difference worth noting. (See Samir Amin, Review Article, page 79, Social Scientist No. 420-421, New Delhi.)


The great teacher of the working class, socialist thinker and exemplary revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg taught us that Capitalist cores create dependant exploited colonial peripheries. According to her, ‘one concern is that commodity market and the place where surplus value is produced is the factory, the mine, the agricultural estate’. Regarded in this light, accumulation is a purely economic process, with its most important phase a transaction between the capitalist and the wage labourer... Here, in form at any rate, peace, property and equality prevail, and the keen dialectics of scientific analysis were required to reveal how the right of ownership changes in the course of accumulation into appropriation of other people’s property, how commodity exchange turns into exploitation and equality becomes class rule. The other aspect of the accumulation of capital concerns the relations between capitalism and the non-capitalist mode of production, which start making their appearance on the international stage. Its predominant methods are colonial policy, an international loan system – a policy of spheres of interest and war force, fraud, oppression and looting are openly displayed without any attempt at concealment, and it requires an effort to discover within this tangle of political violence and contests of power the stern law of the economic process. These two aspects of accumulation are organically linked. The historical career of capitalism can only be appreciated by taking them together (See Rosa Luxemburg, ‘The Accumulation of Capital’, Monthly Review Press, New York).


What is going on in India today can be understood by employing the concept of primitive accumulation (as understood in the second interpretation) in almost all of the above senses: separating primary producers from land; privatisation of the ‘public’, conversion of common property resources into marketable commodities, destroying non-market ways of living, etc. To our mind, each of the instances of `displacement’ or state-led ‘land grab’ are willy-nilly feeding into the overall process of primitive accumulation in India by divorcing primary producers from the land or restricting direct access to other common property resources like forests, lakes, river, etc. A question crops up immediately. Being a labour-surplus economy, does India need to generate additional labourers, which is an obvious result of primitive accumulation, before absorbing what is already available? Certainly not, if we think from the perspective of labour. But the answer changes if we see the whole process from the perspective of capital. Fresh entrants into the already burgeoning ranks of the proletariat will increase the relative surplus population - floating, latent and stagnant - depressing real wages and thereby increasing the rates of profits on each unit of invested capital. Moreover, one of the major features of the neo-liberal regime of accumulation has been the incessant ‘informalisation’ of the labour process, and further growth of the relative surplus population makes late-capitalist countries like India finely attuned to this. As Jan Breman notes:

‘Mobilisation of casual labour, hired and fired according to the needs of the moment, and transported for the duration of the job to destinations far distant from the home village, is characteristic of the capitalist regime presently dominating in South Asia.’

Separation of producers from their means of production and subsistence, especially land and other natural resources, also creates markets for these resources; and thus comes into being the various agencies that thrive through hucksterage in these markets. These intermediaries play the crucial role of facilitating and normalising the process of primitive accumulation. Examples abound: Trinamool Congress goons, grassroots-level CPI(M) leadership, local middle classes like school teachers, lawyers, and other similar forces in the Singur case (in West Bengal); state-traders, local elites-supported Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.

The major target of land acquisition in India today is in areas where either peasant movements have achieved some partial success in dealing with capitalist exploitation and expropriation or areas largely inhabited by the indigenous population whose expropriation could not be increasingly intensified because of the welfarist tenor of the pre-liberalisation regime. West Bengal is the prime example of the former, where Left Front rule congealed due to its constituents' involvement in the popular movements. Now, the movements' institutionalisation and incorporation of the leadership into the state apparatus is facilitating the present-day resurgence of primitive accumulation. Examples of the second kind of area could be parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh, which the corporate sector is eyeing mining activities and for setting up steel plants.

As an example of the second kind of land acquisition, we can turn our attention to Chhattisgarh. A report on recent developments in Chhattisgarh notes that, in India,

‘[t]ribal lands are the most sought after resources now. Whether it is in Orissa or Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh, if there is a patch of tribal land there is an attempt to acquire it. It is no geographical coincidence that tribal lands are forested, rich with mineral resources (80 percent of India's minerals and 70 percent of forests are within tribal areas) and also the site of a sizeable slice of industrial growth. The tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Maharashtra are the destination of US $85 billion of promised investments, mostly in steel and iron plants, and mining projects. Ironically, these lucrative resources are of no benefit to the local people: an estimate of 10 Naxal-affected states shows that they contribute 51.6 percent of India's GDP and have 58 percent of the population. As with Chhattisgarh, all these states have a strong Naxal presence and are witness to movements against land acquisition. The state governments say these protests are Naxal-inspired. Local people say, however, that all they are trying to do is protect their land, forests and livelihood.’

Here the State's mode of facilitating primitive accumulation is by raising mercenaries, the Salwa Judum. This extra-legal use of force is supported by the traditional exploiters of the indigenous population – traders, usurers, civil servants and tribal neo-elites, who have functioned as intermediaries in the regime of commerce-based surplus extraction. On the one hand, absence of any recognised land rights of tribal communities, has allowed the State to use principles of terra nullius and eminent domain to expropriate them. On the other, these communities have continued to exist in defiance of all these legalities. However, with the recent intensification of efforts to secure resources for corporate profiteering, along with the continued presence of primitive extractive modes of exploitation, these communities have been left with no real choices but to arm themselves for securing their unrecognised rights.

Hence, ‘Most tribal people living in forests are officially “encroachers”. They live under the constant threat of being alienated from their land and livelihood. While the government completely failed to reach out to them, the Naxals succeeded in connecting to sections of the people. They spread to the state's 11 districts (200 districts in the country). Unable to contain them, government supported the creation of a civilian militia – Salwa Judum’.

Besides these widely discussed cases of recent land acquisition and displacement, there have been numerous conflicts around the rights over water resources over the years. In almost all such cases, the state has come forth as being hell bent upon the construction of big dams and other hydroelectric projects despite all evidence of the net negative marginal costs of these projects. During the past two decades, Narmada Bachao Andolan has been a prominent force constantly exposing the anti-people, anti-environment character of these projects. Even in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand (site of the legendary Chipko Andolan), riverbeds and surrounding lands have been 'enclosed' for private capital to be used for power generation and lucrative tourism projects. In fact, recent politics in this region cannot be fully understood without understanding the conflicts around these enclosures. Closer to urban India has been the neoliberal systematisation of commercial and financial centres, the `clearing' of slums, in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, which have naturally been the hotbed of the politics of and against ‘new enclosures’.

Understanding all these diverse processes in the framework of primitive accumulation has several strategic implications. Perhaps, most urgently, this can provide a unified framework to locate the numerous struggles going on in the country right from the ‘new’ social movements, like landless workers movements, Narmada Bachao Andolan and other local mobilisations of ‘development-victims’, to anti-privatisation movements of public sector workers, all the way to the revolutionary movements led by the Maoists. This unified framework can then possibly facilitate dialogue among these movements, something that is more than essential at this juncture if the movement of labour against capital is to be strengthened.

(Neoliberalism and Primitive Accumulation in India – Dipankar Basu and Pratyush Chandra – Radical Notes)


I would conclude by giving a summary of the opinion of the jury members given in a public hearing on displacements and Operation Green Hunt held at Constitution Club, New Delhi, from 9-11 April 2010, under the auspices of Independent People’s Tribunal.

The jury heard the testimonies of a large number of witnesses over three days from the States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa, as well as some expert witnesses on land acquisition, mining and human rights violations of Operation Green Hunt. The immediate observations of the Jury are as follows:

Tribal communities represent a substantial and important proportion of Indian population and heritage. Not even ten countries in the world have more people than we have tribals in India. Not only are they crucial components of the country’s human biodiversity, which is greater than in the rest of the world put together, but they are also an important source of social, political and economic wisdom that would be currently relevant and can give India an edge. In addition, they understand the language of Nature better than anyone else, and have been the most successful custodians of our environment, including forests. There is also a great deal to learn from them in areas as diverse as art, culture, resource management, waste management, medicine and metallurgy. They have been also far more humane and committed to universally accepted values than our urban society.

It is clear that the country has been witnessing gross violation of the rights of the poor, particularly tribal rights, which have reached unprecedented levels since the new economic policies of the 1990s. The 5th Schedule Rights of the Tribals, in particular the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and the Forest Rights Act have been grossly violated. These violations have now gone to the extent where fully tribal villages have been declared to be non-tribal. The entire executive and judicial administration appear to have been totally apathetic to their plight.

The development model which has been adopted and which is sharply embodied in the new economic policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, have led in recent years to a huge drive by the state to transfer resources, particularly land and forests which are critical for the livelihood and the survival of the tribal people, to corporations for exploitation of mineral resources, SEZs and other industries, most of which have been enormously destructive to the environment. These industries have critically polluted water bodies, land, trees, plants, and have had a devastating impact on the health and livelihoods of the people. The consultation with the Gram Sabhas required by the PESA Act has been rendered a farce, as has the process of Environment Impact Assessment of these industries. This has resulted in leaving the tribals in a state of acute malnutrition and hunger which has pushed them to the very brink of survival. It could well be the severest indictment of the State in the history of democracy anywhere, on account of the sheer number of people (tribals) affected and the diabolic nature of the atrocities committed on them by the State, especially the police, leave aside the enormous and irreversible damage to the environment. It is also a glaring example of corruption – financial, intellectual and moral – sponsored and/or abetted by the State, that characterises today’s India, cutting across all party lines.

Peaceful resistance movements of tribal communities against their forced displacement and the corporate grab of their resources is being sought to be violently crushed by the use of police and security forces and State and corporate funded and armed militias. The state violence has been accentuated by Operation Green Hunt in which a huge number of paramilitary forces are being used mostly on the tribals. The militarisation of the State has reached a level where schools are occupied by security forces.

Even peaceful activists opposing these violent actions of the State against the tribals are being targeted by the State and victimised. This has led to a total alienation of the people from the State as well as their loss of faith in the government and the security forces. The Government – both at the Centre and in the States – must realize that it’s above-mentioned actions, combined with total apathy, could very well be sowing the seeds of a violent revolution demanding justice and rule of law that would engulf the entire country. We should not forget the French, Russian and American history, leave aside our own.

Email: asit1917@gmail.com

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