Many dangers for India ahead despite Modi’s decline

Since Narendra Modi began campaigning to be Prime Minister of India in 2013, he and his party, the BJP, gave the impression of an unstoppable march, culminating in a massive electoral victory in 2014. The BJP’s story went like this: Anti-incumbency was strong, and the people were sick of Congress corruption. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had administered the Gujarat miracle, reaching developmental heights unheard of elsewhere in India. Given the chance, he could do the same for the entire country. If there were accusations that he had also been Chief Minister during an organized massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, well, was there any proof? Hadn’t the courts given him a clean chit? And anyway, with so many terrorist threats facing India, maybe a tougher hand like Modi’s was needed: to keep Kashmir in line, to fight the Maoist rebels in central India, and, of course, to stand up to Pakistan.

None of the elements of the story were actually true. Economist Jean Dreze showed that Gujarat’s economic achievements were middling. They also "largely predate(d) Narendra Modi, and have as much to do with public action as with economic growth". Nirmalangshu Mukherji showed that there was, in fact, no clean chit and there was plenty of evidence of Modi’s involvement in the massacres of 2002 in Gujarat. The Indian state under Congress had shown plenty of "toughness", if "toughness" includes the willingness to violate human rights, in Kashmir, in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere in the counterinsurgency war against the Maoists. As for Pakistan, even the "toughest" leaders on either side need to be careful, given the possibility of mutual nuclear annihilation.

Even the electoral victory was not quite what it seemed. Nirmalangshu Mukherji’s post-electoral analysis in Kafila foretold some of what was to happen this year. Mukherji’s analysis argued that Modi’s party, the BJP, had only a very modest increase in the popular vote from 19% in 2009 to 31% in 2014. The major achievement of the BJP, Mukherji argues, was the scientific method used by the campaign of increasing communal strife in key disctricts and profiting from these electorally, gaining the maximum number of seats with the minimum increase in the popular vote. When, in February of this year, the BJP were routed in the Delhi legislative elections, with a relatively new party, the AAP, winning 67 of 70 seats, the BJP’s march was shown to be stoppable, indeed.

Once unable to get a US visa because of the 2002 massacres, Modi now has a direct hotline to Obama, reports the NYT. The hotline, if the NYT article is to be believed, appears to mainly be to talk about how to "contain" China – a very dangerous road for the US to take, and ten times more so for India. And a little bit of saber-rattling with Pakistan over Kashmir is also happening right now.

But domestically, the Delhi elections were a blow and his legislative program has been slowed down by opposition. The Indian media talk about a ‘resurgent Congress’: left writer Badri Raina analyzed the Congress return in May. Modi had planned a series of changes to India’s Land Acquisition Act, changes to facilitate the transfer of peasant and indigenous lands into corporate hands. Economist Smita Gupta, in an interview on Newsclick, called the planned act a "return to colonial oppression". But strong opposition in the legislature has set the Act back: now it will wait for the winter session of parliament.

In a new interview for Outlook, Arundhati Roy summarized these developments: "The attack we are up against is wide and deep and dangerous, but the euphoria around the Modi government has evaporated pretty fast, much before anyone would have expected. I fear that when they get really desperate, they’ll get dangerous." As an example of the danger, Arundhati mentioned the hanging of Yakub Menon, convicted of participating in a conspiracy in a series of 1993 bombings. Badri Raina wrote about the BJP euphoria around the hangings and the hatred directed against those espousing a position against capital punishment, as the arrival of India’s own Tea Party.

India’s Tea Party has another target, one of the lawyers who has been following up on Modi’s role in the 2002 massacres: activist-lawyer Teesta Setalvad, who has been targeted for some malicious and frivolous prosections as well as an organized campaign of bullying by BJP followers – a campaign so vicious that it has made the NYT as well, in a story by David Barrow on August 19 titled "Longtime Critic of Modi is now a Target."

Another area of danger where all of these threads come together: the political value of a "war on terror", valuable land to be acquired for corporates, the need to overcome legislation protecting people and the environment – is in central India, where an active counterinsurgency operation continues against the Maoists, and ends up violating the rights of indigenous people throughout the territory. In 2005, the state of Chhattisgarh was carved up into a series of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with corporations. The MOUs coincided with the rise of the paramilitary, anti-Maoist organization, Salwa Judum, by Mahendra Karma. Salwa Judum was declared an illegal organization by the Supreme Court, after they had already burned villages, killed, and displaced people across the state. Mahendra Karma was killed in an ambush by Maoists in 2013. His son, Chavindra Karma, founded a new successor to Salwa Judum in May of this year. Activist Gautam Navlakha, in an interview on Newsclick, argued that the re-founding of Salwa Judum followed a visit by Modi to Chhattisgarh and the announcement of a whole slate of new MOUs with corporations. On this file, the state has distinguished itself with the "insane, inhuman" arrest in May of a completely paralyzed academic, N. Sai Baba, because he expresses views sympathetic to the Maoists.

Modi may be running out of steam, or he may find a second wind. The deeper issues India faces preceded his rise and will continue after he’s gone: the extraordinary and deadly inequality, the ongoing land grab, counterinsurgencies in Kashmir and central India, and a justice system that still has the death penalty and that offers those trapped in it a horrendous and impossible bureaucratic maze (see Manisha Sethi’s book, "Kafkaland", for examples). Modi has channeled these problems in anti-secular, chauvinist directions and exacerbated them; India is a more dangerous place because of him and his party. But resistance to him and his agenda has arisen fast. It has been surprising. Perhaps there are more surprises ahead.  

First published at TeleSUR English:

A caravan for Genaro, part 2

A guest blog by Sheila Gruner

The caravan arrived in Tumaco last night and today the streets filled up for 3-4 hrs with Afrodescendents, Indigenous people, campesinos along with students, urban activists and a host of other allies. Chants of companero Genaro Garcia – Presente! Presente! Presente! rang through the ally ways, entered windows of schools, shops and offices and resonated against graffitied walls with messages for peace and the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict.

There was an entirely cohesive voice as this mass of people, many of whom had only recently met, and perhaps never did get a chance to speak directly, moved through the streets in an act of solidarity and outrage and celebration of a possible new society. It was the voice of those who have suffered such loss themselves and understand the urgency to denounce and to be present in a way that still celebrates life and what has been achieved so far, in the defense of collective well being and the deep ties to land that were referred to throughout the days of the caravan.

Without the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC the march may not have been possible. The police presence was limited, although did trail the caravan and coordinate with the organizers. The some 200-250 people were marshalled by the Guardia Cimarrona and organizers from the Congreso de los Pueblos who left a sense of complete dedication to the task, many being disciplined and dedicated young people who lead and flanked the crowd until it reached its destination in the public space where the culminating political and cultural event took place.

The march itself started at Tumaco’s City Hall and moved through many neighbourhoods, sending a clear message of support for the family and community affected by the loss of Genaro and to make a statement that the invisibility and violent and longstanding silencing of Afrocolombian communities of the Pacific and elsewhere, the attempted erasure of their historical vindications and attacks on social organizations, is deeply unacceptable and can not be tolerated.

It has never been more evident that peace negotiations that involve elements related to issues affecting territories as well as urban communities, such as in the Afrocolombian and Indigenous communities of Narino, Cauca, Choco and up the Pacific coast through the Atlantic and to the interior, can not move ahead without the legitimate representation of Afrodescendent and Indigenous organizational voice.

A lasting end to the conflict can’t be achieved without the right to autonomy and participation being fully implemented, so that those most affected by the violence, imposed by both legal and illegal players, gain the hard fought recognition that they are the legitimate ethical governing force in their ancestral regions.

It is yet a long road. The issues of illegal mining and the drug trade will not easily disappear. Nor the presence of the 7 U.S. military bases in the country aimed at securing multinational and U.S. national and geopolitical interests in the country and broader region. The challenges facing the peace process are present indeed but perhaps more pressing are the implications of the post accord period…for if Guatemala is any indication, the end to the conflict could mean much greater extractive development and new forms of violence within and directed against those communities systematically excluded from any real decisions regarding the processes of wealth production.

The clamour today was how it should be in response to the loss of any and all such committed leaders, activists, peaceful defenders of land and the rights of communities. The violence committed against Genaro Garcia was perpetrated against humanity, and as the Personeria stated public ally today, was a crime of lesser humanity. It was an affront to the collective process and to all who work in defense of human dignity.

The Caravan for Peace to Tumaco – a guest blog

Sheila Gruner is in Colombia marching with the Caravan for Peace “Genaro Garcia”. The following is a guest blog about the march.

A Caravan for Genaro – guest blog by Sheila Gruner

The Caravan for Peace to Tumaco “Genaro Garcia” is currently underway, starting in La Maria Piendamo, to Popayan, Pasto and on to Tumaco, engaged in diverse actions and expressions of solidarity with the family, community and Afrodescendent movement of slain activist and leader Garcia.

Genaro Garcia was a tireless human rights defender, working on behalf of displaced people and the Black communities of the South Pacific coast in Colombia. The legal representative of the AfroColombian community council “Alto Mira and Fronteras”, Genaro defended the territorial and political rights of his community, including the rights to autonomy and self determination and to live free from the impositions of external armed groups vying for control of his region. He was highly recognized at the national level as well as by international organizations (link to IAHRC article).

I met Genaro at an encounter organized by the Black Communities process (PCN) and the Indigenous Authorities Gobierno Mayor in December 2014, a meeting aimed at developing a collective inter-ethnic position regarding the effects of the peace process and how to ensure the rights and well being of Afrodescendent and Indigenous people are not undermined in the process – but rather maintained and strengthened.

There were so many problems identified at the encounter: threats and violence against leaders like Genaro, lack of adequate protection for them and their families and communities, as well as many unfulfilled government promises, underfunded local governments, poverty, illegal mining, megaprojects, land mines, narco industry, to name a few. This is mixed with the ongoing presence of paramitaries, and ‘bacrim’, guerrilla, the army …with communities caught in the middle, stifled, pressured and silenced. During that meeting there was an accident at one of the illegal mines nearby, where the injured were swept away to the hospital and forced to state they were in a car accident. It highlighted the complicated situation when stating the facts of such events is considered a threat to powerful and invisible players that make their wealth off of the silencing of truth.

Genaro was assassinated on August 3, 2015 within the complex context where the war continues to play out in the ethnoterritorial (Afrodescendent and Indigenous) regions, territories that stand to be deeply affected by the peace negotiations in Havana. The local unit of the Farc in his region carried out a terrible and cowardly act against this leader, despite the Farc having declared Unilateral Ceasefire as part of the talks. He was shot in the head and legs, after they demanded he drop to the ground with his hands behind his head. He had been threatened previously and was under state protection. His only real weapons and defense up to that point were his words, his commitment to his people, the ethical and moral higher ground and organizational capacity of the movement he belonged to – in face of the ongoing violent victimization of groups vying for territorial control, control of the drug trade and the resource wealth in the region.

The FARC eventually recognized responsibility for this terrible “error” (link to statement) that would be dealt with, although it is to be seen what kind of sanction or action will result. This violent loss was felt deeply throughout the AfroColombian movement and in agrarian and ethnic sectors that face similar violence against social leaders for their organizational capacity, effectiveness and rights gained over numerous years of legal, political and social struggle.

Leaders like Genaro are viewed as obstacles, often by paramilitaries and groups aligned with state and business interests, to control over capital and illegal productive processes that wreak havoc on people and the environment but are highly lucrative (drugs, mining, etc). These interests continue to play out in the context of the peace negotiations. Who will be the ones to effectively win in the territorial battle over the lucrative geostrategic stakes along the Pacific coast?

The fear is that despite rights gained in the Constitution of 1991 to define and be consulted on development, Afrodescendent communities will see an increase, against their will, of megaproyects and other aggressive legal and illegal forms of capitalist production that will benefit others to the detriment of their own people.

The Caravan “Genaro Garcia” is made up of some of the 2000 Social and political organization members including indigenous people, Afrodescendents, campesinos, students, youth,women, and urban activists who met in La Maria on August 28-30. Some of the Main organizations include the PCN (Black Communities Process), the Anafro, the congreso de los pueblos- Cumbria agraria campesina y popular, various community councils and the Cimmarona Guard (link to description) who are accompanying the caravan. The decision at the La maria event was to have a diverse group of people and movements to accompany the community of Tumaco and Garcia’s family at this critical period, and to join efforts at a critical time in the peace negotiations in Havana where a scant month or so remains in the current unilateral ceasefire process. The question is whether the brutal taking of the life of a Black activist counts in the so-called ceasefire and if it does, will it lead to concrete steps forward in the establishment of an Interethnic and social commission as part of the peace negotiations themselves.

While negotiations of armed conflict involve the deescalation and ending of violent actions between those wielding armed power (guerrillas and the colombian state in this case) as the territories of ethnoterritorial groups are key elements of the content of negotiations (among many other elements) such a commission is necessary.

As the caravan moves towards Tumaco these questions will continue to be raised, actions planned, spirit shared and the voices of those most affected by such violence will not remain silent despite the deeply chilling loss of Genaro Garcia.