Niyamgiri to Bellary, Polavaram to Konkan : Stop All Destructive Projects Now

- Dipankar Bhattacharya

The cancellation of the Vedanta group’s ‘mining rights’ in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha’s Kalahandi district surely marks a huge victory for the growing people’s movement against corporate invasion and plunder. The brave resistance of the local people, belonging predominantly to the Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh tribes, had begun to find wide-ranging support beyond the borders of Odisha and India. In July, the Annual General Meeting of the UK-based Vedanta group in London attracted angry protests by a broad spectrum of activists, and on August 16, the NC Saxena committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests submitted a hard-hitting report documenting the numerous illegal activities of the Vedanta group in collusion with high-level Odisha officials.
The opposition to the Vedanta group’s mining offensive in Odisha has been growing for several years now. And till recently, the central government too had been siding with the state government to rubbish and crush the popular protests and defend and promote the project in every possible way. The UPA-I had granted environmental clearance for the project rejecting the opposition of the tribal people of Niyamgiri and flouting every tenet of the PESA Act. And when the tribal people went to the Supreme Court to challenge the environmental clearance, the apex court went out of its way to ask the government to grant forest clearance as well! And the UPA government followed suit. So what the UPA-2 did is nothing but selectively retrace a step or two taken by the UPA-1 without admitting its past mistakes!
The Vedanta mining saga clearly raises some fundamental questions. The group’s claim of ‘mining happiness’ for the people of Odisha has been squarely exposed – but the ministers and officials working hand in gloves with this mining giant are yet to be adequately exposed and punished. We all know that P Chidambaram was on the board of directors of Vedanta Resources till the day before he became the Finance Minister in UPA-1 and we are also aware of the group’s bonhomie with the state government of Odisha led formerly by the BJP-BJD combine and now by the BJD on its own. A similar story is going on in Karnataka with the BJP pulling out all stops to defend the mining loot of the infamous Reddy brothers. Clearly, the people’s movement will have to confront and defeat this nexus between corporate robbers and bourgeois rulers.
This nexus is armed with a policy regime that promotes corporate loot at the cost of every legitimate concern and right of the people – be it over land or livelihood, environment or culture. Even as one Niyamgiri has seemingly been saved, there are hundreds of Niyamgiris all over the country where state-sponsored destruction campaign is going on in full swing. The ongoing Polavaram dam project in Andhra Pradesh and the proposed nuclear power plant in the environmentally delicate Konkan region of Maharashtra are just two glaring examples from two Congress-ruled states. The same Ministry of Environment and Forests which is now being described as a ‘Green Crusader’ has actually been functioning as nothing but a ‘Green Destroyer’. The time has come to press for a complete halt to this indiscriminate state-sponsored destruction.
The people’s movement will also have to challenge the doublespeak of the Congress. On August 26, Rahul Gandhi visited Niyamgiri and projected himself as a soldier of the tribal people in the corridors of power! He was garlanded by Lado Sikaka, a tribal activist of Niyamgiri who had only the other day been badly harassed and tortured by the state as a ‘Maoist’. One hand of the Congress is busy coercing and displacing the adivasis while the other hand garners the sympathy of the people and pretends to be their soldier and saviour. The politics of the Congress revolves around this calculated combination of ‘Operation Green Hunt’ and ‘Operation Greenspeak’ and we must unmask this hypocrisy of Rahul Gandhi’s professed concern for the deprived tribal people.
Veteran journalist and Congress-watcher MJ Akbar sees Rahul Gandhi’s pro-farmer pro-tribal discourse as a sign of a clever Congress attempt to appropriate the left-of-centre agenda. “It is axiomatic that a largely impoverished nation needs a political party that the poor can identify with. The Congress has set out to be the party of the poor in daytime, and of the rich at night. ... This is an extremely clever act whose opening scenes are being played out for a new generation that is vague about Indira Gandhi and amnesiac about Nehru”, writes MJ Akbar in his recent Sunday column in the Times of India (29 August 2010). Well, when the rhetoric of Nehru and Indira could not stop the radical Left even during the heydays of ‘non-alignment’ and ‘mixed economy’, can the ‘clever lines’ of Rahul Gandhi befool a people who are bearing the brunt of the pro-corporate pro-imperialist policies of the Congress?