On the way back from Dhinkia

Anti-POSCO struggle – Some Questions

Shahina

“If you are living in a state which is rich in mineral wealth, you will have but a fragile democracy”. Desperately commented an activist fighting against the proposed iron ore project by POSCO in Orissa.While having tea together on the way back from Dhinkia, he abysmally expressed no hope for a change in the way by which democracy has been functioning. At the same time, adding to my embarrassment he categorically ruled out the possibility of the POSCO project getting materialised. He says the chances are very low and he attributes several reasons for the same. He is not only an activist belonging to PPSS (POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti) but also a local leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), the party which has taken a significant role in the upsurge against POSCO.

On the way back from Dhinkia, the hot bed of anti-POSCO struggle in Orissa, I repeated the same question to all the people I met there from different strands of life. I wished to know how far they believed that the project would really be materialised. The answer was not in affirmative. Neither the cream of activists who are involved in the struggle nor the NGOs who support the movement believe that the project has reached the threshold and the stage is well set for a mass scale displacement of tribes as it has been claimed throughout the struggle. Obviously the question is then why somebody is keeping the villagers of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakunjanga constantly sleepless, vigilant, alert and even armed against the foe who is sometimes visible and at other times invisible. I find the phenomena complex and abstruse in which the whole civil society initiatives including political parties and NGOs who support the struggle are playing a part of their own. There might be people who think that the time is not ripe to raise critic against a historic struggle which is on its way bloodied yet ahead. Never ever being a cynic, I believe no struggle, people’s movement or any kind of political resistance could be taken for granted. Hence there is no harm in debating over the political undercurrents of the anti-POSCO movement in Orissa.

A brief account on what had happened in the past in the phase of the struggle against POSCO, the Korean Steal giant is indeed necessary to understand what the current situation is there in the affected villages. Let me take a hairpin deviation from the questions or apprehensions raised above to the recent past of the historic struggle led by the people of Jagatsinghpur district.

The anti-POSCO struggle was triggered soon after the notorious MoU had been signed between the Govt of Orissa and the Korean steal company POSCO three years back in 2005. The people in the three Panchayats of Erasama block in Jagatsinghpur district, where 6000 acres of land is proposed to be acquired for the project, organised under the banner of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, an umbrella organisation which is predominantly led by CPI. Abhay Sahoo the chairman of PPSS is the state secretariat member of the party. Nobody could evade appreciating CPI for its organisational investment to energise a movement which is a genuine uprising of the people against a multinational project which may take away their land and livelihood. Since the struggle started, there had been a number of bloody attacks over PPSS activists by goons employed by the company as well as police who were playing an explicitly partisan role throughout the scene. In November 2007 the camp set up by the PPSS activists was set ablaze. There were constant efforts to manhandle the activists, intimidate and thus destabilize the movement. The Naveen Patnaik Government more or less used the state machinery to throw the people away from the proposed land irrespective of all the prevailing laws which speaks in favour of the people. The government was in a hurry to move ahead even before getting the environmental clearance for the project. Anyhow the movement against POSCO, learning lessons from Kalinganagar, successfully grabbed national attention which resulted in the large scale intervention by human right activists and organisations all over. On 1st April, which is the foundation day of Orissa called Utkal Divas in Oriya, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti organised a massive rally against the project which was blocked by the police. A great number of men, women and children broke the barricade and reached Balitutha the venue of the public meeting conducted thereafter. Over 2000 people participated in the rally which was a powerful expression of their determination and will against the proposed project for mining.

We, a group of six women from Delhi coming from different strands of social life sharing the common thought of upholding the politics of resistance against the spate of development without a human face, reached Dhinkia on the eve of Utkal Divas. The driver of the cab by which we managed to reach the place was detained and badly beaten up by the police next day alleging that he transported a group of Maoists who gave arms training to the villagers! We spent a whole night with the villagers and shared the agony and sense of loss in their lives. Next day we walked with hundreds of people who were marching in the rally, shouting slogans against the political project of washing out the indigenous people, marginalising the poor and displacing farmers for the corporate desires of a powerful ruling class.

On the way to Balitutha, the venue of the public meeting, we were interrogated by a journalist who introduced himself as the correspondent of Samaj, one of the leading Oriya newspapers. I revealed my identity as a journalist (an identity which I never tried to hide!) and introduced others. The story which was carried next day in Samaj was similar to the pretext used by police to torture our taxi driver – that a group of women maoist leaders camped in Dhinkia and gave arms training to the villagers! It added that the whole scene of the rally reflected the presence of Maoists who maintain the flavour of militancy in their each and every move! Being a journalist from Kerala, it was of course not an eye opener but a sharp reminder for me on how Maoists are born. Alleging Maoist presence is the easiest way to make cracks in a struggle if it is essentially against the state.

The rally, breaking the barricade, shouting slogans and taking the oath to resist up to the last breath was immensely inspiring. I was deeply disturbed by the imminent catastrophe shadowing over their lives. Hence I talked to many people who were playing a leading role in the struggle as well as those who came from outside in support of the struggle. I got more and more perplexed to see their stake in the issue. None of them really think that the project would materialise in the immediate future. The reasons are many. The hardest obstacle in the way of the project is the recently notified forest rights act. It is not hard to find that the project in its present form is a blatant violation of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest rights Act 2006). It is not amenable to my reason to think that any Government would take a suicidal step to go ahead with the project irrespective of the fierce reaction from the public especially when the general election is approaching. It was said by some ‘highly placed sources’ that the Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik is not even willing to have a face-to-face meet with the POSCO officials. As far as he is concerned, the game is over at least for the time being because the mood for assembly election has already been set. It is alleged that the political leadership, the bureaucracy and even the judiciary are playing harmoniously well to bargain with the multinationals which are fascinated by the immensely rich natural wealth of the state. ‘Nobody is loosing the game’ a CPI leader and PPSS activist remarks, ‘all those who were playing in the field as well as sitting in the gallery have gained maximum monetary benefits’. He adds that, in fact the ruling front is happy to see the struggle gaining momentum, because the more the struggle is strengthened, the more they could bargain with the POSCO people! It is alleged that not only the ruling BJP-BJD front but even the leadership of Congress, which has a rather weak position in the current political scene, could not be absolved for the complicity of being a part of the biggest corruption story in the history of Orissa.

Now the focus and priority have shifted from the bargaining game to the forthcoming assembly election for which they have already started the game of winning hearts. Whatever may be the reason, I am happy that no more police actions will be there in Orissa at least for the time being. The April 1st rally itself was a clear indication of the changing attitude of the Government. The Government has strictly instructed the police not to get provoked even at the worst.

It is quite obvious that POSCO has already spent crores of rupees to grease the palm of the political and bureaucratic bosses. But you are blatantly wrong if you jump into the conclusion that POSCO is the looser in this game. POSCO has already started bargaining with Brazil which categorically denied any chance of selling its mineral wealth for an amount which is lower than the current market rate. POSCO won the game in coercing Brazil to bring down the price. The MoU signed is a powerful weapon for the company by which they could successfully conquer the market.

CPI will be regarded for being with the people in their struggles for survival. Even when bearing the brunt of the UPA rule, the party stands out by making its stake clear in such issues. But is this enough to absolve the party for being an accomplice in the game of using any kind of people’s interests for its own political gains? The answer is a big blatant NO. The ground reality is that all those who have a major role in leading the anti-POSCO struggle know well that the project is not an immediate threat. The NGOs in and out of Orissa also are not exempted from this.

I left Bhubaneswar the day after, leaving the question unanswered. Is it very necessary to keep the innocent poor villagers sleepless, alert even armed as if they have to go into a war at any point of time? They are struggling hard to make both ends meet. Don’t they have the right to sleep peacefully without the scaring boot steps? Will it be ‘politically incorrect’ to advocate for their right to take a breathing space before plunging into bloodier battles?

Comments

  1. It has two Points. One : The attitude always taken by the Left Parties against the developing faces. Other thing, the Govt. must take into consideration of the rehabilitaion process.

    The People can protest if a foreign company/mission came to our nation and loot our valuable minerals. If POSCO, the Korean Steel Giant were arrived with this aim then it should be protested.

    Good Post Shahina.

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