Is peace a hostage to politics?

It seems the lesson from Kalinganagar carnage has been forgotten in Orissa.

DN Singh

The recent actions of the anti-Posco agitators, after the Vedanta fiasco, have undoubtedly disturbed the mid-Monsoon slumber/complacency of the Biju Janta Dal chief Naveen Patnaik. By simply describing the movement as `political` the BJD chief has, perhaps, overused his charisma to portray that his domain of wellness cannot be consumed by a handful of naive outfits, which are making an `odd show` of their democratic rights to negate a cause so dear to his government. It seems the lesson from Kalinganagar carnage has been forgotten.

The face-off at Dhinkia panchayat, supposedly the stronghold of the anti-Posco brigade, can be described as Gandhian, so far, unless a clash between the agitators and the police becomes a bloody one. But the use of children as a kind of shield to keep the administration at bay has raised a few human rights questions.

While the man heading the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), Abhay Sahu, has been often dubbed as a tool in the hands of the Congress and a corporate giant, yet if he succeeds in holding the several-platoons strong police force, engaged to facilitate the land acquisition, on the back foot for another fortnight, at least, the movement might generate more support from activists from across the country and may catapult him from a holed-up motivator to a hero of sort who cannot be written off as an instrument playing to the tunes of a few.

Sahu, a former student of the prestigious Revensaw College, in Cuttack, was little known for his often manifested Left leanings till he came to spearhead the anti-Posco movement in the Dhinkia `panchayat` of Jagatsinghpur in Orissa. From road blocks to, now, human barricades, Sahu has obviously demonstrated that he has the charisma whose organized followers are many and his single-handed efforts to hold a fort against the might of a State simply cannot be ignored. Sahu, so far, has played his cards carefully, oblivious to his political leanings and a much hyped hand-shake with the chief minister two years back in favour of a truce, which was never struck.

Yet he has not been able to escape the allegations that the movement against Posco can be linked inextricably to `money making` whereas the mass, that serves as his real mooring, suffers from the fear of a bleak future in the post-Posco phase. The deftness with which Sahu has managed to represent himself as the only saviour of the 4000 odd villagers standing against Posco, cannot be lost sight of. There have been many rallies and meetings; leaders from various political parties have engaged themselves in filibustering against the project, yet Sahu has retained his identity intact. His assiduously handled one-upmanship, so far, has stood in the ways of other political elements to hijack or share the credit.

Is the use of force going to add to the distortion the way it had done in Kalinganagar in 2005, when 13 protesting tribals had fallen victim to police bullets? Such a question must be lurking somewhere in the psyche of Naveen Patnaik.

However, Patnaik`s doggedness for Posco least deserves to be weighed in measures of people`s welfare if few pertinent points are not lost sight of. Interestingly, the Patnaik government and his political foot-soldiers cutting across the divides within the party have demonstrated an unprecedented loyalty for the Korean steel giant, nearly projecting the venture to become the major jack to uplift the state`s economy, much to the chagrin of many other industrial houses working in the state.

No industry or corporate giant has come to Orissa for charity. So to uphold any particular company as a future milestone on the road to industrial prosperity can be an exaggeration. An eminent economist felt that “the major attraction in Orissa is the mineral wealth and people from outside fly above the people like birds and suck the nectar and fly back”, adding, “leaving the majority to gaze at the glitters which never light their shanties”.

Now that a truce has been struck between the pro-Posco faction and the administration, the signs of progress are there: hundreds of trees are being razed every day following the land acquisition blitzkrieg that leveled hundreds of betel-vines to the earth. And the worried owners of such vines gape at the sky with fat cheques wondering what the future holds for them? "The betel-vine was giving us livelihood round the year but, we do not know how long this money of Rs 2.70 lakh would last since we cannot do anything other than betel farming," said a betel-vine loser from the Nolia Sahi, in Dhinkia, requesting anonymity.

This shows that many have volunteered to give up their betel-vines for money and many more just fell in line fearing isolation - a typical case of moths flying into the flame. “If you do not demolish the vines then it will be demolished by the security forces” was, in fact, the tacit buzzword in the air around Dhinkia.

It means the official propaganda has, to some extent, rubbished the assumption about a wider preparedness by the people to fight the menace of industrialization and the heroics of Sahu and his followers are bit too overrated. But at such junctures, the presence of social activists like Swami Agnivesh, Vandana Shiva, Medha Patekar and now, journalist and activist P Sainath has to some extent breathed some life into the anti-Posco faction. But all such exercises serve little purpose like a dialysis for a kidney patient. None of the above `paratroopers` have ever shown the willingness to be a part of the movement and camp here. Nor Abhay Sahu would ever welcome any such situation which may jeopardise his one-upmanship.

The agitation against Posco seems to be losing the sting as Sahu has used his last weapon of using the children as the shield. But for how long? The State has taken resort to legal recourses to disarm the movement on the ground of “exploitation of the children”.

Mired in several scams, Naveen Patnaik is downbeat and he knows any kind of aggression at this juncture would be perilous. Yet he should thank the unenviable state of Abhay Sahu who allowed himself to remain isolated from a nationally based movement for obvious reasons. The felling of each tree in and around the Posco site must be a respite for Naveen, a man so enviably inclined towards the Koreans.

What is equally puzzling is that the MoU between the State and Posco had expired last year. A lot of time was bought over its renewal, but the renewal is still due. Pending that issue, the bellicosity shown for land acquisition and now for the site grading hints at an illusion of the State government that the rules can be junked for a totalitarian cause.

If Patnaik wants the process for the Posco to be a peaceful one, then it should not be ridden of a democratic approach like it happened in Kalinganagar, which led to a state of massacre. However, the uninterrupted presence of about 20 platoons of security forces can be loosely called as high-handed which perches between arm-twisting and sadism.

Why Posco; any industrial house tends to be very circumspect about its political preferences, now a common vengeful attitude towards those who are politically or otherwise hostile. That precisely could be the reason why the history of displacement in India is replete with more sorrows than solutions.

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