Talks Series on Identity
Gogu Shyamala on Identity
Shyamala spoke at length about her understanding of 'astitvam' or 'astitvaalu'. She defined astitvam/astitvaalu as the original caste communities of India who create, produce and protect the natural resources through thier physical and mental labour. They should be called productive castes. In the imagination of Indian democracy, their cultures and knowledges do not count. They also do not seem to count in the imagination of the Indian left, who visualize a unified working class rather than thinking of working castes. Instead, their culture(s) get degraded. In contrast, it is the minority that enjoys the disproportionate share of the resources, educational and health benefits. Identity movements are many hued. Maadiga Dandora movement for the categorization of SCs has been an important one. The Telangana movement has been another important identity movement. The former sought the just sharing of state resources. How can the latter be called an identity movement? Because, there is stereotyping and cultural denigration involved in the Telangana question too.
Short course in women’s studies at Satavahana University, Karimnagar, October 2010
The course was conceived as an attempt to understand and influence the current discourse on gender at the muffasil universities. Given the limited access that the students have to resources and debates, we designed the course in a way that they would be able to relate to the discussions.
Satavaahana University students, majority of who belong to SC and BC sections, being in the heart of Telangana movement, we hoped would be able to understand issues related to history, law, nutrition, Dalit questions and the impact of globalization. The four day course was designed with lectures and discussions around these issues.
The first day’s session was on gender and history. The Anveshi group thought that ‘We were making history’ would be a good entry point to introduce the discussion on gender for one has heard that almost all students in all Telangana Universities are active in the movement for a separate state of Telangana. Lalita's lecture was received very well. Most of the students did not know that there were women in Telangana armed struggle of 1948 and were glad to know this. Shyamala's talk picked up many themes from Lalita's, elaborated them and went on to describe Nallapoddu. Her presence there, as a Telanagana Dalit intellectual, discussing the Dalit writings of the entire Andhra Pradesh was very important. It conveyed the importance of scholarship for all those who are interested in the movements.
The second day’s session was on gender, health and food. Many students also turned up to watch the films that were screened. A whole range of issues from nutrition, food and hunger were discussed on this day. On third day, five groups of students made presentations based on the essays from Quotapai Charcha. Subhadra's talk on Dalit women and reservations in Panchayat Raj also underscored some of the complexities about the question of women's reservations though the experiences of Dalit women.
On the fourth day, Rama Melkote spoke about globalization process and the paradigm shifts that it has brought in knowledge and thinking and discussed how it impacted the university education in Telangana. Vasudha discussed the changes in the law brought by the women's movement about dowry, domestic violence and the workings of 498A law in and outside the courts. It was well received because it was interspersed with several anecdotes and court asides.
The course had on an average there were 50 to 60 students in each session, going to over 100 in one. All are post graduate students, male and female, from different disciplines ranging from sociology (maximum number - 30), Telugu literature, English lit, Chemistry and Urdu lit. The sociology and Urdu group were most active. Though slow to warm up, many students had questions for the speakers and expressed anxieties such a course inevitably tends to generate. But the students were eager to learn, were glad that they came to know of many new issues and new people.
Through out the course, there were two directions/guiding in thinking that the students received. However, they did not clash. One was being pushed by Sujatha, who sought to foreground the importance of changes in personal life by learning about gender inequality. As such, she stressed on the need to take a stand on issues such as dowry, women students' freedom of movement and speech, male students' tendency to dismiss their women colleagues, women's students' fears etc. The second was being pushed by the entire Anveshi group - of taking gender as an element of thought in intellectual inquiry and the partial and biased nature of knowledge one acquires through disciplinary training in the universities. The University administration were quite cooperative though they could not offer any financial support. The course closed with a certificate presentation programme on the last day, with Registrar and Head of the Dept of Sociology giving away the certificates. Nearly 100 students came to take certificates.
Discussion with Kancha Ilaiah on ‘Post Hindu India’, 5th October 2010
Prof. Ilaiah's talk was structured as a response to the reviews of his book. Almost ten reviews were circulated in advance to the audience. He defended his book against the charges that it lacks methodology and does not follow conventions of social science writing. He argued that as an insider to the caste communities that he has lived with-in, he has had access to many backward caste and Dalit communities. The skills and knowledges of such communities do not feature in the mainstream culture, including academic writing and institutions. The lack of acknolwledgment leads to a cultural devaluation of the caste communities and a scientific denigration of thier skills. In order for such acknowledgment to enter the mainstream, he thinks that it is important that these cultures be written about in a methodical manner. He argued that such a logical exercise should be considered scientific. Two, he also argued that only when such a recognition and valuation of Dalit bahujan cultures enters the mainstream, it becomes possible to build a movement/campaign against 'spiritual fascism' in the country.
Srimati Basu on Playing off Courts: The Negotiation of Divorce and Violence in Plural Legal Settings in Kolkata, 7th July, 2010.
Srimati Basu, an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies (and Anthropology) spoke on her work around the feminist counseling centres in Calcutta and the negotiations that occur there.
Reading Workshop on Development for Telangana
On the 17th July 2010, we organized a workshop on development theory with an eye to the emerging situation in Telangana. The objective of the workshop was to provide access to recent theoretical advances in the social sciences in relation to recent understandings of development. In view of this aim, the design of the workshop was to have three presentations of different influential readings of development.
Based on an earlier model of group reading around the dilemmas of Muslims in the old city region of Hyderabad, we had hoped for a discussion group of about 20 members, so that a focused discussion could be achieved. This hope, it should be made clear, was for a maximum number who would possibly be interested in the question of development in Telangana, rather than for a minimum number that we should expect. Our 'realistic' expectation was around 10-15 people. However, as the day of the workshop drew near, we felt that may be around 25 people would attend. We were quite stunned by the interest generated by the topic, resulting in a record workshop attendance of 54 people that Saturday! This group had members of the teaching faculty from the University of Hyderabad, English and Foreign Languages University (and many students from this institution), thoughtful activists from different NGOs and cooperatives, and students from Osmania University who took part in the Telangana movement. While this turnout was in part due to the success of our mobilization, this is not a sufficient reason, since similar efforts yielded much poorer results on other occasions. The gratifying aspect of the workshop was that a substantial majority of the participants stayed through out the day, and sure enough there were the tell tale groups of stragglers who continued to linger in the premises after the exhausting day was done. This was indication enough that the theme of the workshop had struck a strong chord in the interest of the Anveshi community.
One text read was a book of contributed essays evaluating the Kerala development model, the second was the recent work by Kalyan Sanyal on reevaluating capitalist development, and the third was Partha Chatterjee's recent paper on democracy and economic transformation in India. The idea was that the three presentations would be made and at the end of each, some questions in relation to Telangana could be raised. The hope was that there would be a good discussion on the Telangana question in relation to that of underdevelopment.
The readings and presentations were extremely well received, though they did suffer from shortcomings due to our lack of teaching/lecturing practice. There was also some timidity regarding talking about the subject to a group of academics and activists who we thought would be bound to know more than we do.
Less successful were the discussions that followed. This was because of several reasons. An 'adda' (small group discussion) on the following Saturday conducted a post-mortem of the workshop and came up with the following:
a) the speakers did not take a position that critically evaluated the papers, and this left the listeners in the lurch;
b) the speakers were too diffident about their own capabilities, while in fact they were perhaps the most competent among those present to actually discuss the papers;
c) the presentations and workshop in general were implicitly designed for a much smaller group, and there was no time for an explicit reorganization of the event to meet the larger number of participants. Hence, the poorly organized style of the meeting militated against a strong discussion;
d) finally it was also likely that because of the different constituencies present and different (though overlapping) interests the discussion was not too well focused.
A second criticism was that while the development theory aspect of the workshop went off quite well, the link to the practical political struggles in relation to Telangana was not established. Some of the participants were also irritated that the discussions were conducted in English, while the need was for the less privileged Telugu speakers to understand and respond to the work. This is a problem that seems to be rooted in the lack of a left discourse that is up to date in the terms and concepts that were being discussed. Indeed some of the participants in the post mortem discussion felt that the Telugu debate was such that to say 'passive revolution' was nearly an an insult. Some important possibilities emerge from this.
1) It was felt that a translation of some of the theoretical papers was an absolute necessity.
2) It was felt that a paper discussing the relatively newer terms like hegemony, passive revolution and governmentality was an essential undertaking.
3) It was felt that essays of a more theoretical character could be pursued using current events as they occurred as a basis for essays that attempted to introduce useful concepts.
A third observation emerged in the adda post-mortem. One of the structural problems of the development discourse was that non-administrative ways of discussing peoples' aspirations and the future in broad terms were rendered invisible in the development terrain. These aspirations were usually seen as questions of identity that expressed some shortfall of welfare, and thus had to be addressed by proper allocation of resources. In short, criticism was simply to be taken care of by better administration along the same lines. Establishing a development debate on a political terrain meant that these other modes of discussion would need to have legitimacy and visibility. And these critiques should be heard in such a way that the administrative discourse was forced to account for its fallibility, vulnerability and error. It was also thought that some more detailed discussions with political activists and groups, e.g., students in the Telangana movement, dalit activists who worked on questions of aspirations and critiques of existing states of affairs, and Muslim intellectuals could serve as a basis for an article about development that would find the space for a democratic language.
We will pursue these leads in the coming year and see where they take us.
Some of the links for material used in the workshop :
Since Rama's presentation was not based on formal notes, Shefali's report of the discussion that follows summarizes it in some detail. Other rapporteurs are Vasudha, Moid and Suneetha.
The reports of the discussions
Rama's presentation and discussion
The first presentation of the day discussed in detail selected chapters from Kerala: the Development Experience. The four essays discussed included Parayil’s introduction to the collection, Patrick Heller’s ‘Social Capital and the Developmental State: Industrial Workers in Kerala’ (Chapt. 4), Olle Tornquist’s ‘The New Popular Politics of Development: Kerala’s Experience’ (Chapt. 6) and, briefly, ‘What does the Kerala model signify? Towards a possible “fourth world”’ by M.P Parameswaran.
The Introduction goes into two related questions that are addressed in the essays included—why is the Kerala experience of development important? Is it useful to consider it a model? While discussion some of the dimensions of defining a ‘model’ and its uses, the Introduction defends the importance of the ‘Kerala model’ of development, where development has occurred without economic growth. The argument as presented was not to say that growth is unimportant, but that equitable distribution of resources and social justice must be given priority. The criticisms of the ‘Kerala model’ are also addressed in this introductory essay, the biggest one being that lack of growth means a stagnant economy, which cannot lead to sustainable development. Rama, however, while owning that she knew very little about Kerala’s experience of development and going purely by the articles in the book, thought that the model, if such it is, may be revolutionary, in that it is a democratic practice of development as opposed to an authoritarian one often encountered elsewhere.
Patrick Heller: ‘Social Capital and the Developmental State: Industrial Workers in Kerala’ (Chapter 4)
Laying out the main points of Heller’s essay in the book, Rama noted that he credits Kerala’s achievements in the field of development leading to distributive justice, to the relationship between a democratic labour movement and a responsive state. He characterizes this state of affairs as one of a positive intermeshing between state and society, in a context of high ‘social capital’. In his analysis of the labour movement, Heller observes that it attacks both capital and ‘traditional sources of power’. But the observation that Rama found particularly interesting was that the labour movement in Kerala had ‘come to terms with the limits of militancy’, leading to a situation of ‘class compromise’. She contrasted Heller’s discussion of social capital with the debate in Andhra Pradesh during Chandrababu Naidu’s tenure as Chief Minister, where ‘social capital’ became a mere tool to create alternative power blocs for the ruling party, rather than being used to address issues.
Rama also noted that social mobilization in Kerala seemed, in this essay, to be class-based, where Heller claims that the power of the lower classes has been ‘institutionalized’. She wondered whether the question of marginalization on the basis of caste did not arise at all or was completely absent from this framework. Even class conflict, Heller claims, has been given institutional expression by the state in Kerala. An instance is the setting up of joint committees of employers and labour leaders for the mediation of labour disputes in various industries; this changed in 1981, when the ‘creation of a work culture’ is prioritized. The point he makes is that this ‘regulated industrial negotiation’ in Kerala is a product of ‘concrete and historical struggle’, during which vertical hierarchies have been challenged by class mobilization working horizontally across groups. Rama observed that it was remarkable that caste, community, gender etc. seem not to have been obstacles in unionizing workers in the unorganized sector.
‘Synergy’, then, seemed to be the solution proffered by this essay to manage the contradictions of democratic capitalist development.
Olle Tornquist: ‘The New Popular Politics of Development: Kerala’s Experience’ (Chapter 6)
The main argument of Tornquist’s contribution is that the Kerala experience proves ‘growth pundits’ and their claim that less politics is good for development, wrong. It shows, on the contrary, that politics is important for social justice and ‘human development’. He takes the example of the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP), which became known for finding solutions to contentious labour issues through negotiation, and for encouraging public scrutiny of development projects etc. There are clear echoes of the argument laid out in the earlier essay by Patrick Heller in Tornquist’s essay.
The presentation highlighted the three main initiatives of the KSSP, as discussed in the piece. The first of these was Kerala’s famous drive for ‘mass literacy’, which was a result of both local and national level collaboration, effected by the KSSP. The second was the initiative was the promotion of ‘group farming’, one consequence of which was the increased production of rice, but also, in terms of political effects, this process apparently reduced the tension between landowners and labour. The third major project undertaken by the KSSP was an exercise in ‘resource mapping’ in the state.
The presentation ended by noting that Tornquist dismisses allegations made against the KSSP, of being partial towards ‘party members’ in all its projects, and systematically shutting non-party people out. He claims that this may have happened occasionally, but was by no means systematic exclusion.
With the presentation of these three pieces, several issues were on the table for participants to debate, and it was felt that it would be useful to begin the discussion without going too much into the last essay chosen for presentation, that is, M.P Parameswaran’s piece. Rama briefly summarized the argument made in this piece, which looks forward to the genesis of a ‘fourth world’, based on a kind of synthesis between the ideas of Karl Marx and M.K Gandhi; in other words, a new kind of corner of the world, as it were, based equally on the principles of Marxism and Gandhism, already visible in many of the initiatives taken in Kerala. Though not mentioned in the presentation or subsequent discussion, it must be remembered that Parameswaran, who is credited with the achievements of the KSSP and the kind of organization it grew into during the late seventies and eighties, was expelled from the CPI (M) apparently for writing a book based on his ideas about the ‘fourth world’.
The discussion began with a question from Ramanamurthy (UoH) about how one could ‘locate’ the Kerala model. According to him, it is wrongly projected as a successful social democratic model of development, or even a successful model of passive revolution. The question of replicability becomes important in discussions about development. The Kerala model is projected, in these writings and elsewhere, as an alternative to the neo-liberal celebration of economic ‘growth’. This is both true and untrue—true if we remember that this is only so in the face of the absence of radical or revolutionary overhauls of the system. However, there are limits to its efficacy—it has lead to high unemployment and ‘labour indiscipline’, and will ultimately lead to the stopping of all accumulation. Even so, its usefulness remains an open question in a climate where neo-liberalism in on the ascendant, and even the Kerala model, with all its problems, seems increasingly out of reach.
Rama observed that the history of Kerala seems to provide a base for the kind of social mobilization discussed in the essays. But is this replicable? Her own answer was perhaps not, because every place has its own specific histories in which their politics is located, and which therefore cannot really travel in the sense that ‘replicability’ suggests.
Veena Shatrugna (Anveshi) wanted to know what kind of surplus is extracted from Kerala, because it is well-known that a lot is extracted from states like U.P and Bihar, which shows no signs of translating into the kind of development being discussed. ‘Who picks up the tab for welfare?’ she asked. The Left is definitely a factor, she said, and also observed, continuing in the comparative vein, that the Left was very important in Telangana, but the major difference was that it was never in power. Was it not the case that ‘crisis management’ was the responsibility of the Centre? Was this perhaps a factor in Kerala’s development model?
Rama conceded that some efforts from the central government definitely helpful, but emphasized that ‘whatever was extracted was redistributed’, therefore the ‘no accumulation—no growth’ problem.
Vamsi (University of Hyderabad) pointed out, in an observation that was to be repeated by many comments, that the scenario discussed in these pieces was somewhat dated, and that from the early 1990s, Kerala has had ‘high growth’. Further, some of the highest levels of inequality in the country have been reported from there, between now and that time. Any discussion of the Kerala model must take this into consideration.
Sharath then talked about some of the specificities of the Kerala situation. Firstly, he said, there was the situation where the state and the dominant trade unions were of the same political group—such a situation only existed in the Soviet Union. The positive side of this was that the unions were forced to organize people at the grassroots level, in the process also managing the population for the state. In the case of Kerala, foreign remittances, that is, money that came in from migrant workers to West Asian countries, also play a very important role in the economy.
Shashi (Yugantar) said that the issue of replicability requires us to think about the ‘necessary and initial conditions’ that make a certain process possible. Both physical and social technology may work to make a model of the sort being discussed possible, only in Kerala, it seems that the state has been the major factor. In Kerala, unionizing activity is in the sphere of civil society, thus the success of the Kerala model. In Telangana, however, ‘political society’ prevails; the question is how the transformation to civil society is to be effected. Unlike in Kerala, this cannot happen through the category if class; caste mobilization is more of a possibility. If caste movements can transform themselves into civil society movements, then perhaps the Kerala model may have a chance in Telangana.
Rama reiterated that it was surprising how little attention was paid to the question of caste in the essays discussed. Of course, Telangana cannot be discussed without paying adequate attention to categories of caste, community et al.
R. Srivatsan (Anveshi) intervened in the discussion to point out that differences in terminology, or the ways in which certain terms are employed by different discourses and frameworks, will become important in such a discussion. The example he cited was of ‘social capital’, a concept reworked by Robert Putnam into an essentially liberal focus on the value and forms of association. On the other hand, there is Partha Chatterjee’s concept of ‘political society’, which argues that there are forms of association which are not recognizable as such within a liberal discourse. He went on to observe that the perspectives presented in the essays on the Kerala model were ‘distanced’ and in that sense ‘social scientific’. For instance, every time the word ‘mobilization’ was used, it seemed very much like something was being managed, whether by a vanguard, or some other entity, that is, the discussion and use of the term was not from the perspective of ‘the mobilized’ as it were. Thus, there is already a gap in the way that participation is being conceptualized.
Jhumur Lahiri (scientist) suggested that it was important to separate the periods within which different modes of participation/mobilization had prevailed—the period from the 1950s to the 1970s was very different from the 70s to the 90s, and these in turn were different from the 90s and beyond. The changes that Sharath and Vamsi had mentioned, she said, were mainly in the 70s to 90s phase. She further suggested that a comparison with the situation in West Bengal may be helpful for us to understand these processes and changes.
K. Lalita (Anveshi, Yugantar) put forward some of her ‘questions and confusions’. She asked if we were more interested in the development model, or issues of equality and justice in the context of Kerala, especially if we were interested in thinking about Telangana. She felt that these questions needed to be separated. For instance, ‘bracketing the civil and political society distinction for the time being’, in spite of the ‘human development’ indicators being very positive, as highlighted in these essays, the absence of caste equality, the existence of gender inequality and in fact, extreme violence against women in Kerala was well-known, especially at Anveshi where we had had the opportunity to interact with Dalit and Dalit feminist activists, writers and intellectuals from Kerala.
Srivats then said that in fact, ‘we should have a seminar only on Kerala!’
Shyama (Dastkar) wanted to know why these particular essays were chosen for the discussion, in view of the fact that they were so steeped in the discourse of development and spoke in such a ‘neutral’ voice that all aspects of ‘experience’ were completely excluded from them.
Gogu Shyamala (Anveshi) then raised several critical questions with respect to the perspective adopted in the essays. She felt that the model of ‘class’ had been employed to the detriment of all other social categories, rendering them invisible. However, even the model of class used here is impoverished. She observed that at Anveshi we had met many people involved with different kinds of adivasi and Dalit struggles in Kerala—she cited C.K Janu’s struggle and the Chengara agitation. These were occasions when Dalits and adivasis were raising the question of land and equitable distribution of resources etc. But in the dominant framework they only ever appear as ‘identity’ struggles, and their protagonists as “categorized people” (her words). From these essays, it seems as thought politics is the sole prerogative of the CPI (M) in Kerala! Therefore, she felt that other essays should have been chosen for the discussion.
Srivats agreed vociferously with Shyamala, noting that this was indeed one of the major troubles with writings on development—‘identity’ becomes a kind of catch-all term through which they understand social categories and political questions.
Usha Seetalakshmi (-------) added to Shyamala’s criticism by observing that these articles had ‘missed the tribal pockets completely’, and this was a very serious lapse. Further, she said, in Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu’s defeat in 2004 was precisely a result of his ‘core constituency—the mobilized’ not voting for him. Any discussion on Telangana would have to look at the tribal struggles here and in any comparative case.
Gopal (CEC) wished that Rama had ‘updated’ the information in the book, since the Kerala situation has changed considerably. The key points of the book seemed to be— ‘compacts are good, they minimize conflict’, and politicization is good. Development cannot be reduced to growth, but growth also finances development. The Kerala model thus raises some serious questions for us: what is the current trajectory of growth? What is the state of the economy overall—which means inquiring into factors like savings, capital investment etc. ‘On the hard economic stuff, Kerala does very badly’, he said. In talking about the Telangana situation, he made the very interesting point that if development was the major question, ‘the optimum model is actually a unified state’. But that is precisely the point—development discourse ‘does disservice to Telangana’, which is a political question. Development, according to him, is essentially the state’s potential for investment. Whereas in the Telangana question, the people’s aspirations were ‘simple’—they want ‘justice’ and ‘equality’.
Sheela Prasad (Anveshi; UoH) added that for all the importance given to the KSSP in the essays discussed, it has conceptualized development in a ‘pretty mainstream way’. Where questions of the environment have come up, they have tended to take an oppositional stance. They supported the ‘Silent Valley’ project because the livelihood question was not involved, but otherwise, in all conflict between ecological concerns and employment questions, the unions have never taken up the former. She also underlined the absurdity of Parameswaran’s intellectual project of attempting a synthesis between Marx and Gandhi.
Ramanmurthy, responding to the earlier comments on development, said that the question of taxes, how to run states etc. are ‘accounting questions’. Development today means the questions concerning mining, land etc. This is the context in which the Kerala model becomes important, he repeated. It reminds us that health, education etc. cannot be left to the market—the state has to be involved in these sectors. This must be kept in mind while discussing Telangana. Of course there are problems and failures, but the key lesson of the Kerala model ‘in these neo-liberal times’ is that the state has to be responsible for the social sector.
Rama commented that what was ‘most impressive’ about it was the diminishing of the gap between the organized and unorganized sector.
Veena added that under Chandrababu Naidu, the mobilization had been a key to the penetration of the market into new areas, not following the Kerala model of development.
Rekha Pappu agreed with earlier comments that the developments in Kerala during and after the year 2000 were very different from the discussions in the book. Referring back to Shyama’s and other people’s questions about the choice of essays, she felt that it was true that a certain neutrality and ‘objective’ stance was essential to mainstream development discourse. The challenging question is to talk about justice and equality with respect to this, given these problematic frameworks.
Discussion following Srivatsan’s presentation of Kalyan Sanyal’s Paper
Syama: I am not really sure how this theorizing helps in understanding issues of marginalization and exploitation. What difference does it make if the “wasteland” is located within the structure of capitalism itself? What is the advantage that accrues to understanding people struggles?
Sashi: I am unclear about the notion of primitive accumulation being a primary cause. Let us take the example of pauperization in the rural sector in Andhra Pradesh. The size of land holding on an average is one acre which disallows for any proper livelihood for its owners. What is dispossession in this cases? Maybe, one sees the argument of dispossession in the case of tribals…
Itty Abraham: Chattisgarh and Jharkhand are examples of new states being colonized for capitalist expansion. Some of the common features that they share are uneven development, mineral exploitation, the Maoist movement and so on. If one comes to Telangana the issue is that of a new political structure which will make itself open to local and foreign capital. Given the looming issue of lack of development, is there a danger of super exploitation at the very inception of a new state.
Usha: The concrete example of dispossession is that of the SEZs, of accumulation through dispossession. There are around 63 SEZs in Telangana itself. It is interesting to note that NREGA was introduced in the same year as the policy of SEZs. The state strategises about how it shall dispossess its people by moving between acquisition of multi crop land on one hand and assigned lands of dalits on the other, leading to some kind of an uneven acquisition which results in fractured solidarities. The same land which was categorized as wasteland gains a new value when absorbed into the structure of the SEZ. In Polepally and Kakinada multi-crop land was acquired. There is a development governance at play. In this context where are the spaces for resistance?
Janardhan: Capitalism in its classical sense dispossesses, expropriates and turns people into a wage labouring class. As it restructures itself the labouring classes join the reserve army. Andre Gorse in his book speaks about the farewell to labour in the context of automation and the disappearing labour class. This results in greater and greater rise of constant capital leading to large surpluses. Given this scenario what does dispossession mean? Capital needs to valorize itself. As I see it dispossessed labor is endemic to capitalism.
Vamsi: Capitalism has not exhausted its escape routes to overcome its crisis and primitive accumulation might not be the central ways of response. Today, we see how global capital has entered China which has become a source of growth. Similarly, there could be several. It is not fair to close the transition possibilities in history. Central to Sanyal’s argument is a logic of exclusion. There seems to be a deterministic analysis that excluded populations get managed into the capitalist order. Sanyal also caricatures Escobar, by drawing upon development as a discursive formation as the only worthwhile insight from Escobar. Whereas, Escobar has much more complex theorization than what Sanyal attempts to reduce the former. We all know that passive revolution happens when the bourgeoisie is not a powerful class. What is capitalism without an outside? In a capitalist order, as Rosa Luxemburg notes, the outside is constantly preyed upon by the capital. 19th century imperialism is replete with evidence for this process. Hence, it is not clear what is new about Sanyal’s additions to this discourse.
Ramanamurthy: Generally one is caught in the traditionally received notion of non-capital being transformed by capital. What is new about Sanyal’s argument is that he defines the transition differently and not as following the older formula. Such a transition results in marginalization on one hand and rehabilitation on the other. In this, as he points out, one is bound to miss the politics of development wherein managing the non-capital becomes the object of development. There are multiple ways in which the exclusion and inclusion are taking place which in a way makes `development’ inevitable.
Susie: To me what is interesting about Sanyal’s argument is that it allows us to step outside the transition model of capitalism and actually see what is happening. Is there any other way of seeing the economic activity of people? What are the actions undertaken here and how can it be understood? How does the state relate to the non-capital? One is not just looking at resistance but the multiple logics with which the non-capital functions.
Veena: One must not miss the point that 70% of the population is outside the capital production.
Sarath: How does the state manage those who are dispossessed, the excluded population? 12,000 crores has been invested by the government in the NREGA programme. It invests this money without expecting anything much out of it. Would this mean that these state programmes as examples of managing the dispossessed? What is the traffic between the capital and need economy?
Jhumur: The dispossessed are being managed by the delivery mechanism of restructuring of the economy. The cluster models in the weaver populations is an instance of relationship between the two economies.
Sashi: Development indicators such as food security, nutrition, education can be addressed. A notion of equity is enough to address these indicators.
Discussion after the presentation of Chatterjee's paper
After Suneetha presented the paper the first comment came from K. Lalita. She agreed that capital is a necessary concept to discuss political economy, but wanted to know ‘where the money for electoral processes comes from’. ‘What is primitive capitalism in these terms? How do political parties raise funds?’ We know the stories about how the politicians are supported by aid, donations, black money, commissions and extortions of various forms. How does the concept of ‘capital’ explain this aspect of democracy? Given the topic of the paper ‘Democracy and Economic transformation in India’, this question becomes relevant. New situations are being created by the dynamics of capital that in emerging in the framework and processes of democracy. How do democratic electoral processes and capital support each other, and what is the resulting nature of both? What is happening to ‘people’ as a result of this interaction?
The next comment (somewhat sarcastic) was from Sashi who said ‘it looked as if I was sitting in a World Bank session. What Partha is offering is what World Bank feels. It is a hopeful situation’. Now the question is: How does a critique of World Bank would look at this situation and how does Partha’s Paper. A related question could be how the World Bank looks at Indian situations and how the ruling elites of our country look at them. Then again how a leftist and a rightist would look at the new conditions of capital, peasants and democracy. Similarly what is the development agenda of World Bank and who agrees with it? What are the implications of World Bank development agenda in India?
Janardhan made three observations: the first was in a form of question. “Up to what extent can we understand Partha’s formulations in terms of classes, masses and state?’ Secondly that the nature of class composition is changing in India and ‘I see a fusion between economic and political class’. Thirdly, ‘what do we mean by corporate capital. It is becoming a way of life and culture. What constitutes corporate capital? Is it just companies or more?’ According to him ‘It has became a cultural value’. In other words his comments are directed towards a need to looking at ‘capital’ from broader perspective and examine how it has became a part of people’s lives and culture. It will be interesting if we reverse the order and look at masses, class and state; and fusion of economic and political class from this ‘culture’ perspective.
Commenting on Sanyal’s paper, Vasudha said that it was interesting because of various development projects, which displace people and encroaches on their rights. Rehabilitation has to he done to such affected people. In courts there are innumerable cases about their problems. According to her, the courts are also dealing with grievances arising out of development project in a big way’. Which leads to the issue of law in relation to the development as growth of capital. The role law plays in the new circumstances described by Chatterjee needs to be looked at.
Rama, thinking about political society said that the welfare programmes by the government are creating hierarchies in political society and also setting one group against another. This leads to fragmentation and solidarity becomes hard to achieve. Here the questions she raises is ‘In what way does the state use these programmes?’ In other words how does it manage the pressures, pulls and pushes and the emerging new situations on the field.
Srivats, responding to Janardhan, explained that ‘Partha’s argument of about political society is different from the old notion of ‘masses’. He has also developed the concept of political society considerably in last 7-8 years. Unlike the old concept of ‘mass’, which allows for an imagination without structure, or association, ‘political society’ permits understanding how this structure and process of association function. On the other hand, the structure and process of association in political society are very different from the way in which these are conceived by ‘standard’ political theory in relation to civil society. He is asking us to look at this new structure with respect and try to understand where the action is happening. Secondly Srivats added that Passive Revolution model of Gramsci, and the idea of a economic transition retains some importance for Partha and on this point he differs from Sanyal who completely rejects it in the progress of his theoretical argument.
Soon after, Shyamala added the perspective of Telangana to the discussion. She asked if we look Telangana from Partha’s view, where do will find this struggle, How do the various sections that are supporting Telangana look? The question is of where the minimum needs (education, home, status, dignity, jobs) are located in Partha’s work. How we can understand it through him? Adding to Shyamala’s responses, K. Lalita said ‘All communities are supporting separate Telangana. What are they all demanding? Human dignity, health, education, livelihood, land water are important issues in Telangana. And lastly If Telangana is formed what will be its composition and structure: That these issues need to be taken into account if we want to talk about Telangana.
Commenting on this paper Mazher Hussain focused on the issue of corruptions and governance. He cited many examples, which showed that people’s lives are becoming difficult and that the poverty is on the rise. The corruptions in ruling classes and politicians are emerging as threats to the effective function of democracy. He agrees with the positive changes that are taking place recently in India but criticizes the ruling classes for being unable to take the benefits of growth and development to the poor people. He was of the view that people are adopting their own methods to pressurize the government, to look into their needs and demands. The rising use of violence in recent times is testimony of it. He stressed the point that if the state and corporate sector does not negotiate with the marginalized then there will be more violence, in other words democratic functions will get affected.
Sashi referring to Telangana said that ‘40 years ago 30-40% population in rural Telangana was composed of artisan communities. They are no more now and which is a great source of dissatisfaction in Telangana’. According to him ‘this situation is less to do with capital but more to do with market and technology’. In this way he introduced a new perspective to look at the Telangana problem. Secondly, he stressed on another point i.e., of hegemony. He asked ‘what is happening to political society and what is the nature of hegemony in it’. He said that this question is important since it will have an implication for the future of Telangana. According to him, ‘there was a vacuum in Hyderabad after Police Action. Kammas, Rajus and Reddys filled this vaccum. Now when the Telangana will be formed there will be vacuum again because Andhra rulers will loose hegemony. The question is who will fill this vacuum’? He then asked ‘What are the mechanisms/technologies of achieving new hegemonies in a society. This is more crucial than the vision of Telangana’.
At this point Usha raised the issue of people displaced because of SEZ in A.P. She spoke about government perspective and the politics of SEZ, and that how government acquires agricultural land for this purpose. She spoke about the nature of ‘barren’ lands and what is meant by it by government and others. The issues that were coming up in her comments were the government’s protective role towards the capital, government’s methods of dealing with the displaced people and the agitation by the civil society. This shows the government’s changing role vis-à-vis corporate sector or capital.
Shyamala in her comments on this paper, tried to look at from the perspectives of students in Telangana movement. According to her, students are playing an important role and deciding the direction of the movement, despite the fact that they are sidelined, underestimated and misused by the politicians. The students who are actively participating are from rural areas and belong to SC, ST caste and menial professions. But these students are politically aware because they were part of some or other movement with Left and Dalit perspectives. These students challenge the old definition of ‘student’ and through active participation give a new meaning to the word ‘student’. She also added that these students are theoretically supported by Ambedkar’s writings in favour of small states and Jyoti Rao Phule’s self respect movement. In Telangana movement political and historical factors and self-respect are interlinked which is giving strength to these students and the movement. It is giving them an argument and an intellectual base because of which they intend to have a dialogue with KCR, Raja Gopal, Chidambaram, etc., This demand and capability are very different from the media and mainstream description that they are ‘sentimental’.
On the other hand mentioning about the dangers to Telangana movement she said that students excitement and support to Jagan and Chiranjeevi may weaker their spirit, secondly the capitalist class of Andhra is influencing the government and delaying the process of formation of Telangana. This proves Sanyal’s theory.
Coming to the paper she said that the theories should he such that the students should be able to use them for their struggle. She asked ‘In case of Telangana which theories support them?’ and added ‘Lenin, Marx, Sanyal and Partha are not required… these theories should say what is the use of their theory for Telangana movement. In other words what is their stand on the question of smaller states, rights of the people, people’s struggle etc. Given the Brahminical influences on ruling class, theories and intellectuals, she asks why did Anveshi choose Sanyal and Partha; it should show these thinkers connection with Telangana, then only a useful discussion can take place’. At the end she suggested that these theories should expand / spread to include things like Telangana and pointed out that as of now ‘Telangana has become big and theories small’.
The Telangana Panel (Last discussion of the workshop)
The speakers tried to relate the changes in Telangana with the readings/presentations that preceded that day. While these presentations related to the questions of capitalist growth and development in contemporary India, the Telangana panellists focused more on questions of regional and other inequalities in the context of Telangana movement.
Report on the Telangana Panel (last discussion of the day)
a) That the political economy of Telangana region needs to be studied specifically to understand the current situation in the region - the take over of political leadership by the Coastal andhra people which came across in the 1980s study of regional politics by Daghmar ...; while the current situation in Telangana may seem akin to primitive accumulation, the decline of artisanal castes has occured due to the 'normal' capitalist growth in Telangana over the 1970s and 1980s. (Sudarshan and Sashi)
b) Telangana movement cannot be encapsulated in the framework suggested by either Kalyan Sanyal or Partha Chatterjee. As a democratic movement it is raising several issues such as education or irrigation or power - rather than any specific demand related to any particular section of population. Regional inequality is being articulated as a question of regional identity. This is similar to the question of dalit identity such as maadiga dandora movement which sought equality for maadigas. It would be incorrect to say that the regional identity question is submerging all other questions; rather, it is all the movements for different identities are articulating their interests with the regional question in the current context. (Shyamala)
c) There is a need to distinguish between what the political leaders say and what the students are saying about Telangana. The student leaders of Osmania, all of whom belong to Dalit castes are foregrounding issues of rightful share to themselves and others in the future Telangana leadership and power structure. However, the intelligentsia needs to align itself with students to enable an articulation of a democratic Telangana where the aspirations and demands of Dalits and other different sections will have a place. (Kumaraswami)
d) The protests (or non-protests) related to SEZs in Telangana region (it has the largest number compared to other regions) can be made sense of in the framework suggested by Partha Chatterjee. The 'developmental' programmes of the government have reached many sections of the population, beginning with self-help groups. However, contrary to the intentions of the poltiical parties who seek to use them for electoral gains, these moves by the parties also boomerang. In 2004 elections, the self-help groups in Telangana voted against Telugu Desam. (Usha Seethalakshmi)