What a coincidence. A moment after I received a call from the editor of The Little Magazine asking for this article on security, there was a television newsflash about the central government's decision to hold a conference of all chief ministers to discuss the very same problem. Such conferences, where ministers and high officials discuss Greyhounds, Black Cats, Z-Category, LMGs, AK 47s, Scotland Yard's advice - and more recently, Israeli collaboration - have become statistically dependable regularities. A large volume of government expenditure is channelled into security measures. But with every passing day, the people of India find themselves more insecure than ever before. There is less security of food, shelter and life all round, not only among the 80 percent of the population who live on Rs 20 or less per day, as the Arjun Sengupta Commission reports. The middle strata with a daily expenditure in the range of Rs 20-100, who constitute about 15 percent of the population, do not fare much better.
The Sensex is rising, India harbours some of the richest people in the world and the number of private cars is increasing so fast that there aren't enough roads to accommodate them. And meanwhile, someone facing retirement does not know if his child will find employment. Someone who is ill doesn't know if she will get medical treatment. Human security is worsening in perfectly inverse proportion to growth. The growing insecurity is spreading beyond the poor to engulf the upper classes. The Union Home Ministry says that more than 150 districts in the country (that's nearly a third of the country) have been infected by extremist violence. Then there are bomb blasts and threats all over. Some years back, it was just Kashmir and Nagaland. Now, the whole country seems to be headed for Kashmirisation. The problem of Kashmir's integration with India is being resolved in a wholly unexpected way.
Obviously, the Greyhound approach to the security problem will lead us nowhere. But is there an alternative? Is there any other path to escape the endless web of violence and counter-violence, of state terrorism and counter-terrorism, of Bombay riots and blasts, of Gujarat genocides and Akshardham attacks?
We think there is. That is the path of democracy, which does not mean just universal adult franchise but all-round empowerment of the people. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, "Our society has kept the people powerless and by this very act it has stolen its own power." Society will be stronger and more powerful if the masses are empowered.
What would be the form of this empowerment? In a society with a small and homogeneous population, people may sit together and decide on all matters which affect their lives. Such forms of democracy exist in many of our Adivasi traditions. Its most interesting feature is that they continue discussions until a consensus is reached. The emphasis is on making the decision acceptable to all: even if 15 out of 16 people agree to a decision but one person differs, it is not regarded as a good decision.
But India is a vast country with people speaking different languages and practising different religions. Again, within every religious group, there are many divisions of sect and caste. Is it practical to suggest that the people of India should sit together and decide on whether to sign the nuclear deal with the US? No, it is not. It has to be debated in Parliament. But is it not practical and desirable to suggest that the people of Nandigram should decide whether to have a chemical hub in their lands, or that the people of a Bankura village should themselves prepare the list of BPL families or a beneficiary list for Indira Awas Yojana?
In fact, the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution have given clearance for such empowerment to the people and earmarked 29 subjects to be placed under the jurisdiction of local self-governments at various levels. But no state government, not even those of Kerala or West Bengal, has yet given jurisdiction over any subject to local bodies. The panchayats are functioning as instruments of a delivery system, not as governments.
Then, there is the problem between the Centre and the states. The federal content of the Constitution has been gradually eroded by gradual expansion of the Concurrent List. We should have a fresh look at the Cabinet Mission Proposals, which leave all powers except defence, foreign affairs, communications and currency to the states, local governments and autonomous regions within states.
Territorial decentralisation or autonomy alone cannot address the problem of empowerment of the people in India. Indian society has the specific feature of caste discrimination, which regulates not only marriage and commensality but divides people into hierarchical groups, in an increasing order of empowerment in relation to land ownership, education and job opportunities. The caste of a person largely predetermines their place in the social division of labour and, by virtue of that, the share of the social produce (s)he is supposed to get. Caste is an important locus of empowerment in Indian society. The same is true to varying degrees for other identities like tribes, religious minorities and women across all communities. The structure of society prevents individual mobility for members of the oppressed identities. In this context, democratisation of society demands measures that compensate these communities for the powerlessness accumulated through centuries of discrimination and suppression. These measures, if followed consistently over a sufficiently long period, will ensure the participation of people from all backgrounds in various walks of life. It will help empower not only the backward communities but society as a whole as it gains from the experiences of productive labour accumulated in these communities over hundreds of generations.
To sum up, for the empowerment of the people we need federal decentralisation of power from the Centre down to the gram sabha, along with a system of reservation in jobs and education for Dalits, Adivasis, backward classes and religious minorities, particularly Muslims. These measures will bring about some favourable changes in society.
These are, however, not enough and need to be combined with two crucially important measures:
i. Radical land reform. The land ceiling laws have to be amended in such a way that only tillers can be owners of land; sharecropping and other forms of tenancy have to be abolished and the sharecroppers given pattas of ownership;
ii. Universal and compulsory education to all children up to the age of fourteen.
reform and universal education are fundamental requirements for the democratisation
of society and they should have been taken up right in 1947. Had they
been implemented, together with a federal set-up with multi-layered autonomy,
Indian society could have advanced to a higher level of democracy, internal
strength and security.
Rana, once at the forefront of the armed Naxalite struggle with Charu
Mazumdar, is General Secretary