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Whose national interest?

Home ministry’s affidavit in Priya Pillai case is a study in irony.

Written by Nandini Sundar |
February 27, 2015 11:59:14 pm
Priya Pillai, greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, activist Priya Pillai, greenpeace, Delhi High Court, tribal rights, forest tribal rights, forest rights, MHA, ministry of home affairs Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai. (Source: Twitter)

Indian National Interest requires that our environment be ruined, people displaced, resources thoughtlessly mined, all for the benefit of foreign companies and for the private benefit of people in power. This is the only conclusion that we can draw after reading the recent revelations on Essar alongside the ministry of home affairs (MHA) affidavit in the Delhi High Court responding to Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai’s plea that her constitutional rights were being curtailed by the government stopping her from flying abroad to testify before a British parliamentary committee (‘Essar leaks: French cruise for Gadkari, favours to UPA minister, journalists’, IE, Feb 27).

The MHA affidavit says it was necessary to stop Pillai speaking about the “alleged poor state of tribal people in India and the manner in which the government had allegedly increased their efforts to rob them of their rights, which is an absolutely false allegation”. Even if economists, demographers, health specialists and the government-appointed Xaxa Committee tell us that about one in every four Adivasis in India has been displaced, that there is a gap of at least 30 per cent between the human development index of STs and the all-India figure, and that over 40 per cent of STs in rural India have a body mass index less than 18.5, which indicates chronic malnutrition, Indian National Interest demands that we not talk about such seditious findings. Instead, we should focus on how these displaced Adivasis are being given alternative employment as dance troupes at the National Tribal Festival, Vanaj 2015.

The central thrust of the “intelligence” in the MHA document is that by deposing before a foreign parliamentary committee, Pillai was endangering India’s rankings in the reports on human rights and associated issues brought out by foreign governments. Along with our new comrades like Russia, North Korea and Iran — never mind that India contributed to the sanctioning of Tehran by voting to refer its nuclear file to the UN Security Council — we might even be slapped with sanctions.

If, as the MHA affidavit bemoans, the European Parliament’s working group report on religious freedom places India in the lowest category as a “country of particular concern”, the fault must surely lie with those who attack churches, conduct “ghar wapsi” programmes, vandalise cinema halls and so on. Fault can hardly lie with the victims of this bigotry who publicise their situation as a means of self-defence. If there are adverse reports on the conditions of Dalits, women and Adivasis, does the fault lie with companies like Essar who violate Indian laws like the Forest Rights Act and suborn Indian institutions with payments, or with the Constitution and those who are struggling to implement it?

As for the idea that foreign governments want to stop India’s progress at a time when it wants foreign direct investment (paragraph 29 of the MHA affidavit), nothing could be less logical. Left to themselves, these governments would happily ignore any human rights violations so long as their companies get business.

If the government was worried about foreign sanctions, perhaps it should not have appointed Arvind Subramanian as chief economic advisor, a man who reportedly urged the US to initiate a dispute against India in the WTO. Yet, an attempt by Kavita Krishnan
to point this out during a TV debate, was quickly deflected by the anchor.

Some parts of the government’s affidavit are so effortlessly ironic that one is left gasping. In paragraph 20, the MHA describes the fact that Greenpeace collects money from hundreds of small Indian donors as opaque; why does this need for transparency not apply when it comes to political parties like the Congress or the BJP? Moreover, if these parties can get funds from Vedanta or Dow Chemicals, why should NGOs not get funds from their supporters at home and abroad to protest against these companies?

Giving what amounts to a “good character certificate” to those who hold fasts, dharnas and file cases inside the country, the MHA says there is “no restriction on the petitioner to follow the same or similar route”. The Mahan Sangharsh Samiti has been fighting legally inside the country, but since Essar is registered as a British company, why shouldn’t they take the issue to a British parliamentary committee? If capital wants the right to travel globally, how can it deny that right to its victims?

Besides, activists who work within India hardly have an easy time. Medha Patkar has been arrested more times than one can count. Apart from thermal power plants, the affidavit tells us Greenpeace is targeting “nuclear power plants, genetically modified food trials and India’s tea industry”. The unstated assumption here is that these are issues about which there can be no debate. When the fisherfolk of Kudankulam who live in the shadow of the nuclear plant, with the memory of a tsunami and the example of the Fukushima disaster before them, carried out dharnas, they were arrested and charged with sedition.

There was a time when our poets and mystics sang paeans to our forests, our mountains, our rivers and the ocean. Today, our rulers allow only the praise of FDI. Indian National Interest commands on affidavit that Indians must abandon their old gods in favour of the new god of corporate profit.

The writer is professor of sociology at Delhi University

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