THE SAGA OF OPPRESSION
BLOOD RED RIVER
Author: Rohit Prasad
Publisher: Hachette India
Rohit Prasad is a professor at the Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon, and his last book was called Start-up Sutra, a work of nonfiction focused on the subject of entrepreneurship. He is also a regular columnist for various financial dailies. But his current book is hardly about what he has been writing and teaching. Hence, an obvious question comes in to what made him to take up the current subject.
According to Prasad, while he was on the lookout for stories a couple of years ago, on how common people in remote areas of the country use information and communications technology (ICT) and how the government champions its use in order to transform society, he ‘was subjected to a reality check’ at his realisation of the prevailing conditions there.
“I realised,” writes Prasad, “that while technology could play a facilitative role, the real drivers of the abysmal economic outcomes continued to lie in the fault lines in the underlying model of development.” Therefore, he decided to realign his focus and ended up travelling to areas of developmental conflict in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, or what is often referred to as the red corridor of India due to the presence of Maoists in the region.
Through this book, the author seeks to expose its readers to ‘a world far away from the drawing rooms and malls’ where, among other places, as he fittingly points out, much of the “hegemonic public opinion is fashioned and purveyed”. And he does this quite successfully, in turn weaving a powerful narrative. At the very outset he argues, “The conflation of GDP growth and development, accepted as a given in popular discourse, is conceptually erroneous”.
He goes on to suggest as to how the belief that the current path of development has nothing to do with conflicts in resource rich regions and is leading to suspension of civil rights in the name of GDP growth, worsening the conflict further without acknowledging the so-called ‘collateral damage’.
Moreover, the developmental projects on which most of our GDP growth banks upon affects the ‘poor’ (Adivasis) living in those areas (where the projects are operational) as their very sources of livelihood— forest, land and water—are snatched away from them, often overriding and violating special rights for Adivasis that have been enshrined in the constitution of India and other relevant laws and policy documents.
Divided in to five sections and through a narrative form of writing throughout, the author presents various facets of the conflict and its direct linkages to the model of development we have chosen. In doing so, he takes us on a journey where he shows us the tragic reality faced by the original inhabitants of the land in the name of democracy and development.
It is during these journeys that he meets different stakeholders of the conflict, from ordinary tribals to security forces, middlemen and contractors, to police men and civil administration officials, civil society groups’ members, lawyers as well as journalists. Through these real characters and their life stories, the author explains the situation prevalent in the region in all its complexities.
He also informs us about the presence, influence and functioning of not just Maoists in the region but also of the existence of groups like the Ramakrishna Mission and Christian Missionary organisations. And using these stories and conversations, he builds up a larger narrative and tries to offer some suggestions in the last few chapters of the book.
While a substantial part of the book seems a much needed contextualisation of what has already been said over the years in various journalistic reports, academic writings, fact finding missions carried out by human rights groups, and even reports by governmental and semi-governmental organisations, where it seems to add value to the existing literature is the section in which the author explores the corporate sector’s point of view on the issue through formal as well as informal meetings.
Towards the end of the book, in an interestingly titled chapter “Reformer, Reform Thyself” Prasad opines, “Development cannot be an outcome of industrialisation, but needs to be a precursor to it. The state must position itself at the vanguard of this development process instead of abdicating its responsibility to corporates.”
According to him, industrialisation should only be done after basic services are provided to the local people for a certain number of years, and that too ‘with the speed of natural resource extraction being carefully aligned with the absorptive power of local communities’. Is this feasible? If yes, how should it be done?
Prasad’s first and foremost suggestion in this regard is a judicious allocation and extraction of natural resources. Another suggestion is with regards to the efforts to reign in corruption at various levels. He further notes, “While appreciating the urgent necessity for India to become ‘open for business’ and the importance of creating a level playing field where new ideas can thrive, one must also exhort the reformist crowd : Reformer, Reform Thyself !”
In short, it is an interesting book with an emphasis of doing business differently, that should involve, in the author’s words, ‘a significantly less traumatic (path of development) and lower rate of displacement of local population than is currently the case.’
(The reviewer is an activist and writer. He tweets @MahtabNama)