INDIA: Thuggery is no administration 

AHRC-STM-183-2012-03.jpgThe recent statement by Mr. Kailash Vijayvargiya, a minister of the Madhya Pradesh state cabinet, is one of the most riveting examples of how democratic processes are decried by the political elite in India. Referring to the national pressure to which his government had to succumb, achieved through the protest organised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) concerning denied compensation and rehabilitation to villagers for the land and livelihood they lost to the Omkareshwar Dam, the minister said: “… that these protestors do not know what is the strength of the state … they should not underestimate our power … a bunch of villagers should not think that they can force a government to negotiate with them.

Fact is, this was no victory speech. These are the words of a person representing an administration that was shaken, by the power of resolve, wisdom and honesty of a few villagers, who decided not to fight the state, but demanded its attention that was legitimately warranted to their cause. The government that Vijayvargiya is part of had abandoned the villagers and had left them to their fate, after taking everything away from them, which the villagers simply refused to accept.

The unique protest the villagers organised and the challenge they faced to hold on to it risking their lives, attracted not just national, but international media attention. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) supported their protest from the first day. For details kindly see:

The villagers stood 17 continuous days in neck-deep water demanding the state, to first hear them, and as early as possible, to resolve their grievances. Vijayvargiya’s administration responded, reluctantly. The first response by the administration was a shameless request to the villagers to call off their protest without offering anything in return to them, which the villagers refused to accept. Sensing that the central government also has taken note of the protest and to prevent the political mileage being further lost, Vijayvargiya’s administration hesitantly agreed to most of the demands the villagers had placed.

The demands raised by the villagers were the simplest of what citizens would legitimately expect their government to do in a democratic framework. They were demanding the Government of Madhya Pradesh to provide a decent and acceptable compensation for the lands and livelihoods they had lost and for a rehabilitation package that would help them continue with life, that all what they had was taken away by the Omkareshwar project and now deep submerged under water. Vijayvargiya’s government was not willing to accept this demand initially, since they did not have even the basic understanding about the number of persons who are adversely affected by the project.

It is more realistic to say that the government did not want to know and about those whom the government was aware of, it did not want to offer any assistance. What Vijayvargiya and his government did not know is the basic fact that those who voted his government to power also have the command to make it work. Paltry and partial it may be, but Vijayvargiya was forced to meet the villagers and their representatives, which he was not willing to be bothered about initially. It is fearing a similar shameful defeat concerning a simultaneously organised and equally strong protest by villagers in Harda district about the Indira Sagar Dam, that Vijayvargiya fired his defensive shot that is quoted above. This he did a day before he directed the district administration in Harda to crackdown on the protesters in Khardrapani village.

On 12 September, the state police sealed all access routes to Khardrapani village. A large contingent of police that had taken position in the village the day before, moved in the protection of a prohibitory order and “fished” the villagers from as far as 200 meters inside the reservoir, to where the villagers have by then moved into, to prevent the police from breaking their protest. The Section 144 order issued by the Harda district administration quoted ‘risk to public health’ as reason for the order.

The Harda District Collector, Dr. Sudam Khade, who by professional training is a medical doctor, must have known better than anyone else, that in fact the health risk to the people whom the Collector is to serve, is more real and severe due to the flooding of habitats and stagnation of water in a mighty river by damming it, before the people who lived in the area were allowed to move out of the region after being offered a decent rehabilitation package. In any case, for the administration to be concerned about the health of the citizens in a state where thousands of persons die each year out of acute malnutrition and more than 40 percent of all children born die from malnutrition of the child and its mother, to quote ‘health risks’ for the people to declare a prohibitory order is a cruel irony of the facts. Should this be a legitimate reason for issuing a prohibitory order in Harda, the entire state of Madhya Pradesh should have been brought under the operation of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, perpetually.

One could only assume the integrity conflict Dr. Sudam Khade must have faced for letting his office to be misused to fit the illegal political purposes of Vijayvargiya’s government. It is such ruthless and dishonest acts of politicians that alienate the bureaucracy from their political masters and irrecoverably spoil it. It is high time that the intellectual cream of bureaucratic India revolts, against nothing less than criminals and thugs often dictating them administration.

Just before ‘fishing’ the villagers from water, the administration also severed cable links to the media that was present in Khardrapani village. This fear for the media by the government, resulting in blatant violation of their professional freedom and rights, illustrates the bottom of the pit to which Vijayvargiya’s government could go to achieve their illegal interests. This singular act, underlines the extent to which Vijayvargiya’s government despise democracy and its practices. It is an act that challenges the very essence of democracy and disqualifies Vijayvargiya’s government to hold the constitutional office that it has sworn to protect, promote and preserve. However, this argument makes sense only in jurisdictions where such concepts are understood and respected.

India in general, and states like Madhya Pradesh in particular, do not fall in this category. Democracy here is nothing more than a façade with which thugs seek and obtain more power and forms governments. Once in office, they distance themselves from the people. For persons like Vijayvargiya, the people who voted him to office are mere pawns in a gamble for power and not respectable citizens to whom his government is accountable for. In that context it is understandable that persons like Vijayvargiya rightly assume that the state is an all-powerful entity and that a ‘bunch of villagers’ is nothing in front of the mighty power persons like Vijayvargiya possess. In this process, what is trivialised and trashed is the very essence of democratic governance, the quintessence of which is administration by consultation.

For persons like Vijayvargiya, fundamental human rights and democratic processes are hindrances that are to be crushed and decimated at first sight. Yet he failed in his calculations concerning the villagers who protested in Khandwa district. He realised that the voice of some of the poorest of the poor in India is strong and honest enough, that it could and did, shake the foundations of power that Vijayvargiya thought is unshakable.

What persons like Vijayvargiya might also want to know is that the very same voice could cast Vijayvargiya into oblivion and it is just a matter of time. Not surprisingly at that moment of fall, Vijayvargiya might not find persons like Dr. Sudam Khade at his beck and call, since at the end of the day they also suffer from political thuggery, just as the poor villagers in Harda and Khandwa districts.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-185-2012
Countries : India,
Issues : Democracy, Land rights,