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Chapter 7 Rise of Popular Movements Class 12 Political Science II CBSE NCERT Notes
In the 1970s, diverse social groups like women, students, Dalits and farmers felt that democratic politics did not address their needs and demands. Therefore, they came together under the banner of various social organisations to voice their demands.
In this chapter we will study the journey of some of the popular movements that developed after the 1970s.
Nature of Popular Movements
The movement began in two or three villages of Uttarakhand when the forest department refused permission to the villagers to fell ash trees for making agricultural tools but same land was allotted to a sports manufacturer for commercial use.
This enraged the villagers and they protested against the move of the government. The struggle soon spread across many parts of the Uttarakhand region.
The movement took up economic issues of landless forest workers and asked for guarantees of minimum wage.
Women’s active participation in the Chipko agitation was a very novel aspect of the movement.
Women held sustained agitations against the habit of alcoholism and broadened the agenda of the movement to cover other social issues.
The movement achieved a victory when the government issued a ban on felling of trees in the Himalayan regions for fifteen years, until the green cover was fully restored.
Party based movements
Popular movements may take the form of social movements or political movements and there is often an overlap between the two.
The nationalist movement, for example, was mainly a political movement. But we also know that deliberations on social and economic issues during the colonial period gave rise to independent social movements like the anti-caste movement, the kisan sabhas and the trade union movement in early twentieth century.
Some of these movements continued in the post-independence period, with major political parties establishing their own trade unions to mobilize workers.
Peasants in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh and other areas continued their agitations under the leadership of Communist parties and Marxist-Leninist workers, known as the Naxalites.
Peasants’ and workers’ movements mainly focused on issues of economic injustice and inequality.
These movements did not participate in elections formally. And yet they retained connections with political parties as many participants in these movements were actively associated with parties.
In the 1970s and 1980s, many sections of the society became disillusioned with the functioning of political parties.
The failure of the Janata experiment and resulting political instability were immediate causes. But in the long run the disillusionment was also about economic policies of the state.
India’s model of planned development, adopted after Independence, was based on twin goals of growth and distribution.
In spite of the impressive growth in many sectors of economy in the first twenty years of independence, poverty and inequalities persisted on a large scale.
Existing social inequalities like caste and gender sharpened and complicated the issues of poverty in many ways.
Many politically active groups lost faith in existing democratic institutions and electoral politics. They therefore chose to step outside of party politics and engage in mass mobilisation for registering their protests.
Because of the voluntary nature of their social work, many of these organisations came to be known as voluntary organisations or voluntary sector organisations.
Students and young political activists from various sections of the society were in the forefront in organising the marginalised sections such as Dalits and Adivasis.
These voluntary organisations did not contest elections at the local or regional level nor did they support any one political party.
Most of these groups believed in politics and wanted to participate in it, but not through political parties. Hence, these organisations were called ‘non-party political formations’.
Such voluntary sector organisations still continue their work in rural and urban areas. However, their nature has changed.
Dalit Panthers, a militant organisation of the Dalit youth, was formed in Maharashtra in 1972.
In the post-independence period, Dalit groups fought against caste-based inequalities and material injustices, despite constitutional guarantees of equality and justice.
The effective implementation of reservations and other policies of social justice was a prominent demand of the Dalit groups.
The Indian Constitution abolished the practice of untouchability. The government passed laws to that effect in the 1960s and 1970s.
Social discrimination and violence against ex-untouchable groups continued despite laws passed by the government to abolish untouchability.
Dalit settlements in villages continued to be set apart from the main village. They were denied access to common source of drinking water. Dalit women were dishonoured and abused and worst of all, Dalits faced collective atrocities over minor, symbolic issues of caste pride.
Legal mechanisms were inadequate in stopping the economic and social oppression of Dalits.
Political parties supported by the Dalits, like the Republican Party of India, remained marginal, faced constant splits, and had to ally with other parties to win elections.
Therefore, the Dalit Panthers resorted to mass action for the assertion of Dalits’ rights.
Activities of Dalit Panthers mostly centred around fighting increasing atrocities on Dalits in various parts of the State.
The larger ideological agenda of the Panthers was to destroy the caste system and to build an organisation of all oppressed sections like the landless poor peasants and urban industrial workers along with Dalits.
The movement provided a platform for Dalit educated youth to use their creativity as a protest activity. Dalit writers protested against the brutalities of the caste system in their numerous autobiographies and other literary works published during this period.
The movement sent shock waves through the Marathi literary world, making literature more representative of different social sections and initiating contestations in the cultural realm.
After the Emergency period, the Dalit Panthers became involved in electoral compromises, and underwent many splits, which ultimately led to its decline.
Other organizations, such as the Backward and Minority Communities’ Employees Federation (BAMCEF), took over the space left by the decline of the Panthers.
Bhartiya Kisan Union
Agrarian struggles of the eighties is one such example where better off farmers protested against the policies of the state.
In January 1988, around 20,000 farmers protested in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh against the government’s decision to increase electricity rates. They were protesting against the government decision to increase electricity rates.
The farmers camped for about three weeks outside the district collector’s office until their demands were fulfilled.
These agitating farmers were members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), an organisation of farmers from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana regions. The BKU was one of the leading organisations in the farmers’ movement of the eighties.
Farmers in Haryana, Punjab, and western Uttar Pradesh benefited from state policies of ‘green revolution’ in the late 1960s, with sugar and wheat becoming the main cash crops in the region.
The cash crop market faced a crisis in mid-eighties due to the beginning of the process of liberalisation of Indian economy.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and other farmers’ organizations demanded higher government floor prices for sugarcane and wheat, abolition of restrictions on the inter-state movement of farm produce, guaranteed supply of electricity at reasonable rates, waiving of repayments due on loans to farmers, and the provision of a government pension for farmers.
The Shetkari Sanghatana of Maharashtra declared the farmers’ movement as a war of Bharat (symbolizing rural, agrarian sector) against forces of India (urban industrial sector).
The debate between industry and agriculture has been one of the prominent issues in India’s model of development.
Activities conducted by the BKU to pressurise the state for accepting its demands included rallies, demonstrations, sit-ins, and jail bharo (courting imprisonment) agitations.
Throughout the decade of eighties, the BKU organised massive rallies of these farmers in many district headquarters of the State and also at the national capital.
Most of the BKU members belonged to a single community. The organisation used traditional caste panchayats of these communities in bringing them together over economic issues.
Until the early nineties, the BKU distanced itself from all political parties. It operated as a pressure group in politics with its strength of sheer numbers.
The farmers’ movement, along with other farmers’ organizations across states, managed to get some of their economic demands accepted.
Like the BKU, farmers’ organisations across States recruited their members from communities that dominated regional electoral politics. Shetkari Sanghatana of Maharashtra and Rayata Sangha of Karnataka, are prominent examples of such organisations of the farmers.
Women in rural areas of Andhra Pradesh were spontaneously mobilizing to demand a ban on the sale of alcohol in their neighborhoods.
Telugu press covered the stories of these women’s movements almost daily during September and October of 1992.
Rural women in remote villages from the State of Andhra Pradesh fought a battle against alcoholism, against mafias and against the government during this period. These agitations shaped what was known as the anti-arrack movement in the State.
In a village in the interior of Dubagunta in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, women had enrolled in the Adult Literacy Drive on a large scale in the early nineteen nineties.
During discussions in class, women voiced their concerns about the increased consumption of locally brewed alcohol, arrack, by men in their families.
Women were the worst sufferers of these illeffects of alcohol as it resulted in the collapse of the family economy and women had to bear the brunt of violence from the male family members, particularly the husband.
Women in Nellore came together in spontaneous local initiatives to protest against arrack and forced closure of the wine shop. The arrack auctions in Nellore district were postponed 17 times. This movement in Nellore District slowly spread all over the State.
The slogan of the anti-arrack movement was simple – prohibition on the sale of arrack. but it touched upon larger social, economic, and political issues affecting women’s lives.
The State government collected huge revenues by way of taxes imposed on the sale of arrack and was therefore not willing to impose a ban.
Groups of local women tried to address these complex issues in their agitation against arrack. They also openly discussed the issue of domestic violence.
Their movement provided a platform to discuss private issues of domestic violence. Thus, the anti-arrack movement also became part of the women’s movement.
Earlier, women’s groups working on issues of domestic violence, dowry, and sexual abuse were active mainly among urban middle-class women.
During the 1980s, the women’s movement focused on issues of sexual violence within and outside the family, campaigned against the system of dowry, and demanded personal and property laws based on the norms of gender equality.
The women’s movement shifted its focus from legal reforms to open social confrontations during the 1990s. As a result, the movement made demands for equal representation of women in politics, leading to the 73rd and 74th amendments that granted reservations to women in local level political offices.
There have been demands to extend similar reservations to State and Central legislatures, but a constitution amendment bill proposed for this purpose has not received enough support from Parliament yet.
Main opposition to the bill has come from groups, including some women’s groups, who are insisting on a separate quota for Dalit and OBC women within the proposed women’s quota in higher political offices.
Narmada Bachao Andolan
Sardar Sarovar Project
The Narmada valley project was launched in the early 1980s and involved the construction of 30 large dams, 135 medium-sized dams, and around 3,000 small dams on the Narmada river and its tributaries that flow through Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra states.
Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat and the Narmada Sagar Project in Madhya Pradesh were two of the most important and biggest, multi-purpose dams planned under the project.
Narmada Bachao Aandolan, a movement to save Narmada, opposed the construction of these dams and questioned the nature of ongoing developmental projects in the country.
Sardar Sarovar Project is a multipurpose mega-scale dam. Its advocates say that it would benefit huge areas of Gujarat and the three adjoining states in terms of availability of drinking water and water for irrigation, generation of electricity and increase in agricultural production. Many more subsidiary benefits like effective flood and drought control in the region were linked to the success of this dam.
It required relocation of around two and a half lakh people from 245 villages.
It was around 1988-89 that the issues crystallised under the banner of the NBA – a loose collective of local voluntary organisations.
Debates and struggles
The NBA movement argued that larger social costs of the developmental projects must be calculated in such an analysis. The social costs included forced resettlement of the project-affected people, a serious loss of their means of livelihood and culture and depletion of ecological resources.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) initially demanded proper and just rehabilitation for all those directly or indirectly affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project.
The NBA argued that in a democracy, some people should not be made to sacrifice for the benefit of others.
Over time, the NBA shifted from its initial demand for rehabilitation to a position of total opposition to the dam due to various considerations.
The movement’s demand for the right to rehabilitation has been recognized by the government and the judiciary, and a comprehensive National Rehabilitation Policy was formed in 2003 as an achievement of the NBA’s efforts.
The NBA’s demand to stop the construction of the dam was criticized by some for obstructing the process of development and denying access to water and economic development for many.
The Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to proceed with the construction of the dam, while also instructing them to ensure proper rehabilitation for those affected by the project.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan carried out a sustained agitation for over twenty years, using every available democratic strategy to put forward its demands.
The movement appealed to the judiciary, mobilized support at the international level, held public rallies, and used forms of Satyagraha to convince people about its position.
In the late 1990s, other local groups and movements emerged that challenged large-scale developmental projects in their areas, and the NBA became part of a larger alliance of people’s movements involved in struggles for similar issues across the country.
Lessons from Popular Movements
Popular movements have played an integral role in Indian democratic politics, representing new social groups whose grievances were not addressed in the realm of electoral politics.
Popular movements ensured effective representation of diverse groups and their demands. This reduced the possibility of deep social conflict and disaffection of these groups from democracy.
Popular movements suggested new forms of active participation and thus broadened the idea of participation in Indian democracy.
Critics of these movements often argue that collective actions like strikes, sit-ins and rallies disrupt the functioning of the government, delay decision making and destabilise the routines of democracy.
The frequency and methods used by these movements suggest that the electoral arena is not always effective in addressing the demands of marginalized groups, leading to mass actions and mobilizations outside the electoral arena.
There is a growing consensus among political parties over the implementation of these policies.
Movements involve a gradual process of coming together of people with similar problems, similar demands and similar expectations. But then movements are also about making people aware of their rights and the expectations that they can have from democratic institutions.
The real life impact of these movements on the nature of public policies seems to be very limited. This is partly because most of the contemporary movements focus on a single issue and represent the interest of one section of society.
Democratic politics requires a broad alliance of various disadvantaged social groups. Such an alliance does not seem to be shaping under the leadership of these movements.
The relationship between popular movements and political parties has grown weaker over the years, creating a vacuum in politics