Tag Archives: Shashank Kela

Staking the Terrain – Political Economy, Environmental History and Nature Conservation: Shashank Kela

Guest post by SHASHANK KELA

The aim of this essay is to make connections between things that are usually studied separately – environmental history, political economy, conservation practice and adivasi politics – and I apologize in advance for the demands it makes upon the reader’s attention. The belief that this potential convergence could do with wider discussion is my sole justification for putting it up here.

Environmental history in India is not a very old discipline – the first mongraphs began appearing in the 1980s, and more and more books and papers have been added to the historiography since 2000. Let us examine certain themes as outlined in a cross-section of recent scholarship.

One key debate centers upon whether the colonial period can be regarded as an ecological watershed. An influential book by Ramchandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil argued that, before the advent of colonialism, there existed a harmonizing tendency between human beings and the environment, a balance between resource use and preservation mediated largely through the caste system: colonialism shattered this equilibrium and the values associated with it.[1] This idealizing view, eliding different time periods and state structures, was bound to come under attack and much subsequent scholarship has been devoted to unpicking its conclusions.

Sumit Guha shows how at least one natural resource, namely wild grass for fodder, had become scarce in the Deccan by the Maratha period thanks to the demands of armies, nobles and zamindars, who engrossed it by enclosing tracts of common land. This fierce arbitrariness fostered a system of free grazing and discouraged sustainable management through collective protection of the commons.[2] Meanwhile the argument that sacred groves are strands of untouched forest – repositories of biodiversity – is refuted by Claude Garcia and J-P Pascal in their study of Kodagu.[3] Far from being untouched, groves there are heavily used and managed, and show clear signs of degradation associated with use. Continue reading Staking the Terrain – Political Economy, Environmental History and Nature Conservation: Shashank Kela

The Indian Illusion: Shashank Kela

Guest post by SHASHANK KELA

Some time ago, I wrote an article seeking to dissect certain myths about Indian politics – and the class that dominates it, despite protestations to the contrary, the middle-class.[1] It is one of the habits of this class to see, and self-pityingly portray itself as victim – of mass politics, reservation policies, the great unwashed, of politicos bent upon appeasing the poor at the cost of sound principles and policies. Its conviction, of course, is that India was great, and on the cusp of becoming so again. This unfading glory is no more to be disputed than the existence of the sun, although opinions differ upon the precise placement of our golden age.

To the rabid fanatics of Hindutva, it resides in an unspecified Vedic time, when Hindus (not Indians) mysteriously succeeded in inventing aeroplanes, dynamite, nuclear weapons, the wheel, zero, and what have you (and mysteriously losing most of these wonderful things). To the Nehruvians, it is the age of Akbar, Ashoka, Harsha, periods of syncreticism and unique tolerance, where people of different faiths lived together peacefully and a composite culture flowered. To them, and to Gandhians, it also resides in the figure of Gandhi and the tradition of practical spirituality. To the fanatics of Islam, it is probably the age of Alauddin Khilji, the reign of Aurangzeb, and so on.

The never-ending debate about India’s pasts contains a diversity of opinions; however, on its future destiny, these begin to converge. The RSS and BJP believe, for example, that India is destined to become a great industrial power. So did Nehru, and assorted Indian Marxists. Indeed, it is an article of faith for the burgeoning middle-class (mostly, but not entirely Hindu) that India can, should and will equal China to become a great power, economic and military (thus leaving Japan and South Korea in the dust). Continue reading The Indian Illusion: Shashank Kela

Looking back – and forward – from Modi’s election: Shashank Kela

Guest post by SHASHANK KELA

So now the gloves are off. For the BJP, that is, whose victory in these elections gives India not only its most right-wing government, but, more to the point, a prime minister to the right of his party – more laissez faire, openly contemptuous of minorities, authoritarian in style. What the party, and Narendra Modi, will make of its – and his – comprehensive victory will soon be apparent, but the omens are far from good. Working in a coalition and under the supposedly moderate leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP between 1998 and 2004 achieved quite a lot – not just in the cultural wars that are its forte, but also in terms of putting economic “reform” on steroids. Now that it is being advised by that distinguished dispenser of received opinion and tireless self promoter, Dr Jagdish Bhagwati – an economist whose ignorance of history and the methods through which economic development was actually achieved in almost every successful industrial economy from Great Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries to South Korea in the 20th (cue: protectionism and lots of effective government intervention) is stupendous even by the low standards of the discipline – all bets are off. Continue reading Looking back – and forward – from Modi’s election: Shashank Kela