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Can Rahul do a Niyamgiri in the Northeast?

Last week, Rahul Gandhi offered to become “a soldier in Delhi” for the Dongria Kondhs, an endangered tribe fighting to stop bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri hills in western Orissa.
The tribals say the project, if allowed, will destroy their livelihood, which has been tied to natural resources of the Niyamgiri hills for centuries. Proponents of the project, which is critical to the success of a giant alumina plant being built downhill by UK-based Vedanta Resources, say it will help industrialise, and bring prosperity to, the impoverished state of Orissa. Neither the protests nor the state government’s push for the project is unique. This is a fight raging across the country as new India seeks a stronger foothold on the global economic landscape. What is unique to Niyamgiri is the stand taken by a political leader of the stature of Rahul Gandhi and the speed with which the central government acted in denying clearance to the project.
It could mark the beginning of a major shift in the ruling Congress party’s stance on tribal rights and land acquisition.
Rahul’s vow at last week’s rally of the Dongria Kondhs has “sent out a clear message across the party,” said Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who had dropped by our office hours before I got to writing this blog. Singh was candid: “Congress party realises that you can’t fight the Maoists unless you have the people on your side.” Decades of neglect have alienated the tribals, and in Singh’s words “times have changed. They are getting assertive.”
That said, it’s going to be a long haul before Rahul Gandhi can change the course. Because, his stance is in direct conflict with basic tenets of the neo-liberal economic regime that the UPA government wants to usher in.
The Dongria Kondhs have been lucky because their fight involved a global company and thus made headlines everywhere. Unlike them, scores of tribal groups elsewhere in the country — from idu mushmi’s of Arunachal Pradesh to the Koyas of Dandakaranya forests spanning Orissa and Andhra Pradesh — are waging similar fights for livelihood that remain voiceless.
There are plans to build some 168 hydroelectric dams in Arunachal Pradesh and generate 68,000 MW of electricity to power factories in other parts of the country. Construction work has already begun 115 projects, without any consent from tribal communities, which own the forests that will be destroyed by these projects.
This network of dams will also have devastating consequences for Assam and Bangladesh. Already, the issue is acquire political overtones in Assam. The dams not only threaten livelihood of the tribals but also risk to their life and security as these are being built in what is considered a region of intense seismic activity.
Yet, the ongoing protests in the northeast are rarely talked about in Delhi. If the backlash from the tribals in this region really gets out of hand, the consequences would be more disastrous than what we have seen in the Maoist-affected states.
For the Congress, the rising discontent in the northeast is as much a challenge as an opportunity to regain the ground it lost out to political opponents through the past two decades. It is time, Rahul does a Niyamgiri there.

via http://blogs.hindustantimes.com Last week, Rahul Gandhi offered to become “a soldier in Delhi” for the Dongria Kondhs, an endangered tribe fighting to stop bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri hills in western Orissa.
The tribals say the project, if allowed, will destroy their livelihood, which has been tied to natural resources of the Niyamgiri hills for centuries. Proponents of the project, which is critical to the success of a giant alumina plant being built downhill by UK-based Vedanta Resources, say it will help industrialise, and bring prosperity to, the impoverished state of Orissa. Neither the protests nor the state government’s push for the project is unique. This is a fight raging across the country as new India seeks a stronger foothold on the global economic landscape. What is unique to Niyamgiri is the stand taken by a political leader of the stature of Rahul Gandhi and the speed with which the central government acted in denying clearance to the project.
It could mark the beginning of a major shift in the ruling Congress party’s stance on tribal rights and land acquisition.
Rahul’s vow at last week’s rally of the Dongria Kondhs has “sent out a clear message across the party,” said Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who had dropped by our office hours before I got to writing this blog. Singh was candid: “Congress party realises that you can’t fight the Maoists unless you have the people on your side.” Decades of neglect have alienated the tribals, and in Singh’s words “times have changed. They are getting assertive.”
That said, it’s going to be a long haul before Rahul Gandhi can change the course. Because, his stance is in direct conflict with basic tenets of the neo-liberal economic regime that the UPA government wants to usher in.
The Dongria Kondhs have been lucky because their fight involved a global company and thus made headlines everywhere. Unlike them, scores of tribal groups elsewhere in the country — from idu mushmi’s of Arunachal Pradesh to the Koyas of Dandakaranya forests spanning Orissa and Andhra Pradesh — are waging similar fights for livelihood that remain voiceless.
There are plans to build some 168 hydroelectric dams in Arunachal Pradesh and generate 68,000 MW of electricity to power factories in other parts of the country. Construction work has already begun 115 projects, without any consent from tribal communities, which own the forests that will be destroyed by these projects.
This network of dams will also have devastating consequences for Assam and Bangladesh. Already, the issue is acquire political overtones in Assam. The dams not only threaten livelihood of the tribals but also risk to their life and security as these are being built in what is considered a region of intense seismic activity.
Yet, the ongoing protests in the northeast are rarely talked about in Delhi. If the backlash from the tribals in this region really gets out of hand, the consequences would be more disastrous than what we have seen in the Maoist-affected states.
For the Congress, the rising discontent in the northeast is as much a challenge as an opportunity to regain the ground it lost out to political opponents through the past two decades. It is time, Rahul does a Niyamgiri there.

via http://blogs.hindustantimes.com