Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

Grassroots Activiism & Risk-Gain Matrix.

2 March 2011

Chhattisgarh-Net ( is a very lively and educative forum started by some intrepid journalists and activists for creating a space for discussing what growth and development really mean for the life and livelihood of commoner. It focuses on issues related to environment, privatisation, mining, power projects, land acquisition, social sector schemes, poverty, education, and so on. Since it is focused on Chhattisgarh State, where plenty of densest forests areas are still to be found that are under threat from mining and power projects, where tribal communities form a substantial portion of population, and where the armed Maoist insurgency is causing jitters to Indian State, these issues have acquired a poignant urgency. The participation of many grassroots activists alongside some ardent supporters of establishment makes the forum vibrant. The forum managers have also managed to leverage the technology whereby anyone with access to a phone can simply call a number to register her complaint or report any malfeasance of the administration. It has not only made this platform accessible to even the poorest with few rupees in the pocket, but together with its other strengths it has started chipping at the stoicity of an uncaring & unresponsive administration.

On this forum an article was posted a few days back titled, “No, Prime Minister, Either abolish environment laws or follow them—undercutting them is not an option for the Prime Minister’s Office” ( Author Jay Mazoomdaar, makes an observation that the resistance to forcible land acquisition and rising environmental awareness not only delays projects, (which are often implemented eventually by overrunning forcibly all the opposition to them,) but also escalates the costs of the projects many times over. Then he suggests that if the promoters were to adequately and fairly compensate those who would lose their land and were to provide necessary funds for honestly mitigating the environmental impact right at the beginning, then the cost of doing things the right way would still be less than the attendant cost overruns. This article provoked a lively discussion. Some of which is worth sharing here.

It’s a mind-set problem – don’t think of the people or the environment only of profits. Even if costs escalate due to delays, those increased costs will be borne by the people and the environment and won’t cut into profits. Don’t give an inch is the slogan of the profiteers. As things are panning out it appears that Sonia Gandhi who is probably the one who had initially put Jairam Ramesh up to his daredevil act, has since been made aware of the hard realities of international financial control. After all if Obama cannot dare to disobey Wall Street then who are Sonia Gandhi and Jairam Ramesh. The Prime Minister and Montek of course have been long standing cheerleaders for Wall Street. (”. – Rahul Banerjee.

When a tribal/poor man cuts a branch of a tree in the forest he is caught by the forest department and arrested and action taken on him for the destruction of the forest, whereas thousands of hectares of thick forests are destroyed by the mining corporates and no action is taken but they are allowed as part of the development. What a contrast.”. “On the one hand government is destroying the forest and on the other spending multi crores for forestation which can never come to the stature of natural forests. Is this environment protection? Is this development? Which school of economics has taught them? (”. – Sebastian.

Sebastian asks – “Which school of economics has taught them?” the answer is “might is right” – the oldest school of economics and politics (”. – Rahul Banerjee.

As I read up more science on climate change and other bio-physical systems from the perspective of social sciences – the more I realises that we are close to a global rupture between capitalism and ecology- the metabolic rift is fast becoming an endless abyss.  If we accept that we are in the fight for our lives and survival – with tipping points staring us in the face- probably in yours and mine lifetime – maybe we need to start thinking on how we can fight back. Here in the west, there seems to be little hope- as they are convinced that they will get through unscathed by creating fortress Europe and Fortress North America; and probably it’s the Pentagon which has the most advanced plans to deal with global disruptions. They will be perfectly fine if the rest of humanity is triaged, as long as they don’t need to give up their lifestyles and comforts. In case we accept this possibility – a much more radical approach to environmental clearances and industrialization may be required. Maybe we should start talking on these issues and link them to what is happening on the ground. (”. – Kundan Kumar

The question is who directs the Pentagon. Is it directed by the people of USA or is it directed like much else in that country and the rest of the world by Finance Capital concentrated in Wall Street. The USA has steadfastly sabotagedglobal environmental concerns. Under the circumstances what can small fry like us do even if we assume the most radical of stances with regard to the environment (I have been consistently shouting against destructive environmental policies for close to three decades but that has not got me or the environment very far). The huge concentration of capital in the hands of a fewis the root cause of all problems and unless this is smashed nothing can be done. It is next to impossible to do mass mobilisation these days because of the extent to which money has penetrated and assumed control of even the remotest of areas. Bengalis have a nice joke in this regard – Whenever a mass movement assumes strength there are a lot of people lending their active support to it. However, as state repression and co-option gradually intensifies (funded by finance capital!), most of the supporters melt away. So the cool wind from the Ganges river, which earlier had been kept at bay by their once numerous supporters, begins to uncomfortably caress the backs of the activist leaders andlowers their fighting tempers! To tell you the truth, I am doing percentage activism these days – which means that I weigh the chances of repression and co-option and do only that much that will bring about some minimal achievement. Low risk low gain. Of course there are still many people like Binayak and Himanshu who are taking or have taken high risks but for the time being at least they are not getting high gains. (” – Rahul Banerjee.

It was this last response from Rahul, whom I got to know on CH-Net forum, that arrested my attention. He is a thinking person with deep understanding of issues, is a grassroots activist, and has kept his sense of humour alive though his activism is somewhat tempered by harsh realism ( He was pretty modest here in his reply about what he is or is not doing. He had paraphrased it with reference to a popular axiomatic aphorism : No Risk (no pain) No Gain, or Low Risk Low Gain, or High Risk High Gain. Here the underlying assertion is “Winners are high risk takers”, which gives risk taking a cult status. Rahul himself in above reply identifies huge accumulation of capital in few hands as the nemesis of all.  Though I know he is untouched by such capitalist afflictions, and had used the “aphorism”  merely by way of expression, it set me reflecting. I felt a serious need to interrogate the axiom of ‘Risks and Gains matrix’. I guess it owes its origin to gambling and the study of probability it engendered. Random events that occur with probabilistic outcomes but still fall into definitive predictable pattern over sufficiently large set of outcomes gave the notion of conducting gambling in a statistically orderly fashion. Hence we have higher odds for low probability and lower for high. This unfortunately has also fostered the notion that all men (and women) are equal before gambling and life. And success (high gains) is associated with ability to take high risks. This may be true in the ideal world or in game theories taught in management schools, but not true in life; just as efficient markets hypothesis is not true because all the actors in the market are not symmetrically placed with respect to information available and their knowledge base.

It is not true even of gambling. Otherwise many casino operators would have gone out of business for running gambling operations. Some would and do, but that is because of competition and clout of other casino owners. Take the other real life example of CDOs and subprime mortgage that were peddled by each and every investment banker on Wall Street. When the crisis hit, it proved to be low risk (for players) and high gains scheme for Wall Street – Before, during and after the lid blew on it. High Risk was paid for by the main street as they call it in US. Lehman Brothers was allowed to take the hit, but that is because in US they need at least one fall guy to be made into an “example” to keep the boat from rocking, unlike in India, where there is no need for such subterfuge, because nobody seems to be there to rock the boat.

Coming to India, if one checks the mining sector, one finds from Bellary Brothers in Karnataka to Vedanta & Posco in Orissa to Jindal & others in Chhattisgarh, it is a low risk high gains business all the way. Risk of bending or breaking outright laws of the land is very low because the laws are so elastic provided you have the money to warm them up a little bit. Ditto it is for all scams like 2G Spectrum or Common Wealth Games or any other. In fact, the players were so lulled by the low risk that they threw all the caution to wind, which otherwise anyone would have prudently exercised if he saw any risks in it. Now that some of them are caught, they know that the circus of investigation will go on for sufficiently long time to create a spectacle to pacify the irate middle class, who is happy if only the powerful are humiliated; accused will be soon out on bail unlike Binayak, Sudhir, and umpteen others; public memory will fade; investigating agencies will ensure enough loop holes in the prosecution case; and finally appropriate justice will be procured – ‘case not proved against the accused for lack of credible evidence’. There would be some sanctimonious hyper ventilation in mainstream media, few protests in the street, and everything will be calm and tranquil like when a ship is swallowed by the sea.

On the other hand what people like Rahul are attempting is a High Risk and Low Profit business. One has to understand that the game changer is money. If money is found, loads and loads of it like all the tycoons mentioned & not mentioned in the foregoing have done, and use it to warm the hearts of government machinery; then all activists would experience miracle in this life. Tribals will get to keep their forests; IDPs will return to their land & homes; Salwa Judum will be disbanded in a jiffy; Security forces will return back to barracks; Children will get back their proper schools; Himanshu Kumar will return to a hero’s welcome to Kawalnar Ashram that Chhattisgarh government will build at its own cost better than before; Rahul will not have to save a tribal woman from atrocity nor ensure that PDS agent gets his due punishment, because all this will happen as a matter of routine, and additionally he will not have to worry about the pending case in superior court on charges of conspiracy; and Sedition section 124A will now apply to tycoons and they will replace all those now in jail including Binayak Sen. The answer lies in CAPITAL. It can change all paradigms, until a way is found to smash it.

PS : Maoists too may warm up to the seduction of money.