Building up of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)

Photo credit: Narmada.org
NAPM has been in existence for about two decades and since 1992 there has been constant endeavour to build alliances. Firebrand social activist Medha Patkar who led the process with many other committed fellow activists, provides a bird's eye-view of two decades of building up of NAPM... 
It all started with Harsukh Sammelan in the Narmada Valley where we all started thinking that we must come together as an alliance and we actually went to different states along with some other activists and we decided this because we felt that without that this whole destructive development policies as an issue is not going to be politicised.


Politicisation in our sense of the term would mean becoming a political force to challenge the wrong policies, the enactments and also the criminalisation to communalism in the politics. So the 28 September 1988 event was a big hope because the slogan which we gave "Vikas Chahiye Vinaash nahi" was really taken up and raised by everyone and around 250 organizations participated. And that was organizations on a large long continuum and there were hardly any questions raised about it and much of the democratic process went through the state wide meetings, and then the inter-state regional meetings, and finally we could get a number of supporters like Thakur Das Bunk, Sunder Lal Bahuguna, Baba Amte, Shabana Azmi, Swami Agnivesh, etc on the dais and it was so powerful a move that when the election temper was there, Shukla and Maneka Gandhi felt like coming to the valley but not on the dais, we asked them to sit in the VIP section, and they were not allowed to speak because that was the decision of all the organizations. So without taking the electoral political and parties in, we could give the message which was recorded even then as event of the decade by the media. So it was about 35000 adivasis, dalits, shramiks, fishworkers, all were represented. And that clarified and strengthened our concept of national people's alliance.

These were mass based organizations as well as supportive organizations which could be termed as NGOs, but they were giving movements their due role and place, and also those were assuming and realized their limitations, and also contributing in their own way through documentations. I think that the holistic vision of Alliance not only the ideology really was to make a difference. Only thing what happened was that after which a small group was formed somehow due to a number of reasons that group could not take the whole thing further. And some of us remained outside because there were some questions raised at Harsukh Sammelan on how I was dominating the process etc and I immediately decided to remain outside and thought that someone else from Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) can represent but not myself, so there were little bit of skirmishes but otherwise it was a good process and Jan Vikas Andolan was introduced - the concept of not just Vikas but Jan Vikas - and that song 'harsukh shaheed ke naam par ... " - was heard at several places. After Jan Vikas Andolan became a little bit stagnant again a need was felt when there was an onslaught of globalisation - liberalisation policies through the Dunkal draft and things that went in for the public debate, and on the other hand, the Rath Yatra.

So all these organizations that were forming the Alliance were anyways part of the secular force but we also realized that the mere divide in communal and secular with respect to the political parties or their fronts or other organizations was not enough to be able to clearly take a position as to whether the development issues will be tackled in a democratic way to protect human rights and right to resources granted. It was very necessary therefore that we take up both by horns. Casteism - communalism on one hand and the globalization - liberalization policies on the other hand. And equally important was to be clear about the third pillar of our vision and ideology, and that was the alternative development policies because even those who might question a project whether it is a political party questioning a project or a plan saying that it is not development but destruction or even the local directly affected people, the clarity about the alternative vision was necessary. And that will also bring in the creativity of the strategies in terms of linking of struggle to reconstruction. With all these things coming up, we again had a meeting in Bhopal, where number of Alliance organizations and people were represented and there itself we decided that beyond Harsukh what? It really needs to be thought of, and process after Harsukh needs to be reviewed. I remember a socialist thinker like Om Prakash Rawal from Indore was also there and some of the trade unionists were there, Vinod Raina kind of people, many of us from NBA and fishworker organizations, and it was decided that we will not have another large gathering because it ends in itself although it has certainly an impact, our people were charged when they came back from Harsukh because the whole atmosphere was really inspiring, but we want to have a continuous process and hence the Alliance would mean being together to share, to reformulate our ideological positions, to bring together other forces, to take certain regional or national actions, or at least the common actions on various issues, and also support individual struggles, and also create the literature to support new material, and also to appeal to not only our cadres to go towards a broader vision and braoder strategies inclusive strategies considering ourselves to be part of the larger biradari and not becoming narrow minded and restricted to our own struggles which can be crushed, but also appealing to the larger society of intellectuals and common people, who are not necessarily a part of the downtrodden disadvantaged sections.

So this was the expectation and with what the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) name was given to it. We were very clear that this will remain a process of forming an alliance, since we didn't give it a name of an organization, or an andolan, we called it the national alliance of people's movements. There onwards we have held number of meetings, some small meetings of the main representatives of the organizations that went into forming the alliance, and also the regional and state level meetings right from the north-east to the south. And everywhere few or more organizations came into the fold. And of course there was not many emphasis on the typical traditional organizational structure or something, but rather a conveners' team kept functioning.

And the discussion about this that immediately we should not go into that and hence in December 1991 when it was formed just before the 6 December Babri event, till 1995 when we held a number of these meetings, exchanges and brought out our own statements etc, and meanwhile we also held one or two large gatherings like one against the dunkel draft. The first rally in Delhi was of NAPM and thousands of people gathered, and as we also participated in several struggles that were on their peak, like Narmada, Chilika or other struggles, and thereafter we decided to have a national tour form 30 January - 30 March 1996, and at the end of the national tour, we visited about 55 places, and then gathered in Sewagram, where formal structure of NAPM was formed. There was so much of enthusiasm and people's mandate. There was some questioning by some people, and of some people on how they can be in NAPM, or not be in NAPM etc, I remember Vineet Tiwari also came, I mean people felt that many of the real national issues whether it is of corruption or communalism, or corporatized development, could be tackled by this force. So there was a great hope and expectation.

And many people felt that this kind of alliance was forming for the first time, because there was a network building process around say displacement issues sometimes, or sometimes the forest-bill in 1997, etc etc, but a comprehensive wider ideological framework was this [NAPM]. Now what was the strength of this in the process of alliance building was found to be also the problem of it. And the strength was in being comprehensive and at the same time because the situation was so fast changing that everyone was bogged down to their own local struggles and had to give time, energy, inputs there and also had to think of identity of that struggle and also the whole strategy as complete in itself. It was more or less thought that the cadres at the local level and also sometimes the senior activists could not give that much time to the national alliance building. And whether the identity would be trampled upon were also the questions that came to someone's mind. It was nicety of everyone that they didn’t take these questions into fights and feuds but some people remained, some people left, some new people joined, and I personally feel what was lacking was a good organisation building exercise, which could be a process and which also could be around a structure, and a human cadre, that was necessary.

Although we would boast of the fact that we are not like party cadres, we are open, and in our conveners' meetings everyone could come in etc etc, that was also reflecting of concrete identity building of each of the allied member, either organization or individual. Then the second thing that started coming up in the NAPM process, was about the NGOs vis-à-vis people's movements relationships. I remember the extensive debates and good debates on this and we decided that we will be having a common biradari of people's organizations. There will be some mass-based and some not-so mass-based, but after all even this mass is so fluid that today you have this mass-base and tomorrow they leave you if you don’t leave them. It is also that non-governmental organizations are not necessarily statutory but also people's organizations representing civil society's perspectives if not the whole of the civil society. And if their contribution is complementary to the people's movements, and if it is so, then there shouldn’t be a problem in including them in this biradari. And while there might be NGOs and NGOs, some might be becoming a part of the establishment and not following the ideological perspective while taking a decision, or whether to engage themselves into a certain consultation or not, how to deal with the funding agencies like world bank, and where to fund and how to fund, and all are not funding agencies and all are not non-ideological and apolitical organizations.

So the final decision was not to exclude all NGOs, but to have the foreign funded or non-mass-based NGOs as associate members. That also created a doubt in many people's mind whether that could be a secondary level of membership etc etc. Then came the decision that any organization that accepts or supports the people's resolve which was passed in March 1996 Sewagram national convention, and anyone who doesn’t mind being with the struggles, should be accepted because if they are funded or if they belong to a different category, we are seeing them different because they will not be able to become a part of the struggle to take the risk, to show the courage, to go against the system, and to be with us in thick and thin. But if they themselves can do this or are doing this, then what is the problem with those organizations. This is also how it was seen and interpreted. Many of the NGOs also took this position of not assuming a core group role but still remaining with the movements. And they really played an important and crucial role, movements also accepted it. About foreign funding there was lot of discussion, but at the same time it was realized that many of the movements have support of the foreign funded organizations even if it is some material support sometimes, or structural support, etc although there is no funding relationship, but this debate continues and continues till date, and extend.

Sometimes an individual person who might be working in a foreign firm, or working in university which is taking the foreign funds, there may not be any problem with them, but problem with the organization. So this kind of grey matter are also reflected in the debate. I must say that when annual/ biennial conventions of NAPM took place, those showed to us that the number was growing yet some were leaving and some were coming in, because these questions made some people think of their role, some people felt hurt, etc etc. And sometimes there were also instances when some organization that was close to NAPM would share a dais with some communal organization so that question would be raised etc etc. This is a mix scenario. I would however say that in the core of NAPM remained the strong mass-based movements whether it was fish-workers or farmers. We also realized one thing that when you take the 'grahas' in the 'surya-mandala' of various sectoral organizations, human rights organizations, dalit organizations, farmers' organizations, women's organizations, development-planning related organizations, issue-based organizations, they had other functional communities beyond the geographical communities, so their whole ideology as well as strategy would obviously revolve around that. So for the dalit organizations to take a position on globalisation-liberalisation, not everything that was questioned by say women's organizations, or the farmer's organizations, would be seen as questionable. So there would be a cutting core circle, which would take part of the ideology, part of the strategy and relatedly part of the alliance, in that particular sector. So some of the dalit organizations would take a position against globalisation-liberalisation policies, some of the human rights organizations would go beyond the civil liberties issues and human torture issues, and would come to the fold of the organizations that were questioning the transfer of resources which were in-turn affecting the right to life and right to livelihood, which were considered now as prime human rights.

All women's organizations would not take up position on the whole of development planning and casteism or the human rights of adivasis and workers, all trade unions would not take up the position. But some of the farmers' trade union, fish workers' trade union, were with us saying that we are with all unprotected workers, or unorganized sector. All farmers' organisations may not see eye-to-eye with all agricultural labour organisations while they may join us in comprehensive ideological struggle. So these cuttings were there and we accepted those and we realized those, and some came in, some went out, some went to the periphery, but on the whole we felt that most of the real struggling organisations felt a need for support from NAPM. And this continued for long and as some of the conveners were moving more across the country, those who were doing that like myself, we realized that after sometime that there is again a need to take a national tour and really have a national urge created and a national action to follow. Lot of discussion took place and the whole proposal was put forward and we decided now that it should not only remain a process, how long can we do it when the government and capitalist forces were going ahead, communal parties have also come to power and so on, so we must have a national action which should be a very indefinite, persevering and intervening action, politically-intervening action, for which there was a need for not just a platform, or a network or an alliance, but a forceful organisation, a movement and not just an organisation.

A common movement which will need a common organisation of course. We have in our own movements basic organisational structure, cadres, etc, so the Desh Bachao Desh Banao Andolan was thought of. And we again took a second full round and that was a very very pertinent time and the response to the Desh Bachao Desh Banao Andolan was unprecedented and unique. Everywhere, even all opposition parties have felt compelled to come to us, our programmes and actions. In Plachimada, Kerala, when we started, from Sarvodayas to Marxist, Siddhraj Dhadha to MA Baby, Achyutanandan and all, Achyutanandan was not able to remain present but all his people supported us in Trivendrum, in Rajasthan again, professionals, activists, various party people, everywhere I mean. We could also as a core of senior activists, went to place to place. Although all senior activists didn’t give all the time, but sixty persons moved with me to all places. They were young, there were new, they were having the real thrill, to really start a national movement, and spirits were high up to the sky. And when we had the final convention in Lucknow with Kishan Patnaik, Swami Agnivesh, Thomas Kochery, and everyone there, then we ended it in Ayodhya to give a message. All dharmagurus there had also come.

But again I think we missed the time and the need. On the night of Lucknow convention we sat whole night some of us tired had wept because after all this continuous two months tour, in every night we travelled and every day we had at least 4 programmes, press conference, strategy meeting, large public gathering, or other actions, from Chandigarh, to Sirsa, to all across India, it was such a well-planned tour and no problems or nothing. Andhra Pradesh, Bhadrachalam, and thousands of people, in West Bengal for example, there were 7000-8000 people, in Malda, in Panchkula, but when the whole conveners' team sat together in Lucknow, the consensus didn’t emerge. Rather the decision that was taken in the meetings before the tour was said to be not acceptable to the alliance. So the Desh Bachao Desh Banao, name as such, some people took the position that we must have the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) continue. Whether it is NAPM or MPAN, it doesn’t matter, the whole enthusiasm is into making a political force. We told categorically that we don’t want to create a political party, but we are going to have a political force in the form of a movement.

And it was all made clear to those who were for the electoral politics who were also seeing this as a pre-conditional or pre-requisite process. Those who were not for it also said that this should continue and whatever comes out of it let's see how two categories of people came together - those who were for the electoral politics and those who were not for electoral politics. I personally feel it was the personal dimension that came in the picture. After this we wanted to have one meeting and take some major decisions. Those people who objected are not even active anymore. People in a way felt betrayed in this, because after Harsood some of us took the questioning to heart, and quietly kept aside - that is also seen as some as betrayal, second national tour also saw some betrayal and then the third... yet people kept getting attracted to NAPM kind of vision, concept and also strategy that is why even today NAPM is seen as a hope but it has not become that strong a force that it could be. And the larger civil society, beyond the movements, beyond one plus one equal to two and two plus two equal to four, what we could have achieved in terms of overhauling the society first and then the system through that, that requires something like Desh Bachao Desh Banao andolan with innovative programmes, decentralized actions, some centralized actions, some common force, common cadre, but also taking the individual movements' strengths into the fold, and dealing with the individual movements' needs and expectations if not weaknesses through the common support. That was the challenge.

We had the movements and even today we have the movements who have reached up to the WTO. The only one rally here was nothing, we participated in the rally at the World Bank, we were there at the gates of WTO, and wherever we went, I think we made the difference in terms of other ideological or other actions, and Manjula Swami and farmers' movements, we were not regularly into it, we participated in one lakh strong rallies, they also felt that this is the organization they could be a part of. Somewhere the clicking wasn’t taking place from the core group so the others would have otherwise jumped into it. We remained on the walls. We held number of shivirs, where the constructive work, the alternative development related, was also focussed on, and whether it was the issue of nationalities or the issue of feminism, or the issue of environmentalists and natural-resource based communities coming together, not seeing each other as threat to each other, all these very delicate issues were handled. And whether it was Kashmir coming to a referendum - the whole core heart was burning - the real core could really make a difference.

I think we have kept the flame burning because there is a need, and meanwhile the sectoral alliances have also grown, and one cross-cutting force or process is also the one initiated by the funding agencies and the funding agencies left the role of being outside the action and deciding consciously conscientiously that they will not be at the active platform, and started jumping into the action or taking up the action process, they also started forming kind of networks. So these networks vis-à-vis alliance of the movements, there is some cross-cutting and people will go here and there, and they would give the money for travel and that would also lead to some funding assistance, financial assistance.

So the people would not have that much time then, also those who were at both will be left with less time and to manage their own movements' work and the national alliance work, or the movements' work, state-level alliance work and the national alliance work, was really difficult. And without resources, which was really the situation with most of the movements, it would require hundred times questioning from themselves before they could take the decision, as to how much time energy would be given to the alliance process. In some states the alliance formed and included tens of organizations, like in Bengal for example, but it couldn’t have a strong joint-mass action. In some states like Bihar, there were some mass actions that were supported and easily mass mobilization was taking place, but there was no proper alliance building process taking place. Meantime as other alliances have come up, we also felt that we should not hesitate to accept that there are other alliances too. What is wrong in it, because those are also the people that have remained NAPM associates, if not allies, and somewhere also earlier allies,  and some were also associates throughout.

So the concept of Sangharsh, emerged out of that where more kind of not fluid but accommodative larger alliance and also a larger platform - not just a platform where people come in speak and go back, but an alliance. Where the collective leadership, separate identities but also an identity emerging out of the collective, and comprehensive vision with maximum of wider linkage among the issues, sectors and ideologies also. Slightly differing yet conceived as having the maximum common denominator of commonality. So in a way NAPM also got into a larger replica of NAPM so it could be called as national alliance of people's movements in the sense although it may be alliance of alliances and others who are also beyond NAPM. This is also felt by others although I won't say that 100% of existing alliances would come together, we also don't see eye to eye with all the alliances. And yet it is also thought that the, one is the collective organizational building, it is called as an organization although we would not like it to be an individual organization, but some minimum decision making structure, and process should be chalked out. Again the challenge would be of common actions either same action at different places at the same time or sometimes pulling our mass strength together if not nationally then regionally.

There is also a challenge of not having 'manabhed' even if there is 'matabhed' between the common thinking, supportive unassuming NGOs and movements, accepting the complementarity of roles, not feeling hesitant to accept that there are much difference in cultures of different organizations, whether it is the salary, or the lifestyles or the sources of finance, or even the strategic activities of various organisations. The challenge would also be of coming together and remaining together in spite of some difference of opinion on how to relate to electoral politics or not to relate to electoral politics. Challenge would also be to break the traditional sectoral boundaries like the traditional trade unions not making the effort to bring to the core and focus on unprotected unorganized sector workers or the farmers and agricultural labourers or the environmentalists and natural-resource rights-based organisations, and the challenge would also be on how to engage the larger civil society.

Individuals, professionals, lawyers, press/ media persons, researchers, academicians, as it happened in the case of Bengal, that is the inspiring picture that we have in mind. But how would it actually happen unless we have the programmatic strategy that would go beyond the only typically downtrodden disadvantaged sections or sections facing the backlash. They are not poor, they are not destitutes only, they are the contributors, they are rich in natural resources and human resources, and they have the leadership qualities and roles already played although the middle-class activists are seen because the media also plays a game and other civil society needs that kind of appeal, so all these challenges are there. And when it comes to common action, common strategy, where would the resources come from - human and financial? Will the individual movements share those resources? Movements are already lacking in resources, time, energy...

I think every time we felt this and we still feel this much more strongly than ever before that many many alliances that were really genuine and were really of the people, by the people for the people, are really seeing the need to have a longer line drawn to make our individual lines look shorter, with a conscious effort towards that - and they may not be able to take all the people in their organisation together, sometimes a junior activist doesn't understand this etc etc but those who understand should move ahead.  In Narmada we saw that when we were to go with all the 36 demands which had many demands including the demands related to rehabilitation, and challenge the project or oppose the project, not everyone was ready to come with us, even some of our supporters.

But the people sometimes understand much better than the leading activists. I have seen this in Narmada also that some people were very upset that a person like me gives lot of time to the outside, we go on a national tour so absence etc etc, it is like the woman looking after the house and outside, so some compromise is made, some trouble is given to others, but also trouble is taken to oneself for playing the double role, dual role, so that kind of thing is not understood by all but many understood it and the people - the common people if you ask them - they will say that yes we all should be together, our issue and their issue is the same, rights etc... so that is the hope even today. Apart from the crisis being the hope and opportunity, hope is also lying in the maturity that has come forth in the context of such a great onslaught, changing face and character of the state, electoral politics on one hand and armed struggle on the other, the reducing or shrinking of the space of non-violent strong people's movements which are transformative and not just reformative, and also the global international forces that everyone couldn’t reach out to, and casteism communalism not coming to an end, so all of this to be taken as a challenge, and not to cuddle, and I think many mature activists realize it.

Those who started excluding us and saying that 'Oh you are not participating in the electoral politics, so you are not using the opportunity and you are showing yourself to be apolitical' have also realized how their deposits have lost. And others also feel that every effort should be tried and those who are entering into electoral politics they would not be condemned. So it is both ways, and going beyond is ultra-violet. It is also necessary that we also create a concept and form of new politics - that new form of political consciousness where individual citizens, too small civil society groups and too large people's movements could participate. That is how politics is to be generally. Parties also aim at that and their individual participation gets reflected in the form of vote.

We should have an alternative symbol of participation, not just symbolic but also active - action. For that a platform should be created that should be de-centralized and at the same time having a national umbrella like support and that should also be considered as political by ourselves but not in the narrow sense of the politics. Many of the activists continuously keep saying, activists are our supporters, that 'why don’t you get into politics', we have been saying that ours is also politics, some in this politics may participate in electoral politics, some may not participate in the electoral politics, but electoral politics is not taking the real political position on the issues that are people's issues, that are priorities for the processes that are real popular processes, without the people's participation which makes the process popular, there can be no democracy.

So talking about democratic rights they don’t follow democracy within their own party nor in the states where they are in power or in the local bodies where they are in power. So we want the real democratic form and forum to come up at every level and the real concept of local self-governance which is in the panchayati raj should be based on the local self-reliance and local can be following a principle of subsidiarity that is the smallest unit to the largest unit which is the nation's state, and that doesn’t mean we exclude internationalism, the international trade within the sub-continent first and then the global and so on, but with dignity with real kind of international forum as the UN was once upon a time not insisted with the corporatism, and the divide between what we call developed, or not so developed or least developed societies and developing societies in the same direction, presuming it is in the same direction, but really having a forum which will be committed to values, like peace, like sovereignty of the people within the nation state, space and role for the various sections of populations, across the world and within the country that needs to be consciously included within the processes of governance like adivasis in India or the black in USA or Kurdish in Turkey and so on and minorities, religious minorities and so on.

So that can be the real united nations but also the global forum. Today we don’t accept the globalisation as it is defined in this thing, so we reject certain global institutions, and we support and propagate the need for and strengthen certain international institutes or institutions and platforms and we will also but within the country we will like to have the forum like the people's parliament, the term will give a message that it is not political and it is only through the flawed and fraudulent electoral process of the present times which has gone into the hands of the money-mafia-muscle market and also using politicisation of caste or communalisation of politics as its weapons. So this kind of thing will really draw in an alternative to the whole political system otherwise mere talking about systemic change will not last long. So while we aim at that the magic is not going to work and it is not going to work magically. So we will have to also specify our positions with respect to the things that are happening, policies that are coming in, the enactments, the electoral reforms that we want which would be revolutionary and radical reforms, so on and so forth, the armed struggle vis-à-vis the other movements, the denouncing of the state's violence and state's onslaught, and the flawed policies that are more violent than even the armed struggle by certain sections etc, and we need to go beyond all this, and there we will draw the solutions to fresh kind of problems, that should be the aim and that should be the spirit and the strength also should be not just bringing one plus one equal to two, going beyond that, it may make it twenty.

Because take all the women in it, including the housewives in it, like the spiritual leaders do, they don’t divide and take in, so we are also addressing the issue, humanity, raising the human problem, so if we are clear about that why should we worry about divisions and divisions and create new divisions while denouncing some existing divisions. So we will have to consider each human being, not even as a citizen, as our unit or our contributing soul. But within the country it will also mean citizen but if I don’t have the voter's card or other ID card coming out of Nilekani, so then I will not be a citizen. So it will be a human and humane organisation at the same time, and the social, political, economical agenda will be evolved and put forth and also disseminated. So I think this kind of jan-sansad can form the new core strategy of our alliance. And we can have that banner everywhere,  irrespective of whether we have our own organisation's banners, our own cadres, etc. so everyone would see that.

It is high time we end the process process process and come to a conclusion and action. First action will be to formulate and accept this as a common concept. And then hold actions all over the country. For which it may be one single national tour or tens jan-sansads to be held but it should be seen as forceful alternative where we will not go through the same electoral process but at the same time we will create the confidence among the people as representing them, and also confidence among ourselves to deal with the problems. For example if it is the downstream upstream river concept like in Kaveri, the best solution is to have the people to people dialogue, or Indo-Pak. But then who will take the initiative? There is no Gandhi today, not even JP. So this collective leadership coming out of the collectivity of alliances with some supporters who are really committed to this collectivity and really consider this collectivity as the core. And still ready to support them, to be with them, to toil for them.

All of that will be from the core. And that will have lot of space. Lot many organisations to participate, lot many individuals to participate, our action strategy should be from individual to national. So some people would have to sit down and really get bogged down with this kind of need planning, that will not be an end in itself, and shall always be open to change and all that. But if some such proposal comes up, in the upcoming meeting of the alliances, I think we will take a great step or even a leap forward.

Medha Patkar

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