Negotiating Development A Study of the Grassroots Resistance to India's 2005 Special Economic Zones Act

by Jonathan Jones

Institution: University of Florida
Department: Political Science
Year: 2009
Keywords: democracy, democratization, development, globalization, india, industrialization, peasants; Political Science
Record ID: 1854368
Full text PDF: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0024211


NEGOTIATING DEVELOPMENT: A STUDY OF THE GRASSROOTS RESISTANCE TO INDIA'S 2005 SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES ACT This study examines a citizen resistance that occurred in India during 2007 against the country's 2005 Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act. The resistance largely began in two village blocks in rural West Bengal where farmers stood to lose their land and livelihood due to the establishment of an SEZ and another similar project. It quickly spilled out however into a wider resistance against SEZs that included various elements of India's civil society as well as India's opposition parties. This broad based resistance has resulted in notable concessions by India's state and national governments including increased compensation for land losers, a new policy that forbids the government to forcefully acquire land for SEZs, and the outright cancellation of a number of SEZs across the country. This study poses two central research questions. First, how did villagers, and other Indian citizens come together to form an effective and unified resistance? Second, why did India's state and national governments grant significant concessions to the resistance? I argue that the success of the resistance was facilitated in part by the backdrop of India's democracy. India's democracy provided the impetus for the resistance and government response in several respects. First, rural West Bengal has a legacy of past democratic resistance and subsequent policy concessions. As such, villagers in West Bengal have been conditioned in the art of democratic political protest. Second, India boasts a vibrant civil society, which came out in force to support the anti SEZ resistance. India's civil society had a critical role in the success of the movement, both in terms of guiding and empowering activist villagers and also by pressuring the Indian government to alter state policy. Third, some members of India's various opposition parties responded quickly to the resistance and helped channel the voice of the citizenry to the policy front. Finally, India's media reported heavily on the resistance to SEZs in West Bengal and across the country, and was highly critical of any acts of government violence to quell the resistance. These various forces of democracy have in turn shaped the positive government response. Although the study focuses on India, it has relevance to other developing countries. The study illustrates that the strengthening of political democracy could have a positive impact on the world's poor as developing countries become increasingly exposed to the global economy. Although development might proceed more slowly in developing countries that are democratic, such growth might prove more sustainable in the long run