The World Social Forum process in India began with the deliberations between the Brazilian organisers and some Indian groups to hold the WSF in India in 2002. Since then three forum events have been held in India, starting with the Asian Social Forum in 2003, which led up to the World Social Forum Meet in 2004 in Mumbai. In November 2006, the India Social Forum was held in Delhi and is the last forum event to be organised in India.
The WSF process is very significant for anyone interested in contemporary radical politics in India. It brought together for the first time under one platform left political parties and their mass organisations; social and environmental movements; human rights groups, farmers; dalit and adivasi organisations; women’s movement and the NGOs. This facilitated a dialogue between these groups, some of them traditionally wary of each other, as well as exchange of ideas, formulation of common strategies and formation of common fronts among dispersed groups and movements. The WSF process thus can be read as a marker of shifts and realignments engendered among social and political actors in India by neo-liberal globalisation and the ascendance of the Hindu Right and as having contributed to this process as well.
However, the WSF process has also been witness to a rift among the key actors it brought together. If WSF 2004 marked the coming together of forces, especially the left and the social movements, then the ISF could be seen, if not as the beginning of the end of the alliance, a witness to serious rifts among these actors. The crisis in Singur erupted immediately after the conclusion of the ISF meet, followed by Nandigram, which has only widened the chasm. Some of the most contentious debates in the ISF were over issues of land acquisition, displacement and Special Economic Zones.
The proposed research begins with the understanding that both the alliance and the rifts between these actors are part of the debate over development in India. The former was a result of the consensus over the need to resist the mainstream development model of neo-liberal or corporate globalisation, and the recognition that effective resistance was possible only with a widest possible united front. The ‘open space’ philosophy of the WSF allowed such an arena where diverse views could be articulated and areas of consensus thrashed out. The rifts, on the other hand, were produced by divergent perspectives on what constitutes an alternative development paradigm, beyond the consensus on resisting globalisation and even extend to the possible strategies of effective resistance. Diverse groups brought into the WSF their specific critiques of the mainstream development experience of India, both of the pre-globalisation and globalisation periods, and have their own understandings of the essentials of an alternative conception of development.
In this context, this research seeks to 1) examine the nature of debates on alternative development in the WSF and 2) gauge the impact of the WSF process on the politics of alternative development in India.
While the question of alternative development spills over a wide range of issues, for the purpose of this research the focus will be mainly on eliciting views and analyses on the following – Land rights and displacement, environment and livelihood, traditional knowledge and technology, urbanisation and the state of rural India, state of agriculture and impact of industrialisation. Besides being overlapping, each of these issues have a rich history of debate in ideas and activism. It is beyond the scope of the proposed research to engage with this complex debate on each issue in all its details. What this research seeks to do is to engage with these issues in so far as they impact the thinking on development and thereby extract the contours of alternative development frameworks from these debates.
The proposed research seeks to study the WSF process in India and the deliberations of the WSF meets with the following questions in mind:
- What are the ways in which mainstream development has been identified and critiqued?
- What are the principal ideas on alternative development which were floated in the WSF? What kind of discussions took place among organisations around these ideas?
- How did these groups engage with each other in India as well as with the international networks on the issues identified above?
- How do different movements evaluate the role of the WSF on the question of alternative development? In their perception, did engagement with the WSF result in any consensus on the nature of alternative development framework and policies to be advocated? What kind of developments do they trace to the WSF, for example, in forming common fronts, issuing declarations and undertaking campaigns?
- How do movements perceive the role of the left in the debate over alternative development? How do they distinguish between various left groups on this count?
- Given the current debate over development alternatives, do they think another WSF meet is possible and even desirable?
The research will be carried out on two fronts. One, a comprehensive survey and analysis of the discussions and deliberations in the WSF events and subsequent commentary on them by organisations, individual participants and observers will be done. Here the documentation available with CACIM and other sources will be used. I would like to add that development studies is my area of doctoral research and I am familiar with the literature on the WSF as I have already undertaken a study of the WSF in India for an earlier paper. (See the writing sample)
Two, following the leads from the documentation, interviews will be conducted with various movement groups and organisations, especially those who have been associated with the above issues and can be identified as the principal advocates of alternative development models in India. These will include, in particular, the constituents of National Alliance of People’s Movements, Action 2007, Jan Sangharsh Morcha, National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers of India as well as other organisations working on these issues. I am already in touch with the above organisations, and for the others, I hope to get the assistance of CACIM.
It is proposed to complete this research in the stipulated period of six months. The funding will be used for fieldwork which involves travel and stay for interviews with representatives of various movements and for accessing documents.