The prospect of Indian environmental interest groups coming together on a broader national platform could lend them the political heft that green parties even in the West lack
Even as governments of the world were grappling with the nitty-gritty details of the Paris Agreement, social media platforms were abuzz with discussions on the Chennai floods and the National Green Tribunal’s curbs on the plying of diesel vehicles in Delhi. Two sentiments dominated these discussions. One, a sense of betrayal, with political parties being painted and panned as ruthless villains. Two, the need for a planned course of action for all those who want to change the narrative of a civilisation that is on a constant warpath with nature. These discussions threw up the idea of a Green Party — a political party with ecological wisdom and participative democracy as its roots.
As far as innovations go, the idea of a Green Party is not exactly a brainwave; Western countries have seen their share of political parties and alliances that have been established on a ‘green’ platform. For instance, the German Green Party (now called Alliance ’90/The Greens), established in 1980, is one of the oldest and most prominent of these groupings. Many of these parties have made it to their respective Parliaments and some even to the European Parliament.
Need of the hour
But is there really a need for a Green Party? Can’t the existing parties, which anyway seem one too many, reorient, recalibrate and attune themselves to emerging needs? The answer, it seems, is both a yes and a no.
Yogendra Yadav, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and a renowned psephologist, social activist, and former Aam Aadmi Party leader, says there is a “crying need for environmental politics”, as our flawed economic developmental model has left a trail of shattered homes.
However, M. Pushparayan, social activist and one of the principal forces behind the anti-Koodankulam movement, says that while he agrees with Mr. Yadav’s overall assessment of the need for a green party, he keeps his counsel on its near-term viability.
Mr. Pushparayan’s scepticism is not entirely unfounded. Many of the current discussions around environmental issues and green politics are restricted to the now and here, with broader contentious topics such as industrialisation and exploitation of natural resources continuing to divide people.
“In Chennai, at least, the new-found sensitivity to environmental issues is more of a knee-jerk emotional response to the floods. [What people don’t understand is] that when we talk about things like a cleaner sea and garnet mining, we are speaking for the world at large and not just for the local communities,” he says.
If this is the way Chennai would look at what is happening in Kanyakumari or Tuticorin, then is it reasonable to expect people to make common cause with the happenings in Odisha or the Northeast?
But Mr. Yadav does not see this problem as insurmountable. He says this yawning divide between various interest groups is, in fact, a basic and unique feature of our democracy that we must take into account while coming up with a political response to new social mores.
“Forget about the disconnect between the people living in urban areas and those living in rural areas. Today, fishermen are disconnected from the Adivasis. The Adivasis are disconnected from the small and medium farmers. The small and medium farmers are disconnected from the locals,” he says.
Given these unique challenges, the strategy of the green parties in the West seems inappropriate in the Indian social milieu. Warns Mr. Yadav: “We should not try to ape the Western model. There, the environmental concerns are the concerns of the urbane and the educated. They are post-materialistic. In India, the environmental concerns revolve around necessities. They are the concerns of the rural poor, the Adivasis, the fishermen, the tribals and even the urban castaways. If green politics does not restrict itself as urban environmental activism but emerges as a binding agent of all these groups and concerns, it definitely has a future in India.”
This coming together of various interest groups on a broader national platform could lend them the political heft and the electoral sting that green parties in the West seem to lack, despite their early start.
Also, with the near unanimous view that existing political parties are not the solution but are part of the problem, one has to look beyond conventional politics and politicians. Says environmental crusader and author Vandana Shiva, “We need fresh infusion [of people] and fresh formations which can act as the political and ecological conscience of society.”
Conventional mainstream political parties may eventually wake up to the ground realities and may add elements of sustainable development and environmentalism to their agenda. But before that, they need to be convinced that ignoring these issues is indeed making a huge dent in their vote base, says Yadav.
It is not as if there are no lessons that we can learn from the green parties of the West. Says Dr. Shiva, who works closely with many green party members of Parliament and members of the European Parliament on global issues: “We fight genetically modified organisms and Monsanto. They fight Monsanto too. We fight the takeover of the city by the builders’ lobby, which is cementing the soil and water bodies, and they too are.”
Green parties will also push the boundaries of democratic space, which is currently being hemmed in by various forces. “With corporates trying to shut out ecological movements, Greenpeace being a recent example, there is a need for a broad green alliance,” Dr. Shiva says.
It looks like green parties in India are just a seed of an idea, but an idea that holds a lot of promise.