Monthly Archives July 2019

Food security, agricultural policies and economic growth through the eyes of Niek Koning by Dorothea Hilhorst

Food security, agricultural policies and economic growth through the eyes of Niek Koning by Dorothea Hilhorst

One of the pleasures of summertime is that I get to read some of the books that have piled up over the years and this is how I came to ...

Depo-Provera and HIV transmission: the jury’s still out by C. Sathyamala

Depo-Provera and HIV transmission: the jury’s still out by C. Sathyamala

The link between HIV transmission and the use of Depo-Provera®, a three-monthly injectable contraceptive, has raised concerns for its use in populations with high prevalence of HIV. The WHO is ...

The question of democracy in environmental politics: The Green Road Project in Turkey by Melek Mutioglu Ozkesen

Road construction is usually presented as a major condition for development, but the question is: development for who and whose land is being intruded for the construction of the road? In Turkey, these questions were prominently raised by social movements and civil society organizations when the government launched its Green Road Project in 2013. It is promoted by the state authorities for making the Black Sea region accessible to the incoming tourists that would arguably improve the economic conditions of the people living in the region. Six years later, the road has almost been completed, and this post can only pay homage to the brave and gradual field attempts of social movements to stop this project.

The Green Road Project is a road project with a length of 2645 kilometers that will connect the highlands of the Artvin, Bayburt, Giresun, Gümüshane, Ordu, Rize, Samsun and Trabzon provinces in the northern part of Turkey. The target of the Green Road Project is declared as ‘the completion of not only the Green Road Project to provide a significant brand value to the region in the tourism sector and link the highlands to each other, but also the acceleration of social progress that will be ensured through the resulting economic development.’[1] However, it also means the loss of livelihoods, increase in construction, rent, and environmental damage for the locals living in the region.

The Green Road, introduced by state officials as a regional development project, is justified by a discourse of serving ‘the people’ and providing local and national development through infrastructural modernization, which could result in a tourism boom and attract foreign investment.  It led however to the adverse reactions of highland residents. Non-governmental organizations involved in the protest argue that the process has been carried out without consulting the local people at any moment during the policy making stages. Various organizations such as TEMA, the Fırtına Initiative, ‘Brotherhood of the Rivers/Highlands’, and ‘Black Sea in Revolt’ monitored the project very closely and struggled against it. They tried to stop the construction for a long time until eleven locals were detained by the gendarme and 24 locals were prosecuted on the charges of violating the freedom of work.



Mother Havva, depicted in the title image, who has become the symbol of the social opposition in the region, says:

‘Let them see if there is anything green in this road. Those highlands are ruined for whom? Highlands should be for our children, for our animals. We have no place to go. We kept our hometown alive by protecting our highlands and forests. The state exists because we exist, because this folk exists. Neither would [exist] these police, this gendarme, this judge, this government, this district governor for that matter. They exist as long as we exist. We are people with our land, our green, our highland!’[2]

Apparently, Mother Havva and the government officials do not refer to the same group as ‘the people’. This contested use of ‘the people’ makes us question which people this project serves?  Which people will gain and lose by it? Mother Havva, while justifying her resistance against the project, protests that the state acts against – their peoples’ rule and their will. Perceiving ‘the people’ as the founding component of the state, she also questions who the state is? The Turkish government identifies its uncontested executive actions as democracy for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since its rise to power in 2002, and has been trying to legitimate itself as the representative of the ‘will of the people’.  On the other side, ‘the people’ identify themselves with their environment and lands, and consider this project as a threat for their livelihoods. This contested use of the term ‘the people’ by the locals and the officials sheds light on different projects of democracy endorsed by the two sides. While the locals have been struggling for their representation in the ongoing projects happening on their living space and refuse to leave absolute control to the mercy of the political authority, the government officials have been legitimizing their actions through conducting their representational legitimacy in the country.

In the Green Road Project, participatory action seems out of the agenda in an ever suspending process which excludes the opposing locals from any stage of policy making itself. Even when the locals mobilized to struggle/protest against the project, they were threatened, detained and were usually marginalized through various discourses such as that of ‘pasture occupiers’, settled in the region without legal permission and against local development. In this context one can say that the Green Road Project is one clear example that asks for the necessity of participatory democracy in environmental politics in Turkey in order to avoid the threats and disappearance of the livelihoods of the rural people in the region.

[1] DOKAP (2014). Doğu Karadeniz Projesi (DOKAP) Eylem Planı 2014-2018. T.C. Kalkınma Bakanlığı.

[2] BirGün. (2015) Havva ananın isyanı: Kimdir devlet? Devlet bizim sayemizde devlettir.

Image Credits: Demiroren News Agency

MelekAbout the author:

Melek Mutioglu Ozkesen is a visiting PhD researcher in the Political Ecology Research Group at the ISS. She comes from the Ankara University in Turkey.

Complexity of Micro-level Violent Conflict:  An ‘Urban Bias’ lenses of a Native Researcher? by Delphin Ntanyoma

Complexity of Micro-level Violent Conflict: An ‘Urban Bias’ lenses of a Native Researcher? by Delphin Ntanyoma

Micro-level violent conflict is complex, and the triggers of violence are unpredictable. Building on long-seated unresolved grievances coupled with the presence of foreign armed groups in Eastern Congo, the South-Kivu ...

When the going gets tough: duty of care and its importance by Siena Uiterwijk Winkel

When the going gets tough: duty of care and its importance by Siena Uiterwijk Winkel

Safety and security for students and staff traveling in complex, remote and hazardous areas is important but often taken for granted at universities. In order to create an embedded, inclusive ...

What does Modi 2.0 mean for the world’s largest democracy? By Meenal Thakur

The mandate of India’s general election silenced the ‘if not Modi then who’ debate which had been brewing given the country’s economic instability and rising communal polarization.  The historic re-election of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister fundamentally re-ordered the country’s political landscape and reaffirmed people’s faith in him to fulfil their economic aspirations. While critics are wary of the ethno-nationalism that fueled social turmoil under the new government, others look forward to Modi’s promised vision of a ‘New India’ in his second term.

Political analysts called the phenomenon a ‘Modi wave’ that gripped the nation, when in May 2014, Narendra Modi – leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was first elected as the Prime Minister of India by the greatest mandate the country had witnessed in over 30 years.

Five years later, Modi was expected to come back to power but with reduced numbers, however, Modi proved the naysayers wrong. Not only did he get re-elected, but his party won 303 of the 542 parliamentary constituencies, breaking its own record of 282 in 2014. The Modi wave, stronger than ever before, consumed whatever came in its way. BJP candidates, including one with terrorism charges against her, piggybacked on Modi’s popularity and rode their way to the Parliament. The biggest casualty being India’s Grand Old Party- The Indian National Congress which was sent back to the pits as it failed miserably to even win enough seats to become the leader of opposition.

The two sides of Modi’s staggering victory were captured by the Time Magazine days before the election ended. The magazine’s May cover called Modi “India’s Divider-in-chief”- a play on his religious nationalism which has resulted in a hostile environment for Muslims who constitute 14% of India’s population.

However, the magazine also carried a counter-view –‘Modi the Reformer’ where it pinned Modi as India’s best hope for economic reform. A similar line was towed by many publications and political analysts back home- India needs change, the opposition is in shambles and Modi remains the only person who can deliver.

The unassailable megalomaniac

This election and the BJP’s historic mandate raises fundamental questions about the values of secularism and liberalism that are the cornerstones of the world’s largest democracy. While India has taken pride in its diverse social fabric- something that its founding fathers and mothers had cherished deeply as the nation’s strength- Modi’s victory acted as a mirror to the Indian society. Blow by blow, he decimated the popular perception of ‘Unity in Diversity’ and appealed to the darkest corner of the middle-class Hindu’s mind.

Modi fanned, and vehemently so, the burning yet unexposed cauldron of religious intolerance in the Indian society. Issues of rising unemployment and farm distress raised by the opposition were overshadowed by Modi’s hyper nationalism. A strategically crafted election campaign coupled with Modi’s gift of the gab roused powerful emotions in the electorate who were made to believe that Modi was the one who would protect the cow (a sacred animal for Hindus) and the country (in the wake of attacks by Pakistan-based terrorist groups).

To be sure, if the BJP’s thumping victory was a result of a toxic ethno-nationalism which painted the country saffron (the colour of India’s Hindu right wing), it also reflected a resonance with Modi’s economic and foreign policies in the last five years. To his credit, Modi’s first tenure saw improved relations with the United States, China, and Japan. Hugging his counterparts on foreign visits not only made for great optics but also earned him the praise of millions of voters for putting India on the world map.

Back home, his social sector schemes helped him expand the BJP’s voter base from upper-caste Hindus and penetrate the lower caste votes.

Road ahead

The pro-incumbency votes mean that people still believe in Modi’s hallmark motto ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (Collective effort, inclusive growth) and expect him to deliver on reviving economic growth and addressing rising unemployment and farm distress.

Just a day after the BJP government was re-elected, unemployment figures were released showing unemployment at a 45-year high in India. Many allege that the government suppressed the information until the election was over. While the Modi government’s aversion to transparency is the subject matter for another article, let’s just say that the next five years will make or mar the aspirations of millions of unemployed youth constituting more than 50% of the country’s population.

The government also has the task of reviving India’s aviation sector and continue working on the hard-pressed infrastructure sector with the same rigor as shown in its previous term. Challenges will also arise in the health sector for which the government has announced affordable universal health coverage, popularly known as ‘Modicare’- another testament to Brand Modi.

Economic policies aside, Modi’s next term will also shape what political scientist Yogendra Yadav calls ‘the idea of India.’

Concerns have been expressed about the alarming rise of anti-intellectualism as well as subversion of democratic institutions under the BJP government. For example. the appointment of Hindu nationalist ideologue, Swaminathan Gurumurthy (the key person credited with advising Modi to undertake the disastrous demonetization drive in 2016) to the board of the Reserve Bank of India in 2018. However, this is just one of the salvos of the BJP government privileging Hindu religion and identity politics over science and rationality. BJP ministers have in the past dismissed Darwin’s theory of evolution as unscientific.

The next five years will also be crucial for minorities (mostly Muslims and Dalits) who have suffered episodes of mob lynching by self-appointed cow vigilantes who seem to be getting emboldened since the BJP came to power. Silence on Modi’s part and inflammatory statements made by BJP leaders to incite communalism do not bode well for the minorities in India.

The absolute majority with which Modi won has bolstered the already aggressive Hindu right wing and has heightened fears of India heading towards an authoritarian democracy. Nevertheless, the mandate also gives him the legitimate power to decide, act and deliver and, take India on the path of progress.

Meanwhile, the world watches India to see whether the absolute power wrested in Modi would make our worst fears come true. I hope not.

Image Credit: narendramodiofficial on Flickr

Screenshot_20190707-213122About the author:

Meenal Thakur is from India and is currently pursuing her masters in Governance and Development Policy at The International Institute of Social Studies. A former journalist, she wrote on politics and development for one of India’s leading national dailies before joining ISS.

Brokering India’s public service delivery by Sushant Anand

Brokering India’s public service delivery by Sushant Anand

Informal mediation peopled by brokers, touts, middlemen has over the years embedded itself within public service delivery. Even as they are not within the government system, brokers have come to ...

Reclaiming the space for feminism in development practice: the role of ‘femocrats’ by Clara Mi Young Park

Reclaiming the space for feminism in development practice: the role of ‘femocrats’ by Clara Mi Young Park

In spite of international pledges to gender equality and development that leaves no one behind, the current wave of populism and autarchy is materializing in the form of resurging patriarchy, ...