, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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Exploring variations in political reactions to large scale land acquisitions in India
Amod Shah

Last modified: 2018-12-14


Movements resisting compulsory land acquisition by the Indian state for ‘public purpose’ projects exhibit significant differences in their goals, discourses and strategies of contention. Understanding the variable political reactions to such large scale land acquisitions thus require a more contextual analysis of how land acquisition processes unfold across different communities and project types. Building primarily on existing work in agrarian political economy, this paper identifies four interrelated factors – the perceived legitimacy of land acquisition processes, the political influence of affected communities, their incorporation into projects, and existing linkages to capitalist production relations – that have a crucial influence on how communities experience land acquisition and the role played by the state in this process. It argues further that the political character of movements resisting particular instances of land acquisition, in terms of their goals, discourses and strategies, are closely linked to the interplay between such factors. For instance, resistance to large hydroelectric dams and mining projects has tended to coalesce around a fundamental opposition to the project, in contrast to the opposition to many Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which have focused on securing higher compensation for acquired lands. Popular perceptions of the ‘public interest’ served by the state’s acquisition of land for a project also influence movements’ choices of discourses focused on localized concerns of land and livelihoods, versus those which more broadly challenge the dominant capitalist development paradigm or climate change discourses. The increasing use of environment protection laws to contest land acquisition processes is a particularly illustrative example of emerging strategies of contention, albeit with significant variations across different project types.


compulsory land acquisition; land grabbing; resistance; India; political economy; social movements

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