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Arab Spring, Indian Summer?

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A summer of mass protest is planned if the Jan Lokpal ombudsman bill is not to the activists' liking – which the initial draft almost certainly won't be. A hugely popular television yoga guru known as Baba Ramdev, whose rally against corruption was broken up by police in June, has promised another fast unto death if action is not taken to plug loopholes. Expect India's independence day – Aug. 15 – to be marked by civil disobedience.

The second element of regime change is even more explicitly targeted at colonial-era governance. For the first time in independent India, a government is serious about replacing the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, which allows the state to dispossess landowners for almost any "public purpose."

The act's few landowner protections are easily trumped by countervailing emergency provisions. Compensation for landowners is pitiful. The key official who engineers these transactions – the district collector – is an imperial relic of vast authority whose extractive function is unsubtly encoded in his job title.

Activists have long demanded reforms to the Land Acquisition Act. A protracted campaign against the World Bank-funded Narmada Dam in the 1980s and '90s highlighted the callousness with which the Indian state uproots entire communities in the name of development.

The current effort to replace (rather than just tidy up) the act has been set off by popular revulsion at the more recent state practice of gifting forcibly acquired land to corporations, both foreign and domestic, to establish export enclaves known as "special economic zones." Nearly 600 such zones, which often feature luxury housing and other high-end amenities, are in various stages of completion across India. Their alleged economic benefits are widely regarded as an insufficiently "public purpose" to justify such blatant land-grabbing.

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