Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Footsteps of a Goan Revolution

Politics, it has been said, is the last refuge of scoundrels. In the days following the uprisings in Carmona, Siridao and Aldona, another fact has also been thrown into sharp focus; Law too, is the last refuge of scoundrels. Not for the first time, following the direct actions of residents concerned with the mutilation of their immediate environment, the ‘developmental’ interests involved (and they are Goan!) have mobilized the Law to cow down the popular protests that are thankfully becoming a part of Goan public life. The Gram Sabha, they inform us, has no real authority to reject, when the elected representatives or other authorities have already granted permission to projects.

My aim in this intervention is not to suggest that the Gram Sabha does in fact in law have a right to reject a project once it has already been approved by the concerned authorities. There is without doubt in the current events that are taking place in Goa, a clear rejection of the procedure of law, a rejection of the authorities set up by law. Of this let us not be in any doubt. Let us also acknowledge that in the manner in which Gram Sabhas are being organized and mobilized, there is a chance that it could in later times swing to another extreme. Thus these currently salvatory gatherings could possibly turn oppressors of the rights of the marginalized they are currently supporting. A perfect example of this is the manner in which Catholic villagers gang up in Gram Sabhas to make sure that local Muslims have no opportunity to establish either mosque or graveyard in their village. Let us also recognize that we need to evolve a more elaborate code regarding the manner in which quorum is constituted for such Gram Sabhas and how these meetings must be conducted.

And yet despite the procedural problems that these Gram Sabha resolutions may pose today, my aim is to point out that the current emphasis on legality; the letter of the law is being stressed primarily to shift the debate away from the emphasis of legitimacy that the people of Goa are everywhere articulating. We have for years now mourned the rule of the forty thieves. Clearly representative democracy- what our textbooks call Westminster style Parliamentary democracy was not working for us. It created a situation where law was (is) used not to meet the genuine needs of the people but to serve the interests of the new political elite of the State. It is in this context that, to paraphrase Nehru, the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance, resulting in the overturning of the letter of the law, for an emphasis on legitimacy of actions. What we are witness to, and participants in Goa, is nothing less than a revolution; where the attempt is to always sweep away an earlier illegitimate order and bring in one that is premised on legitimacy.

What is exciting about this revolution is that it finds its inspiration within the legitimate framework of the Indian constitution. We in India are fortunate to have a Constitution that is not static. The Constitution may have started out as a blueprint for parliamentary style democracy, but it has also gradually opened up the space for a more radical form of deliberative democracy. A democracy where not just the elected representatives, but concerned citizens will also have an active say in the governance of the country, state and locality. Unfortunately for us however, the realization of this radical form has, as the history of Goa will show, consistently been frustrated since the political elite whether in Delhi or in Goa do not stand to benefit from this model of democracy. This political elite constantly points to the lack of fit between the parliamentary and panchayati urges in the Constitution, and the only way this tension will be resolved is through the revolutionary action that the people of Goa are now displaying.

It is crucial that we remember that we are inhabitants of a revolutionary moment, since it is this consciousness alone that will save us from the deluge that threatens to overwhelm us. We have to remember that the house of the legislature today stands corrupt and lacking in any moral standing. The courtroom, even when handling PILs is the space not of radical movement; but slow, cautious and status-quoist action. It is the status-quo dictated to us in the form of speculator friendly procedures that is threatening our land, and it is only radical action that can provide us succour.

To those who tell us that we are not following a legal process, to them we must respond that we are. We are operating within the framework of the Constitution of India, and what we are in violation of, are procedures and power-structures that are wholly illegitimate. It is not our actions that are in violation of the Constitution, but the procedures themselves. It is these that must change, and not our demands or our actions. Viva la Revolucion!

(Published in the Gomantak Times, April 23rd 2008)


sebydesiolim said...

There are also uprisings in Goa's mining belt that also needs to be looked at from revolutionary perspective. We have examples of Colamb, Advalpal and Saleli battling feudal and capitalist interests. I wish you could be more inclusive of mining belt along with the revolts against builders currently occuring in Goa. You log on to for more detailed reports in this regard.

Sebastian Rodrigues

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Seby forgive me...I should have known better and I have erred and wronged you and the people in Colamb, Advalpal and Saleli horribly.