Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thinking about Political Violence

Once again Manohar Parrikar has displayed his contempt for the democratic process. A false and irresponsible statement when sitting in a position of responsibility, without having any evidence to back up his statement, underlines his contempt for the citizens who he feels will gullibly swallow everything he says—and, even if they don’t, since there is no way they can curb him, who cares! This episode underlines his constant attempt to overthrow any existing government so that he has a chance to take over power. The role of an opposition is to wait out its time, and act as a watch-dog of the democratic process, not to take over power by engineering an unstable socio-political scenario. There is no doubt that Parrikar will continue with these irresponsible statements, since this is really the nature of his commitment to democracy. He may still get elected, but it is gradually becoming clear that if we do vote for him, we vote for his promises of autocracy, not the reign of a democratic rule of law. There is good cause to believe that the People’s movements have gotten as far as they have in Goa because Parrikar is not Chief Minister. He would have, as Chief Minister, dubbed us all Naxals and terrorists and thrown us without rights into jail.

Parrikar’s latest statement has nevertheless fulfilled an important task by introducing the idea of Naxalism into the Goan context. He has forced us to contemplate the place of acts of political violence as a way to address the injustices we are facing.

Any contemplation of acts of political violence must necessarily begin from the recognition that the act of political violence by the revolutionary or the activist is really the act of counter-violence. This fact was clearly pointed out at the multiple press conferences after Parrikar’s statement. The Goan people are victims of State terrorism. This is particularly true for those Goans in the mining belt who have silently borne this violence since Liberation. They are victims of State terrorism because the State refuses to recognise their right to a decent and dignified existence, and their rights to common property. The State encourages the privatization of common lands for the benefit of a few who effectively control the Government. When people protest peacefully and persistently, the violence of the State is unleashed on them, as has been done by the police in Colamb and Advalpal. Parrikar’s identification of Seby Rodrigues as a Naxal was another attempt to violently intimidate the people of Goa, and make one individual an example for the rest. Not enough importance has been given to the fact that Naxals are treated as terrorists, and regular rules of criminal procedure, that ensure the basic rights of the individual, have long since ceased to apply to the suspected terrorist.

The Goan State is the perpetrator of violence because it has emptied the State of the rule of law. The reason Gram Sabhas went on the rampage all through the summer, and the reason people are protesting on the streets on an almost daily basis, is because the State has stopped following the rules and regulations that it ought to be the guardian of. The State has shown us in numerous examples that it does not respect democratic processes, and acts only when it confronts violence. Thus the work on the IT Park in Dona Paula was stopped after active (though cowardly and reprehensible) acts of violence on the site. Similarly, the SEZ and the Regional Plan was stopped when the State was faced with the power of angry crowds. We must not forget that it was not regular procedure that got us the breathing space that we now enjoy but the threat of violence; revolutionary violence in the case of the SEZ and Regional Plan, and plain violence in the case of the IT Park.

Very clearly then, Goa is already in the grip of the logic of political violence. Initiated by the State this logic allows only violent acts to attract the attention of this bully State. We should not however, therefore presume that this violence by the State necessitates the shedding of blood or the destruction of physical infrastructure. Political violence is not limited to the act of blowing up people and buildings. Where silence is deliberately imposed on a people, it is an act of violence. The mere act of speaking up and gaining the attention of the State is therefore, in the context of a rogue State – the Goan State being prime example- an act of political counter-violence.

When Parrikar says that there are groups instigating people to violence, he continues to show his contempt of the intellectual capabilities of the citizen. One can be instigated only if one is not used to, or incapable of thinking. If people do take to more violent political acts, it is because they find no other way to express their anger and frustration toward the State. Parrikar himself does not deny that these feelings are rife in the mining area. The political establishment would do well to take note of this growing frustration in the State, and take steps necessary to prevent our collective slide into a spiral of bloodshed. Unfortunately rather than attempting to address the situation, they are still trying to maintain the status quo, where the system of an elected government responsible to the people is a farce. We have instead an elected government that is totally allied to the local capitalists in the State and does their bidding.

There are two broad options before the angry citizen in such a situation. One is the way of the mob, the other the way of the revolutionary. The violence of the mob is an unthinking violence. The mob does not really know why it does an act. It just knows that it is angry and does as it is directed. This violence eventually gets us nowhere, and is a violence that we do not need. It only serves as an opportunity for continued and heightened State repression and an eventual return to the status quo. Revolutionary violence on the other hand, is the conscious act of transgression by an individual or group that has an agenda for change. Such actions don’t necessarily call for destruction or bloodshed; in fact these may not even be necessary as Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest of the guerillas showed us. Consciously chosen acts of transgression of the rules that enforce silence is the way of the revolutionary. Every such action is no doubt prompted by the repressive State, but every action of the revolutionary disables the capacity of the State to act; it frustrates the logic of the State. An accumulation of a multitude of such conscious acts of transgression with a clear agenda in mind will get us a renewed Goa.

If Goa does see Naxal type violence, the State and its elite must be held wholly responsible for it. The role of the activist within this violent environment, is to direct the frustration of the citizenry toward revolutionary acts of transgression, away from the option of the mindless violence of the mob.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 25 June 2008)

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