Wednesday, October 8, 2008

When Stories don’t run to script

Reflections following Prudent Media’s Mahasangram

“Not everything is entirely predictable”. Sage words from my friend Cecil Pinto, reflecting on the outcome of the Prudent Media organized ‘debate’ on whether Goans were becoming Eco-conscious or negative.

Whether the debate had been framed to lend legitimacy to the feeling from business and political elites that Goans are in fact opposing everything is still open…for debate. On the matter of the debate itself, the tragedy is that there was not much of a debate. From (L)eft to (R)ight, all the panelists said the same thing and the point was underscored a good many times through the course of the debate; the political system reliant on MLAs lacks accountability, they have been milking the state and the law for their own benefit and the people have had enough. They are angry, they refuse to sit quietly any more, and to use the words of Dr. Oscar Rebello, Goa is actually in the midst of a “low intensity civil war”. The anger of the people was more than evident at the ‘debate’ and were it another setting, I’d wager my name, that there would have been a few individuals at the debate who would have gotten roughed up. There really was no debate, since the idea of a Goan ‘negativity’ wasn’t seriously even articulated. Nitin Kunkolienkar from the GCCI, and Nilesh Salkar from the builder’s lobby, did try to raise some sort of issue, but it was clear that they were clearly out of their depth. They were speaking of law, when the people have clearly given up on the law. The good doctor had then to intervene and explain to the Suits; what was the point harping on law, when following a law, was clearly going to only earn them the ire of the people?

What one has to credit Kunkolienkar and Salkar for though, is that they stuck to the positions that they held and believe in. The politicos on the other hand, did the usual turncoat act. The view that they hold in private, in their meetings chambers, and when consorting with business, that the Goans are in fact being negative, were swiftly abandoned. On this front, Parrikar was brilliant as usual. If you heard him go, you would have joined a mob to acclaim him First President of the Peoples’ Republic of Goa! But of course it’s just an act. I’ll stress a point I have made a few times before. Had Parrikar been occupying the seat that Digambar now holds, all of us activists would have probably been thrown in jail on a variety of counts, not least among them being the accusation that we were terrorists.

If the politico’s changed the tune of their song, to acknowledge that there was something wrong with the system, then they weren’t able to proceed very far with that act. What the debate also threw up quite clearly was a lack of imagination by the State’s political (and other) elite in response to the clear break-down of the status quo in this state. Take for example the Chief Minister’s response to the criticisms regarding the amendments to Sections 16 and 16 A of the Town and Country Planning Act. ‘We have formulated rules’ he says, ‘that will submit proposed changes to the Plan to public scrutiny’. What is the manner of public scrutiny that he has in mind however? A committee, that is composed of elected representatives of the people, and representatives from NGOs. But isn’t that exactly the situation we have on our hands right now? The same situation we want to get changed? What the people are demanding is transparency and accountability and a larger say in how THEIR land gets dealt with. This sort of process can only come about through a sincere formulation of various types of public hearings. The unfortunate bit is that the powers that be are still not willing to see the changed political circumstance that is staring them in the face. The equation that reduces democracy to a five-yearly (if we are lucky) exercise in electing a legislator is no longer working. A refusal to gracefully make way to a new system will for sure only lead to the kind of escalation of the conflict we are already witness to. Oscar has already publicly read the writing on the wall. Babylon must fall.

The script of the fall of Babylon however, may not quite run as the people’s movements may want it to. Reason being that a good number of these movements are themselves seriously compromised. Right from the GBA to the smallest of village movements, the decision-making bodies are composed of a wide variety of interests. Not all of these interests are similar. In fact very often they diverge widely! On the one hand you have persons representing upper caste and upper class interests; and on the other you have people who are really angry at not having a voice in the manner their livelihoods are being impacted on. The upper caste, class groups are jockeying to change the status-quo only marginally, since the change in the status-quo will allow them to possibly become the new brokers of power if the status-quo changes. If things don’t change, by virtue of being present in a wide variety of civil society initiatives, they would have already achieved the status of being power brokers. Indeed, if we do move toward a total collapse of law and order in this state, then we will really have to lay the blame on these power brokers who fraudulently represent the people, while also blaming the politicos who refuse to relinquish greater power to the panchayats.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 8th October 2008)

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