Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thinking About Babush II: The dream that won Babush the election

Persist to think of Babush Monserrate as the embodiment of evil, and it will be impossible to understand the reasons for his victory in the recently concluded Panchayat elections. If one is to provide a counter to him, then one has to come up with another, more plausible explanation for the victory. Demonizing him serves no purpose other than to blindly hate him and provide a bonding among the various groups opposed to him for their own varied reasons. In the previous part of this series, I had suggested that the key to Monserrate’s victory was not the fear that he allegedly instills in the people of Taleigão, but because he is congress with them for reasons of a dream that he offers them. One cannot capture votes merely by handing out gifts. One has to also capture the imaginations of the people one is gifting. Monserrate seems to have done exactly this. He offers the people of Taleigão, a dream. He offers them the dream, and the promise (even if it is a false promise) of modernity.

This modernity is has a definite physical location, and that location is the city. More particularly, it is the city of Bombay. As the Delegate of Fundacao Oriente, Paulo Varela Gomes, has convincingly demonstrated on a number of occasions, Bombay has, at least since the mid 19th century, been the goal for the Goan, and especially for the Goan dalit-bahujan. It was the city that promised them employment, the city where their culture blossomed and found mature expression, it was the location where they were able to escape the vice-like grip of their village and feudal elite, and if not wholly escape it, contest these elites on a somewhat equal footing. The city, with its broad avenues and high-rise buildings, offers not just the chic aesthetics of modernity (and we have to recognize that Monserrate has oodles of oomph [style] as evidenced from the public works carried out under his stamp) but also the promise of liberation through the destruction of the landscape and hierarchies of the village and the introduction of the anonymity of the urban environment.

What dream do we, his opposition, the forces that cry 'Save Goa' have to offer instead? By and large, we offer the people of Taleigão, and Goa, the dream of the village. We do not point to them the way forward, but look back with fondness to the aesthetics and relationships of the village. What we offer them is a return to the status-quo. But as is clear from the voices of the people in Taleigão, the people don't want a status quo, they want change, and they will grab at change any which way they get it.

The village is not necessarily the ideal place we imagine it to be. To the vast majority of people it is a place marked by the absence of facilities and most importantly glitz. In addition, it is a place that is intimidating for any one who is Queer. It is a suffocating location for the wife who refuses to be raped by her drunken husband and returns single and pregnant to her parents' home, the homosexual son or daughter, the unemployed person who refuses to have employment if it means his daily humiliation, a member of the former ‘servant castes’ who chafe at the attitude of the former dominant castes. I have written much about the need for a revolution in Goa. Silly me, I didn’t recognize the revolution when I saw it. Babush Monserrate and his ilk represent the revolution and they have with them the masses of the people. Unfortunately however, Monserrate does not represent the revolution which I imbue with the positive notions of establishing a commonwealth. His agenda represents what I have earlier termed a fitna, an upheaval without the necessary renewal of society. Which is why, the task before the opposition to Monserrate and his ilk is not merely the presentation of the dream of the village, but the dream of the village radically renewed.

Thankfully however, the opposition to the politico-business lobby is not all composed of the elites interested in a return to the status-quo. Some of us are opposed to this desertification through concrete, and hold up the model of a village because we are animated by the knowledge that the concrete industrial city that has become the model for Goa promises only a temporary relief from oppression. It breaks the bonds of village hierarchies, but simultaneously creates oppressions of other sorts. It destroys ecological independence. In a few years time, there will be no fields in Taleigão capable of producing food. The hills covered with constructions will no longer soak up rainwater; the village wells will run dry or turn saline. Others will be fed by raw sewage rather than fresh water. The rich will be able to up and leave; what of the poor? Where will they get water from? Will they be able to purchase food at exorbitant prices? Monserrate’s strategy may destroy the spatial and social relationships of the village, but it is not producing sustainable employment. Lastly, the concrete city destroys intimate bonds of the village to create the anonymous spaces and relationships of the city that encourage crime. How many of the faces in São Paulo – Taleigão’s market area- do we recognize anymore? The liberation of the city that Monserrate offers therefore, is in fact a mirage. It promises a liberation that it cannot in fact deliver. At some level, I doubt that Monserrate even realizes the damage he is doing. As I will elaborate in the last segment of this series, it is possible that he too, as a member of the society he leads, shares in the misplaced assumption that the trappings of modernity (the roads, high-rises and conspicuous consumption) alone, rather than a commitment to the social values of modernity, will ensure deliverance from the curse of our caste-bound society. It is therefore quite possible, that Monserrate actually believes that his vision will bring deliverance and liberation.

It is for this reason that I have been arguing for long that we need a revolution, an inquilab in Goa. We don’t require a return to the village of old, or the creation of the concrete industrial city, but a radical re-founding of our communities. We need to present to the citizenry of Goa, which now clings piteously to the promises of the false prophets of our age, concrete and material evidence of what this new commonwealth will look like. It calls for a change in the way in which we do and imagine politics and associations. It calls for a demonstration of the possibilities of eco and community friendly business ventures. At present the elite groups who lead the opposition both in Taleigão and in Goa seem rather reluctant to commit themselves to this radical refounding. It is not that they don’t have the imagination, but that they refuse to entertain any scheme that will radically change the status-quo. They too are committed to a fitna, a mere superficial management of society.

It is this vacuum then, which Monserrate has filled, and will continue to fill until such time as we are ready to talk equality. Until such time as we are ready to establish a radically equal society in Goa (the biblical New Jerusalem, Sant Tukaram’s Pandharpur, St. Augustine’s City of God), the city of Monserrate, will be the paradise towards which the citizenry of Taleigão and Goa will determinedly walk toward. And I can’t say that I don’t understand their decision.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 2 April 2009)

(This column is dedicated to Dr. Paulo Varela Gomes. I would like to recollect with thanks the delightful hours spent in conversation with him, and for pointing out to me just how significant Bombay is in the Goan imagination. For all of this Professor, thank you.)

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