Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thinking About Babush – III: Moving the ‘Devil’ from out of the shadows, into the Light of the Faith

The express intention of the Thinking About Babush series was to move away from the position that demonizes Babush Monserrate. The intention was not to essay an uncritical celebration of the legislator from Taleigão, but to present a hypothesis that would allow us to better understand the dynamics at work in the constituency. To demonize Mr. Monserrate goes beyond doing him a disservice; it prevents us from recognizing the socio-economic and political conditions and constituencies that he manages to represent.

In the first part of the series I suggested that the eyes that demonize Monserrate were in part, also eyes of the elite that refused to see the political motivations of those they alleged were either bribed, or were blindly voting for him. The second essay suggested that in addition to lavish gifts to his constituents, Monserrate also presented them with a vision. This vision was one of the City where the hierarchies of the village would be dissolved, and all would be able to participate in a genuinely modern existence. In this column, I would like to suggest that in many ways Monserrate is trapped within his modus operandi, both for reasons of his own personal location in society, as well as the kind of society he lives in. However, I would suggest that for these reasons, he is also a possible repository of hope for the future.

As I suggested in the first part of this series, Goan society can be very punishing, if you don’t fit the rules it lays down. Despite his nominal position among the landlords of Taleigão, the vicious whispered rumours about his ancestry give Monserrate a just and understandable reason to want to destroy the social hierarchies of the village. As discussed in the last column, one way to destroy these hierarchies is through the fashioning of the village into the city. What I am suggesting therefore, is that the dream that Monserrate peddles could be more than an evil plan he has for lining his nest at the expense of the people of Taleigão. He could actually be emotionally invested in it, believing that it would provide deliverance as much as the others who believe in this dream.

India’s encounter with modernity is peculiar. Rather than being understood to be the values of equality and respect, reasoned acceptance as opposed to acceptance by diktat, modernity has been understood primarily as the acquisition of technology, the material benefits that come with it, and the associated aesthetic styles. The intellectual foundations of modernity have been rejected in favour of the purely material. In focusing primarily on the material, it is possible to spin the web of meritocracy and argue that if one does not gain the material benefits of modernity, it is because one has not worked hard enough for it. Thus only the upper-castes and classes benefit from modernity, while the rest slave under it. Even worse, the myth of meritocracy, destroys tendencies toward solidarity and allows the creation of a (slum)dog eat dog world, where it is each one for oneself. To gain respect in this faux modern world, one has to garner as much wealth as one possibly can. In the process, one must necessarily cut personal ties to climb the ladder of achievement. Solidarity must now lie with those who are already in the big game, not with those one is leaving behind. In India, this automatically has caste implications. The caste implications are at their most stark when we expect Dalit leaders (e.g. the vicious criticism against Mayawati) to somehow be Colossi of morality, while other leaders who feather their nests are somehow exempt from this harsh social judgment.

It is in this context that I would like to see Monserrate. In addition to the social agenda he may have, he is also as hostage to the skewed understanding of modernity as the rest of us. Thus in his race for respect, feathering his own nest is but a natural outcome. While this is under no circumstances excusable, the question we should ask is why we reserve such scorn for the acquisitions of Monserrate (or indeed the similar figure of Churchill Alemão), even as we excuse the sins of others in the political establishment. Why for example are we more accepting of the tactics of the Rane establishment, in particular the father? It has always been rumoured that it was he that initiated the land scams with Mr. Ray when the latter was Chief Town Planner. Is it his ‘noble’ birth and cultivated charm that allows us to look the other way, not investigate these rumours? Perhaps. It is therefore, in the social exclusions and hypocrisy practiced by our society that the only route open to Monserrate is to continue to line his own nest, and open up his own path for a radically different social order.

It is this and other reasons then that are at the basis of our demonizing of Babush Monserrate. We fear the social reality whose coming he represents. We would prefer to keep him and the classes he represents entirely out of our perfumed consciousness.

In addition to this though, there is another, possibly communal angle to the whole game. I don’t believe that it is entirely by accident that Monserrate (like Alemão) is demonized, is Catholic, and effectively occupies the lower-caste position in our society. This has been a pattern of our society, where among the Catholics, only the upper-caste is feted and the rest of them are expected to just follow suit. Thus when J. B Gonsalves had a chance at being Chief Minister, the glitterati on Panjim scoffed, ‘the baker wants to be Chief Minister!’ In recent times the communalization of our society has taken a more serious turn. As unchallenged Rei de Taleigão, the demonization and destruction of this man, theoretically opens up the way for the unchallenged romp of the BJP into the village.

There are therefore multiple reasons for us to suspiciously view the demonization of Babush Monserrate. And yet, none of this should be taken to endorse the manner in which he funds his agenda. In the final sum, his modus operandi is going to give us only skin-deep modernity and a resulting social, political, economic and ecological mess. With so much power in his hands, undoubted access to cultivated minds (as his urban projects show, he definitely has talented architects working with him) Monserrate’s failure to engineer a more egalitarian and sensitive politics cannot be condoned. Our opposition to Monserrate’s modus operandi (real estate funded social change) must therefore continue. It must however, be a principled opposition. Principled opposition is not a notional, do nothing, and think much opposition. Firm and unyielding when no quarter can be given, it is also cognizant of the benefits he may possibly bring. It is necessarily marked by action. In the long run, such an unyielding but principled opposition will force him to necessarily adopt, even if in slow and reluctant measures, a more sustainable route toward the agenda that we support. A neighbour of mine prays for the conversion of Babush just like Sta. Monica did for the conversion of her son, the future Doctor of the Church St. Augustine. In many ways, I join her in her prayers. I do so because I believe that such a conversion is possible; Monserrate does in fact have what it takes to be the Augustine of our age. Until such conversion however, this principled opposition (the physical evidence of our prayers) in favour of the village refounded must continue.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 3rd April 2009)

(I would like to thank Paulo Varela Gomes, Fernando Dias and Luis Dias for their support in going through the original version of this series and suggesting detailed changes. Also, to Albertina Almeida and Frederick Noronha for their opinion on the positions I take in this series. Last but not least, to Derek Almeida, editor Gomantak Times, for running this series on consecutive days.)

1 comment:

Anita Mathew said...

An extremely well thought out and excellent essay. It gives a clear understanding on
the socila implications of what are the traps of modernity and how it works to the
advantage of the drawing room class in our society forgetting the escape modes that
the so called 'poor' need to resort to thus giving rise to so called
'satanic'figures that the Monserates and Alemos are made out to be who exploit the
opportunity to expinge their personal reputations which had kept them subservient to
the snobbery of the again so called 'elite' classes. I have as an 'outsider' watched
the political and social scenes of Goa and what Jason has written does make a lot of
no all sense.