Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rethinking the Goan 'Revolution'

Some weeks ago, in the heat of the summer, I heralded a revolutionary moment. As citizens took to the Gram Sabhas, I was sure, that coming on the heels of the opposition to the Regional Plan, we could expect revolutionary change in Goa. Via our raised voices in the Gram Sabhas, we would challenge a State that withdraws into silence when it comes to safeguarding our interests. We would also challenge a State that was colluding with the forces of global capital, as they sought to enrich themselves even as they pushed us into poverty. This challenge, would involve the assertion of the right of the people to ultimately determine the location of projects in their immediate locality. It would involve the assertion of people to the recognition of their basic rights to life and livelihood over the rights of speculative capital and obscenely disproportionate profits. It would, above all, lay the foundation for a reorganized State marked by dialogue at all levels, rather than diktats from the top. Reviewing events unfold however, I have for sometime now, been contemplating if it is possible that I erred in heralding this revolutionary moment. Was it a possible misdiagnosis, where what we see occurring in Goa is no revolution at all, but a fitna?

An Arabic word used in Islamic legal thought, fitna has a wide range of meanings – schism, sedition, defection, desertion- invariably used as a term of disapproval. The disapproval was the result of Islamic jurists who viewed negatively the crumbling of the Caliphate and the establishment of regional and local powers. In a marvelous work on the Maratha svarajya however, Andre Wink argues that we should understand fitna as a socio-political upheaval, one that in the original context implied the ‘forging of alliances’ and was the ‘normal mechanism of state-formation’. In the context that Wink examines -the Maratha challenge to the Mughal Empire - he argues that the Maratha svarajya was not a rupturing of the Mughal Empire, or a movement in protest. It was in fact a fitna; a re-altering of alliances between the Maratha state and the Mughal empire, with greater powers now being handed out to the regional power. The fitna was a mechanism of state-formation that saw ‘management by conflict’, rather than the ‘management of conflict’, as the key to political success.

Like the fitna a revolution also involve upheaval and conflict. However, it demands more than these aspects of instability. The Persian and Urdu word for revolution, Inquilab, allows us some insight into the demands that a revolution makes of us. Inquilab which signifies an overthrow has as its root the Arabic word for heart, qalb. It is the constant act of the heart, of overturning, pulsating, pumping with blood that allows qalb to be used as a root for inquilab. Qalb has however, also been translated to mean the mind, the spirit, or something that is innermost, something deep within. All of these multiple meanings rather than contradict each other, contribute to our understanding of what a revolution, or inquilab really is, or must be. It asks us to get to the heart or the essence of a matter. It asks us to turn things around, not only systematically, but to also view things from as many perspectives as possible. A third meaning, is akin to the act of ploughing, where we are exhorted to turn the soil of society, the soil of culture, or the soil of our soul. Those of us familiar with Christian symbolism will realize that it is only if the soil is turned, that is able to receive the seed that heralds new life. And so it is with the revolution that requires an overturning, not merely for the sake of opposition, but for the creation of a new order. This new order eventually asks not for superficial changes but for changes deep within the innermost recesses of our soil, and likewise of society.

Goa, I would now correct myself, is in the throes not of revolution, but of a fitna. Consider the fact that rather than focus on issues of equity, what we constantly seem to get drawn to are issues of outsiders/migrants taking over our land. If this is, as many of us keep arguing, not the real issue, why is it that we keep coming back to the outsider issue? One way of explaining this is to understand the events in Goa as born from the challenge being posed to our internal elite by a national and global elite. The social order in Goa is changing, and changing drastically. Old hierarchies are increasingly under challenge. One has only to look at the manner in which former establishmentarian newspapers that would block out significant events in Goa are being forced to change tactic owing to the arrival of the Times of India. If mining money was earlier being used to control state and society in Goa, today this monopoly is being challenged by money that pours in from the ‘outside’. If the local elite is to continue to retain its hold over local society therefore, it is imperative that they create a unified local opposition. There is no better way to create this unified local opposition than creating the bogeyman of the outsider.

While the Goan unrest will dissuade external investment in the short term, it has definite benefits to the local elite. The local elite displays its continued relevance to external elites wishing to invest in Goa by displaying its ability to mobilize the masses under the call to protecting our land from outsiders. The message is clear, cooperate with us since we hold the key to maintain the environment necessary for profitable investment. It seems to me that if we understand the unrest in Goa, as the mobilization of popular discontent, by existing elites we would understand the situation in Goa much better. For the sole reason that issues of livelihoods (that include employment) are heard less frequently than the calls to keep Goa beautiful, and that the outsider/migrant issue dominates, we can be sure that the popular discontent in Goa is a manipulation of popular discontent. There can be no doubt that there is popular discontent that is struggling to find utterance. The tragedy is that this discontent is being effectively manipulated by the dominant groups within the State. What we are currently witness to in Goa is really a management by conflict, as less relevant or non-issues are pushed forward as the bases to fight on.

The moment of both inquilab and fitna are moments of change. The moment of inquilab however allows for radical and equitable change, while fitna allows for conflict to be used as a management tool. As with the Maratha svarajya the model of governance does not change, it is merely one ruler that gets more power than the other. The peasant sees no difference. Goa will see revolutionary change if only we don’t get sidetracked by the non-issue of outsiders (conveniently identified in the past few days as the Muslim) that is propelling us, even exhorting us, toward violence.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 9 July 2008)

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