Saturday, March 3, 2012

Letters from Portugal: All that matters is gold

It would be difficult to not know of the response of the assorted ‘freedom fighters’ and Hindu right-wing groups that opposed the docking of the Portuguese naval ship in Mormugão in 2010.  A conversation with one of the participants, who justified why the protest had been important, culminated in a dramatic stage-whisper ‘They, (i.e. the Portuguese) are neo-colonialist!’ 

Given that Portugal is a wasted imperial power and, as we can all testify to,  in deep financial crisis, this charge of neo-colonialism, was a bit bizarre at the time. But in retrospect, and in light of recent events, perhaps this freedom-fighter was right, even if he did grab at the wrong end of the stick.

Sometime last month, a storm broke out in Portuguese politics.  It turned out in late January 2012, the current affairs show Este Tempo (This Time) on public radio station Antena 1 was suddenly pulled and the contracts of its five contributors terminated. It is believed that this action resulted from an opinion piece that had been aired on Este Tempo that had been critical of RTP, the dominant public broadcasting network Antena 1 belongs to, for having assisted the Portuguese government in an attempt to portray the deplorably corrupt Angolan regime in a favorable light.

This controversy is interesting and relevant to us in Goa, because it points to a relationship of power different from the one that our local freedom-fighters imagine. In this relationship of power, where the former colony is possessed of a vibrant economy, or rich in resources, and in the possession of a powerful, and self-assured post-colonial elite, it is the former colonizer that requires the colonized, not the other way around. As such, the government of the formerly colonial power will not brook any criticism from metropolitan civil society, of the governmental structures of the former colony that might possibly ruin the relationship between the two governments.

The situation is not very different in the case of Goa. Casual conversations with people who know, and even a cursory glance through reportage on the relationship between Goa and Portugal, will reveal that this relationship exists primarily through Delhi. Portugal seems in no great desire to rupture that link and neither will Delhi tolerate such a rupture. It is not only post-colonial democratic etiquette that governs this relationship however; as we all know, like Angola, India’s booming economy is gaining it increasing prominence as a market, and player in international politics. The relationship of power then, between India and Portugal is similar to the relationship that Portugal has with Angola. Meetings with a plethora of people in Portuguese institutions indicate the manner in which a presence for Portuguese products and Portuguese corporations in the Indian market is an urgent priority.

What we must keep in mind, after this discussion, is that the Indian state is not always a well-behaved state, its actions often riddled with human-rights violations on numerous fronts. These human rights violations are involved not only where people are involved in freedom-struggles, but also where locals protest the state-subsidized expansion of corporate activity that will destroy their livelihoods. Where the human rights disciplining of a state depends not only on the strength of the civil society of that state, but on international pressure as well, we should know that when business becomes so critically important to a foreign state, these otherwise vocal supporters of democracy, and self-professed embodiments of democratic best-practices, are hardly going to rock the boat by pointing to the state’s track record on human rights.

Capitalist exploitation was the basis of the development of colonialism. This colonialism continues via the actions of local elites in post-colonial states. Thus, if Portugal is to be neo-colonial, it appears that it may well be so, via its silent acquiescence of the actions of the Indian state, even if they be murderous.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo 4 March 2012)


Unknown said...

Dear J
Civil Society is increasingly a Government sponsored NGO !Everything is corruptible in bourgeois democracy.

Unknown said...

Dear J
Civil Society is increasingly made into a Government sponsored NGO ! It is no longer a bonafide agency for change.

NadineisthatU said...

Jason, I know just of what you speak. Even here in Virginia, we have the 'gentlemanly agreement' ways of the power elite, who have no intention of sharing with anyone but those in their own circle of 'family and friends.' And they have the religious component going on to. I live in "The First Colony" of Virginia, and now they are carrying on with their Colonial ways. They belittle everyone and every thing that isn't of their ilk. You look like you have painted an accurate picture of Post Colonial is still Colonial, and they don't want anyone to tip their canoe. I say they are very Jesuitical in their ways here. But, I love your other word picture and photographs of your homeland.
I think Freddy Mercury was from former colony off the coast of mainland India. Zanzibar, I think. I wonder if they have the same issues. Probably they still have the 'ways of the English" There are no English more English than the ones here in Virginia.