Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The End of Goan History

In 1992 Francis Fukuyama wrote his influential book The End of History and the Last Man. The book achieved worldwide interest, at least in the Anglophone world, so much so that, when I was admitted into law school in 1995 the claims of the book were still being actively discussed and its arguments touted in debates within and outside the classroom. Simply put, The End of History claimed that liberal democracy was the final form of human political evolution. Fukuyama was able to make this claim for liberal democracy because of the momentous events of those times, not least of which was the collapse of the Soviet Union. History, Fukuyama wrote, appeared to culminate in liberty: elected governments, individual rights, an economic system in which capital and labour circulated with relatively modest state oversight. He further argued that it would not mean that every polity would turn into a liberal democracy; rather the propriety of the liberal state would be so apparent that other political forms would end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society even as they continued to exist.

Predictably Fukuyama’s work was received with howls of protest. There was the usual, and in my opinion valid, argument: Fukuyama was speaking from a peculiar location that arrogates to itself a central location in international history and presumes that what is good for America, is good for the world, and that the view from the North Atlantic world reveals a clear vision of the world. An outlook of the world from other vantage points indicates that liberal democracy is not necessarily seen as a culmination of political institutions. Indeed, while the centrality of democracy itself is not being challenged, one is witness to increasing critiques of liberal democracy. Critics point out that there are substantial problems with Liberalism, and the system is just not philosophically capable of responding to the diversity of human experiences without doing serious violence to some groups. Indeed, some would see as the rise of Islamism as one of the many political ideologies that are countering the hegemony of liberalism in the world.

Fukuyama’s argument is important to a Goan audience because it appears that some political actors in Goa, and representatives of the Indian state in Goa have a similar position with regard to the end of history in Goa. Take, for example, the responses to the argument for recognising the legal history that results in persons resident in the former Estado da ├Źndia (Goans, for the sake of brevity) having rights of citizenship in Portugal. In this situation, where the Indian state seems unable to comprehend the situation, and the rights of these Indians are being held in abeyance, I had argued that it makes sense for concerned Goans to include the recognition of the right to hold dual citizenship in the charter of demands in favour of Special Status for Goa. I had argued that such a demand would do more to protect Goan interests than the exclusive focus on ownership of land. A focus on restricting land ownership to Goans alone would secure the interests of landowners more than the rest of the Goan population.

One response to this argument, typical of many Indian apologists, was that of the Commissioner of NRI Affairs, U. D. Kamat who argued that “[a]s regards ‘Special Status’, it needs to be appreciated that our political leadership in Goa lost a golden opportunity to highlight this particular issue before the then Prime Minister, late Rajiv Gandhi, while canvassing for statehood which was granted in 1987. Now, with the passage of time and with so many less-developed states pleading for special status, the central government will not be in a position to consider our demand as Goa is perceived to be better developed as compared to a majority of the states of India.”

In other words, with regards to the question of Special Status, history came to an end in 1987. No matter how circumstances change, citizens in Goa will be unable to articulate a new arrangement of power between themselves and the Indian state. It should be pointed out that Special Status is not the only Goan claim that is being given short shrift by representatives of the Indian state. Since we are on the issue of the rights of Goans to hold a dual citizenship, it should be pointed out that there are some who would argue that the moment for stressing this right was in 1961, when Goa was integrated into India, or 1974, when Portugal recognised India’s sovereignty over the territories of the former Estado da ├Źndia. For these apologists for the Indian state Goan history ended on these dates and we are now stuck within a political arrangement that will endure until the end of time.

If Fukuyama’s arguments smacked of an American arrogance, then the proposition of those who believe in the end of Goan history is an unspeakable horror. Some defenders of Fukuyama point out that his formulation of the end of history distinguishes between events and history. Fukuyama’s argument is not that events will cease, but that these events will be resolved within the existing liberal-democratic framework. The liberal state will continue to secure the rights of citizens within the framework of a democratic regime. The representatives of the Indian state in Goa, on the other hand, would have it that regardless of the occurrence of events, there can be no resolution, because the form of Indian democracy has been fixed and cannot be changed.

There is an extremely popular perspective of history as the continuous expansion of the rights of individuals. In Fukuyama's terms, history is the movement towards liberty.  From this perspective, states evolves as they move to secure newer dimensions of rights within changing contexts. If there are demands that Goans be allowed to exercise their rights of citizenship in both Portugal and India, and that Goa be granted a Special Status within the Union of India it is because the passage of time has revealed new ways in which the rights of Goans need to be secured. To claim that it is too late to assert these rights is to make an anti-democratic argument, and in  fact suggest that the Indian state is not dynamic enough to accommodate these changes. This would not be an argument in favour of India's continued relevance in the contemporary period and might relegate India itself to the dustbin of history.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 25 Dec 2015)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mining profits and a new Goan social order

“So!” I said, beaming at my journalist friend, “What do you think of the Goenchi Mathi Permanent Fund (GMPF)?” I was somewhat confused for a moment when the smile on his face turned into a sneer. “They must be joking,” he responded. “Mining is serious business, man; not a simple procedure of digging up mud and selling it! It is not going to be possible for a bunch of villagers to manage the complex processes of mining.”

This answer converted my confusion into disappointment. I had assumed that this journalist, who has his heart in the right place and a ringside view of the scandalous operations of state power and the mining industry, would understand that the GMPF deserves a chance. Further, he seemed to have misunderstood the concept entirely. To the best of my understanding, the GMPF does not propose that residents of mining areas undertake mining but that all the proceeds from mining be funnelled into the Permanent Fund. Simply put, the GMPF suggests that the soil of Goa should not be considered the property of either the leaseholders of the mine or that of an abstractly understood state. Rather, it should be considered the property of the people as well as their unborn descendants. Thus, any profits from mineral wealth should go directly to the current citizens and subsequent generations.

These are great ideas that need to be encouraged for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the GMPF represents a challenge to the hegemony of neo-liberal values that have been ascendant for a while. The GMPF does not represent an anti-capitalist vision, but envisions an industrialism that is put to the benefit of the common person rather corporate profit. Thus, the GMPF does not represent a ban on mining but a responsible conduct of mining, and a conscientious utilisation of the profits that accrue from this industry. The argument for the Permanent Fund rests on the assertion that the privatisation of the huge profits from mining is obscene, and thus renews the agenda of the welfare state. Further, the GMPF asserts a truth that seems to have been forgotten: the state does not exist for its own sake. The state is a creation of the citizens and exists for their benefit. The state is not the owner of the resources of the land; it is merely an institution established to administer these resources in the best interests of all individuals. The state exists for the citizens, and not the other way around.

Despite the enthusiasm one might have for the GMPF, it needs to be recognised that it is a concept that is still in flux and developing. Take, for example, the suggestion that in addition to creating a fund, the income from mining be converted into a basic income transferred to every Goan household. This is a great idea, as it assures an income to households that are in poverty. The suggestion of a basic income is being implemented in various parts of the world largely because it asserts the principle that all individuals are entitled to a minimum basic standard of living and, more importantly, it cuts out on the bureaucracy—and attendant corruption—that accompanies subsidies.

And yet there are some problems with this proposal. The GMPF seems to suffer from an upper-caste bias in that it does not, as yet, move beyond the realm of formal equality. In other words, while formal equality is an inalienable part of contemporary democracy, we also need to recognise that in practical terms, not everyone is equal. Poverty is not born merely from economic deprivation but primarily from social exclusion, and any attempt to redress poverty and create the space for the equal treatment of all persons must also provide additional support to marginalised groups. 

It would make the GMPF that much more appealing if it recognised that there are multiple communities in Goa, and especially in the mining areas, that would benefit from a disproportionate expenditure in their favour. I am referring especially to the scheduled communities (castes and tribes). These communities have a right to an excess spending of the GMPF in their favour. This spending need not necessarily be in terms of an enhanced basic income. Rather, it could be expressed in the utilisation of the resources of the fund to specifically address the socio-economic deprivation that has been the lot of these communities for centuries. The Goa Foundation, which is promoting the idea of the GMPF, would do well to incorporate the notion of affirmative action into the basic structure of the fund. To do so would take it so many steps closer to the articulation of a just welfare state.

The GMPF deserves a chance because it is offering us a new democratic start. So often in the case of electoral politics, we grumble that there is no choice. The GMPF may not be electoral politics, but it is still an intervention in the realm of politics. Indeed, if implemented, it may in fact bring about the social changes necessary to restructure the way in which electoral politics is conducted today.

(A version of this post was first published on the O Heraldo on 11 Dec 2015)