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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year thoughts...

What was 2007 for India?

New year brings different kinds of messages. There are doomsday predictors and optimists galore. The most striking greeting I received was one penned by Narmada Bachchao Aandalon, Ms. Medha Patkar and team, it articulated the helplessness felt by many groups and the need for such groups to stay together. There was also prediction of widespread social disturbance and food insecurity in 2008, higher inflation, etc. One news report mentioned that no less a person than the PM himself has acknowledged that 2008 could be a tough year.

On the optimistic side, there are many friends and organizations sending on-line and off-line greeting cards and wishes, perhaps oblivious to the lurking dangers of the year ahead. Their ignorance is the promise.

I think 2007 was a year that established few issues at the national level -
1) increase in anger among sections of society and actions, mostly violent, guided by them at the cost of everyone else.
2) divorce of the state from the affairs of people.
3) indifference towards immediate neighbourhood by a large section of greedy population (mostly middle class).

Whatever social discourse seems to happen is happening between an angry mob-minded and often isolated, but, active groups and individuals negotiating with a state machinery which is impotent to people and a inert third section of the population that would be admiring the cheese in its pizza even if bullets are flying all around.

How did no one in the neighbourhood know of the ghastly killings of Nithari?
How come people repeatedly restore to violence in every case of public expression of asserting either self-image or discontent all over the country - whether it be Dalits being beaten to death in Haryana, Tribals in Assam, Nandigram, ...and the growing and ever spreading Maoist popularity?
How come the perpetrators of the Gujarat on camera accept (indeed proclaim) their crime and their neighbours don't protest the next day?

Rage grew across the country in 2007. It became a social advantage. In individual lives too, we are becoming an enraged people. In a recent journey on an autorickshaw in chennai, the driver had to swerve suddenly to avoid a pot hole which disturbed the biker coming too close behind, the biker sped alongside (thanks to the very powerful bikes all the time being introduced in the market) within seconds and started shouting at the driver of the autorickshaw, the auto driver in response almost drove his vehicle (with poor me inside not still reconciled to what is happening) onto the biker and the abuse continued for the next one minute of the journey...neither wanting to dis-embark from the security of their respective vehicles to resolve the issue, both building up rage to a crescendo with no reason, neither having the humility to apologize nor the mind to realize that the problem was of the road to begin with...this is a daily show, played out in various ways by different players across India, but, neverthless, being played out to make a un-healthy nation.

The divorce of the state machinery from the people's agenda was best summarized this year by the statement of the civil servant, a secretary of the central government at that, who opined that as the price of land will be much higher with the growth of SEZ than what the farmer may ever earn in his life, it is better he sell it and move on, vacate his land and go other places, do other things. The state machinery has become a property of different corporate holders and their beneficiaries. It works for them and prefers to address its own votaries as customers of the corporate clients rather than citizens of an ancient civilization. Growth is the share market index and power is the amount of investment. Such indifference and insensitivity to people not even the Colonial masters would have imagined the state machinery they designed would be capable of delivering.

The growing middle class is the inert population that satisfies itself with the comfortable crumbs from the initiatives of the state machinery and stays away from the violence of a suppressed people while debouching its own discontent through extreme consumption.

Welcome 2008.

I am an optimist, maybe, this year will see fewer farmer deaths, maybe the state will change its thinking, maybe there will be fewer SEZs, maybe industries will suffer from bouts of guilt, maybe the middle class will look around and take note of what happens in its neighbourhood, maybe...India is too old and too wise, it will assert, hopefully without much violence. Maybe the enraged people and estranged nation state will come together in some sane platform for everlasting peace. Prayers, Peace and Wishes.

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