Wednesday, 22 June 2016

SAVIORS, TAMASHA, AND DESPERATION: A VICIOUS CIRCLE



The commencement of the monsoons about a week ago seems to have caught the authorities and public works departments napping. The pathetic manner in which public amenities and resources are (mis)managed add to the frustration and desperation that the citizens of Goa feel, and have felt for a long time. The water-clogged streets of Panjim, Mapusa, and Margao are a manifestation of mismanaged governance. If such incidents happen time after time, year after year, then one wouldn’t be off the mark in categorically stating that Goa is a failed State – in the sense of an administrative and political entity. It has been failing for a long time now.

Since the State fails repeatedly in its duties no matter which political party is in power, it could be suggested that Goan politics has been stuck in a vicious circle for some time now. The vicious circle begins with the repeated failure of the State regardless of the political party at the helm of governance and the ensuing frustration and desperation of the citizens. This leader of a political party or of a social movement – often a charismatic figure – emerges as a figure whose leadership provides the momentum for the change in political fortunes. This leader, invariably as he, is presented as the only savior who can bring about radical and revolutionary changes. Often this charismatic leader gains visibility through the successful staging of ‘spectacles’ such as protest marches or massive rallies at election times.

The argument here is that contemporary Goan politics is about the mobilization of people – in a metaphorical sense – from desperation to hope, and back to the cesspit of desperation. The fundamental and structural problems in Indian politics – be they of caste, language, region, gender, governance, unemployment – are left unaddressed. Problems that drive people into the vicious circle of desperation – hope – desperation in the first place.

While the vicious circle of desperation – hope – desperation may oppress us, to counter it we see the emergence of activists groups and movements, small and large, that attempt to correct the failing State. They are concerned with giving more power to the ordinary citizens in the process of governance. For instance, if there are massive irregularities in land sale across villages, we see many citizen groups emerging that attempt to stop it. They petition the State or they drag them to the court in order to stop the irregularities. So far such movements, though numerous, have had a very limited impact on the functioning of the State and its bureaucracy because their access to state machinery is limited. Such movements have to depend on the goodwill of the political bosses and the bureaucratic machinery to legislate laws that will work in their favor.

Since the activism route does not really work, one has to go back to electoral politics to gain access to the bureaucratic machinery. The only way one can do it is by organizing spectacular rallies. For instance, the case of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Goa is quite illustrative. Members of AAP campaigned vigorously door-to-door before their massive public rally at Campal. Thus, the massive rally was a key moment both for the self-image of an outfit like AAP and also for others to take them seriously.

With Arvvind Kejriwal projected as a savior and the Goan State riddled with scams and corruption, AAP appears to be ideally positioned to give hope to the Goan masses. In Kejriwal, AAP has the ideal person who emerges from the bureaucratic system which has repeatedly failed the people, and who postures himself as someone who can run it efficiently; indeed, someone who can deliver basic amenities. Additionally he is also the activist who was frustrated by the bureaucratic system. The interesting thing about the AAP is that it acknowledges the problems existing in the State/bureaucratic machinery but emphasizes only the mismanagement and corruption of previous political parties. But this does not account for the fact that it is the state machinery that has seldom worked in the favor of the masses. Political parties come into power and then they are kicked out after a slew of controversies and scams, but the mechanisms of the state are longer-lasting. Bureaucratic machinery is more resilient than the fortunes of a political party.

It is necessary, however, to suggest that there is no point in indulging in utopian visions. There is a value to these visions as long as one also recognizes the urgent necessity of having options in politics; of having a cushion to fall back on in case grand political mobilizations fall flat on their faces. What is meant by having options in politics is akin to having dual citizenship (in the Goan context) allowing us to infuse Goan politics with regimes based on legal rights and also contribute meaningfully to the political systems that uphold these rights.

The word ‘tamasha’ in the title was used specifically for apart from highlighting the problematic role of spectacles, to also play on the two meanings of the word in many South Asian languages. In the first instance, a ‘tamasha’ could mean a performance for entertainment; in the second it could mean talk or actions devoid of any intrinsic meaning. Without recognizing that the State has failed on several counts and the people in Goa have no choice but to be stuck in a vicious circle, Goan politics will forever be a ‘tamasha’. The vicious circle, of course, may never be broken.

(A shorter version of this article was published in O Heraldo, dt: 22 June, 2016)

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