Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Irrespective of whether one does or does not depend on mining, one will suffer from the ill-effects. If one isn’t involved in the sector, the dust, pollution, and the destruction of the ecology will nonetheless affect one’s daily life. If one is a service-provider – such as a truck owner/driver, machine operator, and barge owner/worker – in the mining industry, the rampant illegalities (and even legalities that keep changing) in the sector bring in a lot of uncertainties. Thus, whether one depends for sustenance on mining or not, in Goa all are ‘mining-affected’.

It is not as if those who are service-providers are not threatened by the ill-effects of mining. However, it seems that the only position they have in sorting out the mess is their livelihood issue and the outstanding debts that they need to repay. Even if the mining dependents recognize that the misguided move of hastily renewing mining leases after the 2012 ban is what has caused this fresh problem, they still entreat the same government, politicians, and bureaucrats – who have caused this mess – for relief. The recovery of the loot was, in fact, what the mining dependents should have demanded in their protest, as many on social media have pointed out. For what use will money in banks be when there won’t be clean air to breathe and water to drink?

All in all, it looks like the mining dependents have lost their way. At the same protest, it was reported that an effigy of Claude Alvares, the director of Goa Foundation, who led the fight against the illegalities, was burnt. This is rather bizarre because it is through the efforts of Goa Foundation that the Goan public became aware of the massive loot taking place of resources belonging to the people of Goa. In fact, Alvares and his Goa Foundation are acting like a watchdog upholding public interest – indeed even those of the mining dependents – against the illegalities. Rather than viewing organizations like Goa Foundation as the problem, it needs to be understood that their efforts have demonstrated – and the fact that their claims having been repeatedly proven without a shadow of doubt in a court of law – that Goa is currently reeling under a broken system. That is to say that the governance and regulation of various activities in the state have spiraled out of the control of its own people, and the political class entrusted with legislation and policy-decisions have run out of ideas; in fact, they are contributing to the problem with their ineptitude, in-fighting, and self-interest.

If massive fraud and theft in the absence of a just and able regulating authority is what has resulted in a broken system in Goa, it then follows, logically, that we first demand the entire system be overhauled, the loot recovered and the loans written off (as has happened with many defaulters who are big industrialists). If the state authorities are able to prosecute and thereby recover the losses to the exchequer, it would be a good start to clear the sordid mining mess. However, this might not be as easy as it seems, as many politicians – effectively part of the executive machinery of the state that needs to work on prosecuting these illegalities – have invested heavily in mining, as some locals in Usgao have recently claimed. But recovering the loot is crucial if relief is to be given to all Goans and if the Goan ecology is to be healed.

And while demanding the recovery of the loot, the mining dependents along with other mining-affected peoples should also be facilitated to enrich the debate by searching for and articulating possible sustainable futures. This is crucial because the solution in the form of auctioning the leases – and thereby opening the market to national and global players – will again result in the same catastrophic destruction of the Goan ecology that the current leaseholders have unleashed. Private lease-holders, like corporations, are driven by profit and this does not augur well for the Goan public. The first-hand experience of how the government/policy-makers and the mining lobby have misled thousands of service-providers is exactly what is required to chart a new sustainable future. In other words, the same mining dependents need to admit their errors of judgment and lead the way to a different future, without outsourcing it to the ruling class. For thinking differently through one’s first-hand experience of living and suffering in the mining areas can be done, as Ravindra Velip and the villagers of Caurem have demonstrated.

The villagers of Caurem with Velip’s leadership started the Sadhana Co-Operative Society that aimed to carry out mining on a sustainable basis. These people suggested that mining could alternate with farming, thus not completely rupturing the economic life of the villagers that has been followed for many years. The idea is to take back from the profit-making/corporate player the control of public resources by making the people of villages central to the decision-making process as well as production. This would effectively put an end to all the high-level back-door dealings that Goa has been subjected to all this while.

At the end of the day, we all need to recognize that the mining dependents do have a real grievance, suffering from governmental ineptitude and apathy, the destructive profit-making mindset of national and multi-national corporations as well as a lack of livelihood options. But their condition is quite similar to many other service-providers in the major extractive industries in Goa; which is why Goans need to demand much more than merely livelihood.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 28 March, 2018)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


That a politician was compelled to make a public appearance despite ill health tells us something about the political culture in India. Manohar Parrikar’s rather dramatic entry at the budget session of 2018 should make us not only enquire into the short-term machinations in contemporary politics, but also the culture in which the visibility of the ruling authority is of paramount importance. For one thing was crystal clear in the political spectacle surrounding Parrikar’s sudden appearance at the budget session: the importance of his visibility for colleagues, allies, and the masses.

It is interesting to note the role played by public visibility in politics (and not just in the abovementioned incident). As can be perceived from the appearances of politicians in inaugurating even the smallest public works, to be seen in public ensures that the ruling authority is recognized as such by the people. Recently, it was reported that some sarpanches in Priol were upset because their names did not feature in the inauguration plaque of new public infrastructure owing to a circular issues by the government prohibiting the same. These upset sarpanches argue that it is they who do most of the hard work to make a developmental work a reality, and hence should not be excluded. The enormous outpouring of congratulatory messages in the pages of newspapers (sometimes even occupying two full pages!) is another case in point.

Public visibility and validation is important in this sense as the legislator is not seen or does not operate as a public servant (in the true sense of the term) but is a dispenser of benevolence and favors; he is the patron par excellence in contemporary democratic politics in India. Hence, one can expect a conflict if a sarpanch gets more visibility than, say, a minister. The importance of public visibility and public validation for a ruling authority figure has a long history in South Asia. For instance, the Mughal Emperor Akbar can be considered to have properly invested and institutionalized the vocabulary and practice of the ruler making a public appearance. Like the Mughal emperor, the ruling authority continues as a dispenser of benevolence, favors, and justice down to the smallest level of Indian governance.

Based on Indic and Persian models of kingship, as well as the practice of worshipping the sun prevalent in ancient Persia as in South Asia, Akbar would present himself to his subjects from a window of his palace – the jharokha – first to worship the sun and later to hear the petitions and grievances of his subjects. This practice was continued by later Mughal emperors, reaching its zenith in the reign of Shahjahan, with the magnificent Diwan-i-Aam audience hall in the Red Fort. The practice was rooted to such an extent in Mughal imperial culture that even Aurangzeb, considered to be a purist, carried it forward for some years of his reign. By enacting such daily rituals, authority and legitimacy to rule was vested in the figure of the emperor – a necessary condition if a king or an emperor was to govern his empire and be recognized as such in the eyes of his subjects.

What this history indicates is that the visible presence of the ruling authority was a requirement not just during the celebration of festivals of the state or some religious occasions, but was necessary on an everyday basis. Political authority, therefore, is expressed as a daily ritual in which the figure of authority needs to be visible. This figure of authority needs to be seen as presiding over the governance of the land. Thus, the authority figure needs to be seen not only in the parliament/assembly but also at the ground level presiding over works of public infrastructure or overseeing the successful dissemination of governmental schemes.

That such a pattern of authority continues in our times – apparently a time of liberal and constitutional democracies – is also indicative of the fact that political authority is understood largely as a kingly-feudal authority. We understand our politicians as rulers and as benevolent patrons of yore, rather than as public servants more suited for constitutional and liberal democracies. Political figures are then given deference by the masses, often commanded by kings; but which seems over the top for public servants entrusted with the welfare of everyone. In this context, it is interesting to note that as early as in the first half of the twentieth century most of the Concanim newspapers referred to the Portuguese Governor General as “Goencho Raza” or “Amcho Raza”. Given that by this time the Governor Generals were appointed by elected representatives in the Portuguese parliament, by no stretch of imagination, could the person who headed the government in Goa during the last decades of Portuguese sovereignty qualify as a king – a rajah! Neither was he a public servant; however, it could be quite possible that the Governor Generals were seen as successors of the Viceroys – effectively the deputies of kings in Goa and therefore ‘kings’ in their own right.

In such a scenario, visibility of the political figure becomes one of the crucial ways in which authority is legitimized. The flip side of the issue is that political authority gets expressed in terms of feudal relations, thus hindering a transition to egalitarian forms of governance. Even basic governance is held back because the political figure is indisposed, and cannot lend his physical presence to the government. In the final analysis, rather than promoting an ethos of committed public service to all citizens, age-old hierarchies are maintained through the cult of the individual. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 14 March, 2018)