Sociology of a shaping tsunami

Sociology of a shaping tsunami


Posted22 September 2011, by Jawed Naqvi, Dawn,


TSUNAMIS and earthquakes come unannounced but their apparent `suddenness` is embedded in decades, possibly centuries, of subterranean activity.

Political tsunamis are equally hard to detect or predict. But we know that they move along societal fault lines. The world missed Iran by a long shot and it is today trying to divine a glimpse of an Arab Spring even if it all looks more of a media expediency than a movement.

India`s main TV channels and through them much of the world have similarly misread recent events in the country that were and still are projected as tsunamis of sorts. These are, however, more likely to prove to be a figment of the way India`s corporate elite wants to see the country developing.

For their vision not to remain a pipe dream India must first become a police state. It may be getting there but there`s still some steps left to invoke complete disaster.

The media build-up of Narendra Modi`s three-day fast (or fest) in Gujarat and its slightly longer version in Delhi by the quixotic anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare presented an elitist politics as popular to the exclusion of complex issues that traumatise the majority.

We now know that both events were tailor-made to impose a political choice in the Uttar Pradesh elections due early next year. A rare Dalit woman runs the state and whoever dethrones her or wins her support will be best equipped to capture power in 2014 when general elections are due.

Modi is the political mascot of India`s right. Hazare has idolised him as a model for the country`s economic development. Hazare`s view on Modi tallies with that of business captains dominating India`s economic skyline.

They all see in the Gujarat chief minister their next prime minister who would deliver them from Dr Manmohan Singh`s unexpectedly curtailed zeal for unpopular and environmentally untenable prescriptions. Outlook Indian Express

Delhi`s magazine recently carried a cover story on how the middle class had dumped Manmohan Singh. There are warnings now that the world may be preparing to disown him. A typical column in the advised Dr Singh to accelerate pro-market reforms or prepare for a rude regime change. Durbar Express

“If the current government is not seen as a credible interlocutor, outsiders can only get impatient for the next set of rulers to take charge of the Delhi .” WikiLeaks has already established how the BJP has been making a beeline to the US embassy to reiterate its pro-Washington credentials. Given this, the columnist makes eminent sense.

When earthquakes occur they lay bare not just a people`s material capacity to cope with natural disasters, they also test victims` social cohesion. The massive tremor centred in Gujarat`s Bhuj district in 2001 framed not just the geological fault lines but also its victims` sociology. Upper-caste Gujaratis refused to share shelters with the lower castes.

Modi`s antidote dovetailed with corporate exigencies. He fomented hatred of one community to cement his other constituents. There are no more agitating mill workers in Gujarat. They have become polarised Hindus and Muslims.

But the prospective prime minister is suddenly projecting a hitherto absent religious tolerance. His public embrace of visually identifiable Muslim clerics — replete with beards, caps and cloaks — though some reports said they were rented for publicity — indicates a political quandary.

In India, political challenges are often reflected in acronyms. The composition of Gujarat votes thus carries the sobriquet of KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim). In Rajasthan, this takes the form of MAJGAR (Muslim, Ahir, Jat, Gujar, Adivasi and Rajput). Laloo Prasad deployed the MY factor (Muslim-Yadav) to beat the political odds for years in Bihar. There are countless such acronyms that are the building blocks of India`s sociology and thus its politics.

It is this reality that constitutes India`s parliament. It was this that would become an obstruction to domestic and foreign economic prescriptions. It was thus that MPs had to be bribed to pass a vote first on Dr Singh`s economic agenda that did not have a popular mandate and then to push a nuclear deal with Washington that growing throngs of ordinary people (minus the televised middle class) want to shun.

Chernobyl, Fukushima and the recent disaster in France have all contributed to the coalescing of a growing resistance against a rush for energy by any means at any cost.

It was therefore tamely predictable that TV cameras and anchors that had built up Anna Hazare and Narendra Modi as messianic leaders who had shunned food for the national cause would completely ignore the 127 men and women who could perish due to their indefinite fast going on for a week now against a nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu.

There were violent protests earlier this year in Maharashtra against another nuclear project. That the new protesters are backed by hundreds of thousands of villagers in Koodunkulum is of no importance to private TV. That the very coast had suffered a tsunami havoc seven years ago is of no consequence to the televised middle classes.

Another hitherto silent political tsunami is building in the sensitive Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China, not far from the epicentre of Saturday`s devastating earthquake.

Away from public gaze the government has quietly called in dozens of foreign firms to the ecologically fragile zone to build a series of dams there, a move the local tribes resent and fear. Their resistance has so far gone unnoticed in the rest of India. But already there is ferment in Assam about the consequences for its lower riparian regions. Indian Express

International and domestic pressures on the government are enormous, as the columnist has indicated, to deliver or perish on what is an obvious bonanza involving rape of the environment and uprooting of its traditional inhabitants.

Corporate greed is not abating and it could only happen in India that a ragtag army of Maoist guerrillas, whose peers didn’t spare a chance to rape the ecology in China, are compelled to defend it in Chhattisgarh.

This doesn’t mean that people who resist the plunder of India will win. All that they know is that there is yet a small chance of averting an unimaginable disaster.

The writer is Dawn`s correspondent in Delhi.


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