Thursday, 5 February 2015

Why isn't there an Indian green party ?

How/why, four decades after Chipko and Silent Valley, is there still not even a regional green party in India, let alone a national one? And how might someone like Gandhi think about this strange impasse, given the sheer gravity of the agro-ecological situation? After all, it is civilisation itself which is at peril.

Let us first handle one issue, the one about "compactness", which some argue accounts for green parties in countries like Germany. Skeptically considered, one would be led to ask whether all compact countries have green parties and no large, widespread country has one. The point is made by a contrast between Singapore (which still does not have a green party) and Brazil (which does for over 25 years now). India's story is of course more complex than each such extreme case. But my question still is, how come a Himalayan green party - linking issues from Chipko and Tehri to Teesta and Subansiri - has not come about in these last few decades? 

Could it have something to do with how politics has traditionally been framed in India? I think it would be fair to say that the Indian political imagination may be out of phase with modern ecological history and context. And this may have something to do with the fact that our political landscape has been all but lazily plagiarised from early 20th century Europe (without due upgradation or reconsideration in light of our own better knowledge of our past and present). Our political episteme itself is compromised in the process. India's liberals created a Congress modelled on the Whigs of Britain, the Communists modelled themselves after the Marxists there, and the Hindu communalists after their Fascist heroes abroad. I believe that mainstream Indian politics has stagnated after independence for all the reasons that haven't changed since Rajni Kothari's 'Poltics in India' (1970) appeared. The 'Congress System' has become even more decadent with the passage of time, the real steep fall coming rather rapidly after the pogrom against Sikhs in 1984. About the only slim and slender gain that might accrue in the public sphere from Modi's 2014 victory is the possibility of a proper indigenisation of the Indian political imagination - provided someone finds the courage and public intelligence to stand for Swaraaj. 

I told Arvind Kejriwal a year ago, when he was CM-1, that if he did intend to fight Lok Sabha, he should present the following alternatives to the people, keeping in view AAP's ideology of Swaraaj: "Vote for the assassins of Gandhi, the traitors of the Gandhi, or the followers of Gandhi". I was shocked when he said he could not do that! Even in this Delhi campaign he has not dared to do it. And without this extra moral courage, I do not believe the terms of politics will change from within the electoral scheme of things. More likely they will head Right, possibly even with Kejri at the helm! Let us not underestimate the power of the sheer momentum of two decades of consolidation of corporate feudalism in this country!

Likewise, in all our policy recommendations to AAP last year, we said that all economic policy henceforth should be made in an integrated manner with environmental policy, within a long-term horizon of 'Harit Swaraaj' (I am at work on a paper on it for the WSF and for a volume that Ashish is editing). I even suggested a 'Harit Swaraaj Sangh' (HSS), with its slogan of "Dharti Maata ki Jai!" to challenge the RSS slogan of "Bharat Maata". I believe that such an initiative will have wide resonance in many parts of the country - like J&K, HP, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Odisha, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and possibly others. Land, water and forest struggles are taking place everywhere I have visited during the last 8 years. The time for electoral ecological politics has been here for sometime (at least since Medha first appeared on the horizon), but no one has dared to take the plunge. As Gandhiji said of Christianity, to succeed, it will have to be tried out. My feeling is that it has to be happen in one or two places, for a domino effect to be unleashed. This is a largely safety-first conservative country, where to try something new, most people want guaranteed success first!

The other point about a green agenda emerging from only a science/theory/education/literacy-based culture could also be doubted. If there can be a land/water/forest-based movement in so many parts of the country, then why not also a political party? I think the key link issue here is livelihood. More and more people and places are making the link between loss of habitat and loss of livelihood - with no equivalent compensation in terms of remunerative and dignified employment. (I am going tomorrow for a couple of talks to Allahabad, to speak at the inauguration of a 'Beej Yatra' and at a PUCL seminar on 'Tikaau Vikaas' - where these issues will be in the foreground.) 

Also pertinent is the question of money-based economies and the inflation that comes with them. This, I believe, will take more time. Money is a more abstract and complex matter to understand and even if every Macroeconomics text has to admit that inflation is a form of (usually upward) redistribution of (real) wealth and income, it is hardly understood as such by masses (or even political parties or folks in the media) in this country - though they so evidently feel the pinch of higher prices, esp in the cities. 

As far as education goes, there are regions of this country I have visited - in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh especially - where the level of 'habitat literacy' is incomparably higher than it is in educated, metropolitan India, or even in Germany. The cognitive awareness of Adivasi communities in so many places is still profound, where it has had some breathing space from the juggernaut still. (Think, for instance, of the Jarawas who saved themselves from the Tsunami by following the animals to the highlands, while Swedish tourists perished on the beaches of the Andamans. Or think of the adivasi elderly women to whom the drug and pharma companies go looking for herbs to patent. Why don't they go to MS Swaminadhan or Amartya Sen?) I find agrarian communities - especially the generation born before 1975 or so - also ecologically far more literate than downtown India. 

I believe strongly that Gandhi and Rabindranath have to brought to the centre of political-cultural-economic discourse in this country. If educated politicos in this country begin to heed their own ecological and cultural contexts rather than relying on a dated vision from the West, a lot would change. But McCaulay has had more of an impact on them than on the Babus, one would imagine!

Related to all this is also the fact that Indians - far more so than most cultures, and in a mode of colonial imitation, more thoroughly than Westerners - have reduced everything to politics. We are an over-politicised people. It has made us prisoners of the illusions spawned by that greatest of monsters of modernity - the modern State. This is the sort of thing that had been feared by men as otherwise divergent in their views as Gandhi, Rabindranath and Vivekananda. It is time we redressed this profound imbalance in our culture, return to realms of the spirit both individually and together, and forge new visions from compassion and community, freedom and creativity. Justice will follow.

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