Inside the mind of an Activist

By Dr Oscar Rebello
09 September 2011 13:26 IST

Let me first qualify. I do not consider myself a social activist. A true activist devotes time, energy, passion and often his/ her own time to pursue a cause and often impossible dreams.

So, let’s get this clear. If it were the stalwarts of our Independence generation (Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar et al), who laid the glorious foundation of our noisy but scintillating democracy, it is our activist generation of today (along with generous help from a proactive judiciary) both in India and Goa - who are courageously consolidating and desperately trying to preserve the fruits of that democratic foundation .

The current political class (along with their corporate – bureaucratic bedfellows) has pretty much abdicated their responsibility and has even willfully sought to strangulate our rich democratic traditions.

Hence, even if they are disparaged and smeared, or even if they sometimes indulge in needless theatrics & grandstanding there is no denying that activists’ hearts are always in the right place and that they beat for India. Passionately! Completely! And Committedly! True that there may be a few dishonorable exceptions among activists as much as there are honourable exceptions among politicians, but that activists of all hues are articulating and perhaps even setting the agenda for our parliamentary democracy is a healthy sign for all of us and certainly not a breach of our privileges (as if we had any ??)

Also, when one speaks so glowingly about activists, it refers to activists who basically fight for good governance on the ground – RTI; anti-mining, educations; women’s empowerment; anti-corruption; child rights; anti-land sharks; - these are issues that affect the Aam Aadmi every  single day of his life and the system fails them regularly  and cruelly on these vital functions of governance.

Activists – however sincere and honest who indulge in cultural, chauvinistic language and religious activism are frankly wasting their time and breath in modern India. They need to keep their excess hypercultural baggage at some deserted airport terminal, not to be collected again.

Which then brings me to this most vexatious and puzzling question of them all? If all these activists are sincere and fight for and believe in the same issues, why is it that they can’t come together as one force?

Why is it that there are frequent much touted cracks in civil society? Why is Aruna Roy here and Anna Hazare there? Why is Bedi doing her theatre on stage and Swami Agnivesh doing his on You Tube?

I may be wrong but my surmise is this.

World over, activists have articulated issues alright, but come election time they have rooted, campaigned and funded the candidate of their choice and similar conviction.

For instance you had the entire activist class, all cheering and egging on Obama in 2008 to get their man in to the White House.

In India, this can never happen.  Since no politician – not a single one will ever walk the talk. Politicians by their very nature are creatures that lie, obfuscate, detract and detour and activists, who by their very nature are mostly sincere, trustworthy and truly committed, (even if oversensitive and abusive at times) simply can’t connect with one another and are repelled by politicians, like opposite ends of a magnet.

And that is where our problem for a true social transformation lies. The complete distrust between politicians and civil society.

In India the most vocal, articulate and dedicated activists are inclined to a left of centre ideology. Suspicious of the establishment, pro–poor and naturally disinclined to religious and casteist divides.

There is one group of activists who will make no peace whatsoever with the Right wing, rabid, Hindutva ideology and are inclined to tolerate the left liberal establishment (read Cong) a tad more. They may push policies through the Congress or the Left but will have no truck politically with them because the Congress is famous for junking activists once elections are done – issues  be damned!!

The second set of similar thinking activists are what I call the Right tolerant type. They may wink at a small dose of muscular nationalism indulged in by the BJP but absolutely won’t do business with the Congress who have institutionalized corruption in our society and  run it to ground. However, this group also can’t trust the BJP when in power. The BJP will rationalize and sugarcoat a carnage of minorities and rush to the defence of illegal mining barons REDDYLY- and again issues be damned.

So when you witness schisms in civil society, it is not that activists are Congress or BJP agents. That is too facile an argument.

It is fundamentally that activists of the left liberal and right tolerant wings of the same thought process can’t converge together and put up one united, pan Indian, anti-establishment voice.

However, let it be said that as a society today with the help of social thinkers and philosophers we have come a long, long, very long way!

All these tortuous decades since independence, Activists and Politicians have always been two sides of the same social coin.

All this while the dice was always loaded in favour of the politicians, who used to say “Toss that coin. Heads I win. Tails you lose !”

Today that trick may slowly be dissipating because sometimes when the coin is tossed a Raja or a Kalmadi or a Deshprabhu or dear dear Amarji may well end up rotting in jail.

You can however trust this dictum.

Whereas most politicians thrive on the business of lies, lies and more damned lies, activists by and large make us always face the TRUTH however inconvenient, uncomfortable, bitter and exasperating it may be.

More power to them!! For our sake and for that of our kids’ future!

 

 

 

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Dr Oscar Rebello

Dr Oscar Rebello is one of the leading social activist of Goa and a practicing doctor. He led the historic peoples’ movement in 2006-07 to get the anti-Goa Regional Plan scrapped and save Goa from total destruction of Goa’s ecology and natural beauty. He is a Goa-based leader of Aam Aadmi Party. He is also a columnist.

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Previous Comments

Oscar baab, Social activism does not have a structure to it. So while it is a good mechanism to keep check on politicians, it cannot be the way to run a country. A country can only be run by government and we need politicians to contest elections and form a government.

Your statement "Politicians by their very nature are creatures that lie..." seems very juvenile. It is a good argument to make the entire social movement a 'Them' versus 'us' conflict.

- Laukik Desai, India | 21 st September 2011 13:38

 

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