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Why are positive impacts of activists’ movements not reaching ordinary people?


By Rohit Prajapati*
We talked, a few years back, about “Occupy Wall Street” and other parallel slogans. But we forget that our battles are not only with the physical occupation, but also with the present capitalist development model pursued by the authoritarian, reactionary, rightist, communal, casteist, fundamentalist, fascist forces, both in the world as also in our country, that now occupy the minds of the masses. The challenges to those involved in peoples’ struggles for a just and fair society in present times in India, as well as in most countries, have increased manifold.
As in India, including in many European countries and the United States of America (USA) – considered as bastions of liberal democracies, governments are now headed by right wing figureheads espousing fascism or extreme authoritarianism, often cloaked in nationalism, inequitable capitalistic economic policies and sustainable growth-development model. This is not new and is known to most of us involved in people’s movements in different capacities.
Our interventions, tactics and strategies are now countered with the increasing assertion of fascist and ultra-nationalist forces. We are, however, all too often, fighting the effects and not the cause of these challenges. For all us involved in activism for a just and fair new world order, this begets the following questions: Why are the authoritarian and fascist forces gaining power and, most importantly, credence in the mind of the people at large? Is there a dichotomy in our struggle/ activism between its impact on the affected communities and their ideologies? Why do our interventions effectively not “occupy” the space in the thought process of the affected communities towards present capitalist development model? This despite our solidarity, being part of the people’s struggle and sometimes positive results.
Why are the positive impacts of our movements not echoed in the thought process of the ordinary people and voters’ electoral choices? Are we not just fighting the effects more, instead of the causes of various inequities and injustices? Has our focus on processes and outcome during the struggle outweighed the ideological clarity? To my mind, these are urgent questions that seek urgent answers, though it is the fifth and sixth question that I think needs to be addressed at the earliest.
It is a common experience for those who are involved in our chosen fights – be it against communalism, casteism, patriarchy, safe environment, economic rights etc. to find that while we might triumph occasionally, we often fail to convince the people and perhaps involve ourselves too as required in related struggles, even if they do not impact/affect firsthand. The prevalent social system is “great”, as many would believe. It has many names. Some call it ‘globalised world’, some ”free market economy’, some ‘GDP centred economy’, but it is capitalism by any other name.
This capitalist society is perceived to be “great”. It fooled us in the name of “development” and yet we are kept ignorant about its pitfalls. It distances us from the realities and supplants us in the virtual world of social media and it’s engineered rhetoric. Modern technology might have reduced the physical distance between cities and countries via airplanes, fast trains, express highways, while distancing away the family members and friends. Nowadays we meet family members and friends more in the virtual world of Facebook (Fakebook?) and Skype, than in person; and yet we are kept indifferent to the fact that there is no personal physical interaction.
In the evening – oops! actually during night hours – we return home tired; leading chaotic lifestyles, we are not happy with life and yet we are kept ignorant about it. We are wallowing in the misinformation and lies dished out through media and internet, believing them to be truth; and yet we are kept ignorant about realities. In the name of “development” we are dragged towards a world sans weather – climate changing world; and yet we are kept ignorant about it. In the name of “development” we are fast dragged towards destruction and yet we are kept ignorant about it.
Neoliberal capitalism has placed a lollipop named Mediclaim and endangered our life on earth and yet we are kept ignorant about it. It has given us a mobile phone, a bank account sans money and a perception “All is Well” and yet we are kept ignorant about it. We are stuck, frustrated and scattered and yet we are kept ignorant about it. The Capitalist society has formed a united front with patriarchy, Caste system, and religious fundamentalisms and many such divisive forces and yet we are kept ignorant about it. But we better tell all one thing – that when all people realise the truth and understand ground realities, nothing can stop our struggle against this capitalist society, patriarchy, caste system and religious fundamentalism to ensure a just, equal social system.
This aim to create a just and equal social system, free from exploitation, is truly great and to build that society is our task. I can only share my experience. Our struggle against the proposed nuclear power plant in Mithivirdi, Gujarat involved working with villagers, mostly comprising the farming community. We strategised – with leaflets, grass root engagement, legal strategy, community meetings, pamphlets, media engagement, demonstrations – all that one could conceive as a non-violent, peaceful means of protest.
To my mind, we were opposed to a capitalist growth/ development model and the nuclear power plant is its manifest symbol. But was opposing the nuclear power plant our only aim? Do all the villagers, especially those involved in the struggle, also think the same way? Has the struggle against the nuclear power plant broken down the caste barriers and patriarchal notions in these villages? Are the comrades engaged in this struggle as much enthused to fight communalism that now asserts dangerously everyday across India? Does the struggle’s victory convert into electoral impact?
I am afraid that there are not enough confident `yes’s’ to the above questions. We are missing something very vital in that case. The struggle is not against the nuclear power plant alone. We seem to be missing some key linkages, especially in the Indian context. While we express solidarity with each other in our chosen fights, stand up together occasionally too, but we do not seem to do it as much as required; and more importantly, with as much ideological vigour when the issues do not come within the areas of our immediate concern.
This calls for ideological clarity. For a stratified, diverse society as India, philosophical and ideological clarity in a struggle is a challenge. We all have either compromised or turned lukewarm on one or the other aspect while focusing on our immediate struggles, leading to contradictions within. To illustrate, while countering communalism, we have perhaps neglected women’s rights or caste issues. While countering environmental concerns and farming issues, perhaps one remained indifferent to communal and caste conflicts. Fighting for women’s rights, have not been able to bridge faith differences. In our struggle for economic equity, we are not focused sufficiently on environment concerns or the processes of production.
The quest for development and economic right makes us complacent to accept even fascist, right-wing political choices. Somewhere along through these cracks we have slipped, allowing the fascist, communal forces to slip in and succeed. I do not call neither seek to impose a kind of `ism’ to ensure justice, fairness and equity. I believe however that we need to be increasingly assertive of our values at all levels, to be more together on different issues, to have always in our different struggles an underlying universal cause and ideological mooring.
Marx, throughout his writings, saw capitalism, not narrowly as just an economic system, but a mode of production that underpinned every kind of existing exploitation. He saw in it the roots of the metabolic rift that would drive the earth to torture. He saw class as also assisting sexism, religious discord and racism. Using his tools we can extend casteism to this. In other words, anti-capitalism cannot be just about economic demands, cannot simply demand a US style life for the entire world (an unattainable goal that can only hasten global ecological destruction, in any case).
A twenty-first century notion of social justice, harmony, equality, and ecological restoration would do well to take up these tools and connect the dots, since otherwise; we will only be reacting to particular manifestations, rather than to the root causes of the violent and oppressive social order. To win the masses to such a perspective, to build a comprehensive alternative to the comprehensive ideological and political attack of the ultra-right, has to be the challenge of the day.

*Well-known environmentalist, with Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara

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