Monday, February 22

In India the Megalopolis Totalitarians march on

From Sanjoy Majumder's report today from Delhi for BBC, Defiant India protesters stand ground in Haryana
"We are not going to move," says one of them who refuses to tell me his name.
News that the government has offered concessions cuts little ice.
"We don't trust them. Let's get something in writing. Let them spell it out," he says.
We are on the edge of Delhi.
Much of the area around us was farmland about a decade ago. Now you can see tall buildings in some places, others are under construction.
"We are farmers," Sukhram Dhankar says. "But there is no land left for us to farm. It's taken over by developers. So we need government jobs."
To call this a caste issue is to look at the uprising in Haryana in the narrowest terms. What's been happening in Haryana is mirrored in every region of the world where the megalopolis totalitarians are at work.

What they're working at is not the standard land grab -- in the modern era invariably done with the help of a corrupt government -- of the kind found in Cambodia where the government put the country up for sale to foreign interests. This kind of land grab, even if it's used for agricultural purposes to feed local or foreign populations, is apolitical and from the local government's end, at least, done merely for profit,

Neither is it the kind of land grab, infamously known in the USA, where the government, generally at the behest of environmental interests, designates large swaths of American land as government property.

The megalopolis totalitarians are very specifically political in their orchestration of land grabs for urban expansion. They are copying the Chinese Communist Party's strategy of using urban development to gain absolute control over the lives of the governed.

If supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would argue that in no way is he a totalitarian, megalopist or otherwise -- I'm unaware that totalitarians identify themselves as such. But let's look at the big picture. 

Any adult can understand that if a city keeps expanding it is using increasingly large amounts of water just to sustain its infrastructure. Clear, too, is that if the human population in the city keeps expanding, the water needs for the population will eventually increase exponentially. This is a vicious cycle:

> A government empties the near countryside of humans to make way for urban development.

> The displaced rural peoples go into the same city.

> This necessitates increased expansion of the city.

> This requires displacing more humans from the countryside.

> This requires more water to sustain just the city infrastructure.

> This requires going farther and farther afield to transport water to the city.

This is what has happened in New Delhi, as it happened in Mexico City, in Sao Paulo, in Jakarta, and Beijing and many other cities. Just as there are insane people who tear at their own flesh with their teeth, the cycle I outlined is a kind of auto-cannibalism, whereby societies consume themselves.

Until fairly recently the cycle was mainly due to uncoordinated actions by many people who didn't stop to consider the cumulative effects of their actions. But ignorance and even corruption are today threadbare excuses, given that the cycle was clearly understood by governments well over a decade ago. They saw the horrors of unchecked urbanization in cities such as Beijing and Mexico City and knew rampant urban expansion had to be reined in. Even in China this was understood. Yet despite de-urbanization initiatives the Chinese rulers are knowingly engineering fresh nightmares with their idea of suburbs, which also gobble up what's left of arable land and water supplies. They're doing this because they won't relinquish their control over the governed that highly centralized population centers afford them.

The refusal to give up control over vast numbers of people and the desire to increase the control now stand as the only reasons a government would continue with urban expansion policies and accompanying land grabs that are dooming societies. 

To argue that these aren't actually land grabs in many cases because the farmers are paid for their land -- if they're paid at all, as they were when the city of Mumbai greatly expanded, they're paid a fraction of the land value and ejected through a variety means when they protest they were forced to accept payments or didn't understand what they were signing away.  

If that happens to a few hundred people, the rationalizations might stand in a court of law. But when hundreds of thousands then millions are dishomed by such means justice is not served.  

If Narendra Modi's supporters would insist that 'totalitarian' is the wrong description for his policies -- perhaps the totalitarian mindset has so permeated Indian politics that Modi, and his predecessors in the Congress Party, don't even think of what they're doing as totalitarian and would bristle at the comparison to China's Communist Party. They can call themselves whatever they please. I'm calling them out for what they are.

If I'm right, then what to do? The task is to halt galloping urban expansion and keep rural populations in place. But how best to do that in the present era? An important step for problem-solvers is learning to think outside the political paradigm, which has been carried to such extremes it's now counterproductive. 

If not politics, then what?
It's said that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Bhumibol Adulyadej is a king, a real king, and he really is blind in one eye. Do you know how he was blinded? During his college years in the West he was speeding in a sports car, the lorry in front of him stopped suddenly, and he was lucky to survive the crash.

Talk about a metaphor for the modern era. But he decided to learn from his subjects, and so after he became king he traveled to every village in Thailand. He then combined his modern and expensive education and engineer's mind with the villagers' survival wisdom passed down for thousands of years. The resulting economic philosophy he termed simply "sufficiency." It's as much a gift from the Thai people as his gift.  

So I would suggest finding every talk King Bhumibol and his disciples have given about the philosophy and its "new theory" application to the agriculture sector, then think and discuss about how the insights can be applied to development in today's India in both the rural and urban settings.    

I have given the same advice to my fellow Americans; I give it to everyone, no matter the nationality. The New Age is here but between now and its flowering as a civilization there is much difficulty for humanity. I think judicious applications of the sufficiency philosophy are the key to surviving with some grace what is to come.          


1 comment:

Madhu said...

Brava Pundita. Multifactorial issues are always reduce to caste in Western and sadly Indian media.