Country with anger issues

Often, I tweet random thoughts and they get shared and liked on twitter in the most unexpected ways. Initially, I used to further engage and clarify my positions and argue with people who would disagree but now, I don’t care so much either way. Today was one such day that one of my random tweets got surprising traction. The tweet read

India is slowly becoming a country where people do not know where to direct their anger. It used to be the government a decade ago. Now it’s everyone but the government.

What I was referring to were some observations from Goa. Some of you might know that since the last assembly elections in 2022, a new political force has arisen in Goa called the Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP). It is led by young Goans and one of its co-founders is a childhood friend of mine. RGP’s entire schtick is based on framing the working class migrant as the fundamental reason for all existing Goan problems. Some of their strategies included getting names of migrants from Karnataka deleted from electoral rolls.

Since the last few years, things are changing in Goa. Its economy was conventionally dependent on two industries – mining and tourism. Mining had reached a peak of extraction in Goa, following the demand from China for the low grade ore in the late 2000s. The level of extraction was crazy and environmental laws were conveniently sidestepped. Goa’s mining belt lies in its eastern zone, mainly in Ponda, Dharbandora, Quepem, Sanguem and Sattari – talukas that fall under the western ghats and also have the protected forests of the state. The mining boom also trickled down to the people of this region who invested in auxiliary services, bought trucks that would ferry the ore from the mining site to the ports, auto-garages that would service these trucks etc. The amount of wealth generated during this boom was immense. It also brought a host of problems including deteriorating health conditions, fatal accidents along highways, traffic, dust etc. And suddenly came the ban on mining as ordered by the Supreme court, following irregularities at the higher offices that oversaw the process of extraction. While the companies that owned the mines could escape on the basis of their generational wealth, the locals who were trapped in this mining economy suffered grave losses. Their disposable income dried up, their trucks had to be sold, incurring losses, and the premium lifestyle they were getting used to living had to be abandoned. Slowly, even mining companies started lay-offs within their permanent workforces. Overnight, it created an army of young men with no income. This anger, however, did not translate into a people’s movement. The demonstrations to start mining that went up to Delhi were mostly sponsored by the mining barons themselves and people did not dare to confront the then incumbent Parrikar government.

On the other hand, the western region of Goa, which is situated along the Arabian sea coastline, has been predominantly dependent on the tourism economy. When I was growing up in Goa, tourism was seasonal. Monsoon hardly saw any tourist footfalls. September-May was the tourist season. Slowly, as cities like Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc grew into full fledged metro cities, the idea of tourist season started fading away. Since these cities are on a drivable distance, people would often drive to Goa over weekends and eventually, Goa now has become a tourist destination that is occupied 365 days a year. I think one of the earlier campaigns of Goa Tourism Corporation was in fact “Go Goa – 365 days on a holiday”. The face of Goan tourism changed further as people started to view Goa as an investment for their second home. People from the metros who easily earn 20-40 lakhs a year couldn’t afford to buy a let’s say in Delhi or Bombay but could easily purchase a sprawling villa in Goa. These purchases started to drive the real estate prices in Goa where it has become impossible for average Goans to purchase property in Goa because of the disparity in purchasing power. Goa’s takeover by the real estate market is near completion. Goans are falling behind in the rat race to own an apartment in Goa. The non-Goan buys a house here as a second home (which remains unoccupied for most part of the year) but Goans are struggling to create their primary accommodation. What this disparity has produced is an extreme sense of alienation.

RGP’s support base is mostly the population that became the collateral damages in these processes of undoing of mining and scaling of tourism to unsustainable extent. It also has an additional support base from the neo-emigrant Goans, who are now settled in the UK and other European countries, by availing Portuguese passports. RGP surprised everyone in 2022 assembly polls by gaining 10% of vote share across the state, and one MLA in the assembly – a stupendous performance for a first time political party. While I am sure the honchos who run the party precisely know what bureaucratic processes are responsible for these changes in Goa, they are, rather suspiciously, focussed on targeting working class migrants who are either street vendors or daily wage laborers. They are not the ones lining up in Assagao or Aldona to buy properties and gentrify these quaint villages, but RGP thinks the root cause of Goa’s misdirected development is the working class migrants from Karnataka and elsewhere. Just recently, I was watching local news from Goa where the report was about a local minister trying to establish a new route for a palanquin that would be carrying a local goddess because the traditional route will be soon engulfed into some project that the minister may bring. Now, this is a serious concern, especially for locals. It is also surprising that a minister from a party that claims to put religious sentiments of the Hindus on a pedestal was doing this. But the locals, while rightly angered by this change of route, were heard saying that this change of route is meant for the benefit of migrants who will come there in future. The pointed critique of the local minister was absent while the government’s alleged commitment to Hinduism was nowhere being questioned. It baffles me where people, while smart enough to realize micro level politics that impact their lives, want to choose and deride an abstract notion of a migrant rather than asking questions to the concerned authorities.

The second example is more recent, and the one which prompted the aforementioned tweet, was regarding Harindra Singh. He is the man who organized Sunburn – one of the biggest EDM festivals in Goa. Sunburn becomes the center of controversy every year where the organizers start selling tickets before they’ve been granted permissions, or for days where they don’t have permissions. Needless to say, there have been cases of drug overdose at the venue in the past editions, and locals have complained about loud music, traffic congestion and a dozen of other problems. This script repeats every year like a well rehearsed show. After the 2023 edition, Singh announced on his instagram that he would be quitting from his position as the organizer of Sunburn. Great. Several Goan news portals flashed this news on their social media platforms which quickly became a space for people to troll Singh. I am all for venting out and ranting and Sunburn isn’t some humanitarian cause that needs to be sustained. But, what baffled me again was that people were comfortably directing their anger towards Singh while no Goans actually demanded explanation or accountability from the government, who was reprimanded even by the High court for illegally giving permissions to the festival in previous editions.

In the tweet, I did not provide any context but it still has garnered over 2500 likes and the retweets are nearing 400 as we speak. Ignore the flex but that implies that it is resonating with people and I am sure they’ve observed something similar in their contexts too. There’s a lot of anger in the streets in India. And I don’t even want to get started on how new Bollywood films are fanning this anger, trying to profit from it. My moot question is –  where is this anger being channeled? I remember as we were approaching the 2014 elections, the entire country was convinced that corruption should be eradicated and rapists should be hanged. Two elections have happened in MP since Vyapam while those accused in the gang rape of a IIT-BHU student in Benares where moving scot-free. And none of it seems to trigger people anymore.

The genius of authoritarianism at work is to simultaneously keep fanning people’s anger while ensuring it doesn’t get directed towards the state.

Reads old newspapers and researches on Goan History.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *