Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Sep 14, 2002
Columns - E-Dimension
What makes you mad at dams?
FOR THE proponents of `direct action' as in the case of farmers marching to KRS Dam to close the sluice gates there is always the `justification' that it makes economic sense to grab decision-making with their own hands, rather than wait for the authorities to do so. "That way, we ensure our livelihood," the rioting ryots would argue, "instead of sacrificing it for the benefit of farmers who speak a different language." But there is more to it than just a damned dam torn as it is between courts and tribunals, common sense and blind bigotry.
There are those who liken themselves to Gandhiji's satyagraha when defending law-breaking. Unfortunately, the word that he cherished is loosely translated to `direct action', with `non-violence' inside brackets. What could have been relevant at a different time, when there was no power of franchise, would cease to be appropriate in changed circumstances.
Taking the example of Mandya farmers: If people were likewise to take charge of buses because of their ire against the transport corporation, it would be like a `bus-day' bash on Chennai'sMarina. Or, if they stormed the nuclear power plants to operate them more ecologically, we should be having just enough time to flee the city.
In July 1999, Greenpeace invited wrath by taking as The Independent then put it `direct action against its own credibility', when its protesters destroyed swaths of a field of genetically-modified corn. A case of `wrong means to reach the wrong objectives' that made it look like someone `who has lost the argument'. Similarly, there are those diehard `foot-pound' maniacs who keep rewriting the signboards in the UK, changing the metres to yards, taking direct action self-righteously as the `metric martyrs'.
It does make a lot of economic sense to organise rallies and marches because of the exercise it gives to people who join in.
For those who know, dam sites are usually long stretches where it is healthy to walk. Similarly, for the local body that keeps repainting the defaced signs, there is the indirect benefit of creating employment in a pseudo-Keynesian way, plus the advantage of keeping all those `activists' from causing a more violent nuisance elsewhere.
But, sadly, when CMs laugh away the criminal behaviour of mobs it would not be out of place to surmise that the daring deeds were in fact proxy acts.
`Today's vandals often become posterity's heroes, from the Tolpuddle martyrs to Gandhi,' is the refrain of those who support gang psychology, obviously tainting a great name, and thwarting democratic processes in preference to anarchy.
When old bridges collapse under speeding trains, safety record of the utility takes a beating. Similarly, when the official machinery is a passive witness to rampages, a more fundamental core becomes shaky peace. For it is a piece of infrastructure that costs a lot to build or rebuild.
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