Financial Daily
from THE HINDU group of publications

Tuesday, July 10, 2001



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Social conscience

B. S. Raghavan

SOME 1 lakh demonstrators are expected to descend on Genoa on July 18 for the G-8 meeting to protest against its policies which, in the view of the young men and women converging on the scene, are calculated to aggravate the rich-poor divide and degrade environment. The local Government has got so panicky as to order the airport and exit and entry points closed to all but those connected with the meeting or actual residents.

The first such demonstration made a worldwide impact in the `Battle for Seattle' which the protesters won hands down. They forced the World Trade Organisation to abort the Ministerial meeting, for which preparations had gone on for a year or more, and ke pt the entire city administration in jitters. Since then they have dutifully put in their appearance in their thousands and made their presence felt at meetings of World Bank and the IMF, European Commission, G-8, WTO, World Economic Forum, Summit of the Americas, Biotech Trade meet -- in short, wherever they think the agenda of the meetings will cause irreparable damage to developing nations.

Although barely in their teens, they are so fired by social conscience that they readily undertake long journeys to far-flung places in all the continents, brave the rigours of the climate and take on the well-oiled and awesomely equipped armed and mount ed police of various countries. Indeed, at Gothenburg where the US President, Mr George Bush, attended the meeting of the European Union in May, they overwhelmed the forces of law and order unleashed by the Swedish authorities who had to defend themselve s by resorting to shooting in which one of the demonstrators lost his life.

Thanks to them the rich nations have had to restrain themselves from giving unbridled support to free market forces, commit themselves to safeguarding the environment and fight hunger and poverty, and to ensure the even spread of the benefits of globalis ation to all sections of the population, especially the poor and disadvantaged. No longer do the rich nations, and the organisations kowtowing to them such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), dare to preach their sermons from a high horse as they used to do. Also, during the last few years, the documents spewing forth carrying their imprimatur have begun to pay obeisance in conciliatory language to the noble goals of poverty eradication, environm ental protection, sustainable and equitable development, debt forgiveness, job-led growth and the like.

The battles for equity, environment and poor nations' rights that these young folks sacrifice so much of their comforts to fight are a matter for wonder on three counts. First is their ingenuity in tapping the resources for these extended activities invo lving so many. Second, the demonstrations take place spontaneously and in a concerted manner, without a mastermind, and with no trace of politics. And third, they are predominantly drawn from those very countries of the developed world whose policies the y are out to castigate.

There is no comparable evidence of social conscience in those parts of the world on whose behalf these youths are prepared to stake so much of their time, putting aside their other obligations. Especially the youth of India, blind to its rich heritage of values and virtues, seems to be willing to connive at, if not collude with, the devastating ravages of the most corrupt marauders and criminals in politics, and even elect them to power.

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