Recently, I happened to read a book by the journalist, Naomi Klein, titled “No Is Not Enough: Defeating The New Shock Politics”. The book was born of a realization that just opposing governmental policies is not enough; an alternative narrative should emerge – like the Leap Manifesto of Canada. The efficacy of an alternative narrative is further affirmed by the popularity of political candidates like Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Arvind Kejriwal.
Almost 60 activists working in different areas like climate change, indigenous rights, social and food justice, faith-based and labour movements came together in the spring of 2015 and began a process of thinking and dreaming beyond their individual issues for a tomorrow they wanted. The group didn’t hierarchically arrange the crises: the fruit of their discussion was the Leap Manifesto, which signifies their ability to see the inter-connectedness between the crises and the alternatives. The ‘Leap’ in the title reinforces that smaller steps are no longer enough.
I will mention a few of the proposals put forward by the Leap Manifesto of Canada. It demands acknowledgement of the rights of the original caretakers of the land and the introduction of universal annual income. The Manifesto criticizes the reduced funding on low carbon sectors like education and healthcare, and reckless privatization of energy sectors in the name of austerity. Along with the use of clean energy and greener agriculture, it advocates that the energy sources should be community owned. It asks for the adequate development of public transit systems. It proposes town hall meetings across the country, which give the residents an opportunity to gather and democratically interpret the Leap Manifesto for their local communities. There could be a tendency to label the entire idea ‘utopian’. According to me, its feasibility depends on one of their proposals – the ability to weaken the monopoly of corporates in the political decision-making process.
The crises that are relevant in India are significantly different from Canada. I don’t intend on giving a list of our crises. But the problems of Dalits differ from those of religious minorities which in turn differs from those impacting the farmers. The attempts to claim that ‘my issue is bigger than yours’, would weaken the might of our fight. The challenge before all the concerned citizens is, can we see the inter-connectedness between the majority of these issues to develop our own Leap Manifesto?
Here I would mention a few of the connecting links between the crises. The poor, the indigenous people and the farming community are the worst affected by the climate crisis. The pro-corporate policies of successive governments (which has promoted development and inequality) in terms of lesser governmental regulations enhanced the probabilities of ecological hazards. Tax benefits to the rich industrialists (as in the case of Special Economic Zones) have an adverse impact on the money available for welfare schemes. As Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz says, a trickle-down economic theory is wrong; history is witness to the increase in inequality between the rich and the poor. India has one of the fastest growth rates of inequality in the world. Policies favouring differentiation are entertained to divert the attention of people from the real issues.
French philosopher Jacques Derrida speaks of the binary of opposites, where society is divided into two classes where one is more privileged than the other. Centuries of such historical privileges or wrongs have helped the population with a stake in maintaining the inequality. We are different, but we are equal before the law. This realization should be imparted through education and other means for the creation of a just society.
The inefficiency of the authorities does create many man-made tragedies. Painkillers are given to soothe pain, and so are scapegoats created for a similar purpose. The dementia of our psyche helps us forget and move on as if the pain was always part of our destiny. Along with forgetfulness, we own the virtue of procrastination. This makes the politicians less accountable in the non-election period.
Sameera Iyengar, co-founder of ‘Junoon’, says, “I love mythology, and I love science too, they represent different truths, and each one is valuable for the function it serves. However, mixing the two diminishes both. And it is a dangerous confusion to propagate.” Many newer myths are created as means of oppression and later, they are labelled as facts. Such a creation of facts makes it difficult for the public to rebel against systems of injustice.
A just, independent country was the vision of our freedom fighters, which is promised by the preamble of the constitution; this is also the hope of the Indian majority. Developing our own Leap Manifesto (the name of the vision is much less important than the idea/vision itself) standing on the bedrock of these hopes is a challenge to our intellectuals, activists, teachers, students, farmers, dalits, indigenous peoples, and concerned citizens. It needs to be another expression of the celebration of diversity. A pan-Indian response is required as the policies are decided by the central and state governments. I am sure India has many such initiatives and we should come together to create a greater impact. To quote Naomi Klein, “The people’s platforms are starting to lead — and the politicians will have to follow.”
A version of this article was originally published here.