How to win friends and influence poor people
Ravi Shankar Etteth
Updated : 29 May 2011 02:53:21 AM IST
Some have to go hungry in order to survive. The hunger for justice and the hunger for publicity often go hand in hand. Professional dissidents like Medha Patkar who live on newspaper ink are past masters in the art of fasting. After Anna’s hunger strike and Baba Ramdev’s imminent denial of nourishment until black money is brought back to India, Medha chose to eschew food again in early May, protesting the demolition of slums in Golibar, Mumbai until the government caved in. Does anyone care?
The slum dwellers do.
More than 4,000 families from 46 cooperative housing societies vehemently voiced their anger against Medha’s interference in the Golibar slum redevelopment scheme. They want the project to be expedited and social activists to be kept away. The slum dwellers even took to the streets in support of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) with placards that proclaimed “Medhatai you are in the wrong direction. Work for the welfare of the slum dwellers and not against them.” Anna read his Delhi right, but it seems Medha hasn’t read her Mumbai right.
India isn’t an easy read for anyone who storms into public life. When Medha Patkar realised that the Narmada Bachao Andolan—her first major production that featured poor, dispossessed villagers—was flawed in its premise, she decided to change tack and adopted the larger anti-development platform. Donning the swimsuit of ideology, Arundhati Roy leapt into the Narmada that Medha had muddied, only to hastily swim away. Later, Medha played an active role in getting Tata out of Singur; but why did she keep schtum when villagers pleaded with Tata to return and Ratan Tata questioned the source of her funds? Why has
Medha—who built her resume on land acquisition—refuse to participate in the Jaitapur farmers’ protests? Anti-nuclear activists accuse her of furthering her own purpose by taking up issues, only to abandon them later. Arundhati, it seems has wisely decided to keep away from Medha’s fast. Roy is smarter. And prettier. She has never gone on fast; she is slim already. Besides, she needs energy to write long articles on poverty that would do a school magazine proud, hold press conferences that never fail to make at least page 2 in newspapers, and attend snooty parties in New Delhi and New York.
Just as our country is pockmarked with politicians like Raja and Kalmadi, activists like Medha Patkar, Teesta Setalvad and Mallika Sarabhai also blight it. For social performers and politicians alike, poverty is a constituency to be ploughed for public acclaim. The chefs of dissent will cook up anything for hype; Teesta Setalvad had to take anticipatory bail for manufacturing spurious victims of the Gujarat riots and force-feeding confessions in court. Mallika Sarabhai woos the limelight by criticising Narendra Modi as she enjoys the benefits
of Gujarat Shining. Even Anna Hazare, a political innocent was presumably browbeaten by Sarabhai-bhais into denouncing corruption in Gujarat.
Medha Patkar is no less than any venal politician who defrauds India’s poor. One does it for power and money, the other for satisfying a maniacally self-righteous ego and an insatiable hunger for media attention. Along their path to awards and acclaim, the debris of a
million hopes—of abandoned villagers and idealistic followers—lie like a ruined city of ordinary dreams.