Monday, June 24, 2013

Inquilab Zindabad ? No ! _____ (fill in the blanks) Murdabad .

What is common between a park demolition and a raise in bus fares. Well, something profound , I believe. Because in the last one month, I dare suggest that these were the two most important events in the world (NSA be damned ; as if that was a surprise)

The park issue was the first and it happened in Istanbul, Turkey.  The government had planned to demolish the Taksim Gezi Park and use the space to reconstruct the historic Taksim military barracks. About 50 environmentalists occupied the Park in protest. The police , predictably evicted them. That snowballed into massive nationwide protests and a huge Occupy Taksim Square movement started.  The issue of demolition of the Park has now given way to a protest against all sorts of unrelated issues and drawing crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. It is now an anti government protest without a coherent theme or leaders. A big section of the population is just protesting without a clear understanding of what they are protesting against and what the solution is. This mind you, in a country where the President Erdogan has won repeated elections with a strong mandate.

In Brazil, the government decided to raise some bus , train and metro fares. A few protested, notably the  Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement). The police broke up the protests. Again this has snowballed into a nationwide protest movement, involving millions of people. The government quickly withdrew the bus fare hike, but the protests have snowballed into something bigger - a whole range of issues, including protests against the Football World Cup and the Olympics all scheduled to be held in Brazil in the near future.  If Brazilians are protesting against football, something serious is happening. Again this is in a country where Dilma Rousseff won a resounding mandate in the elections and is the chosen successor of the extremely popular Lula.

As of today, both these protests are going on. You can see parallels with the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US and a few other places. In all these protests, there is no coherent theme, there is no leadership organising the protests. But these protests have been massive, cover a whole range of grievances and are significantly aided by social media.  They largely cover the middle class, not the poor. They tend to die down because they are not coherent and not "organised". But they are symptoms of a deep underlying problem.

This is a profound sociological change and one that should be researched deeply.  I believe the underlying issue is economic. Despite a big economic improvement globally across the last two decades, there is deep resentment. Large swathes of the population do not believe that there is a bright economic future ahead of them. This, despite the fact that the future is significantly brighter than what our parents, grandparents and forefathers ever had. And that is the problem governments and societies cannot ignore. There is no easy solution, and aspects of the solution will be different for different societies. But the root of the solution is economic. We have to have economic growth.

PS - In the title of the post - Inquilab Zindabad means Long live the revolution, in Urdu, a favourite phrase of protests of the past in the Indian subcontinent. Murdabad means "Down with".