Brazil`s Turmoil and Our Lessons: The unfolding fear

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By Amar Yumnam
One country among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – so labelled because of the unprecedented growth that has taken place in these countries in recent years), i.e.,  Brazil is right now characterised by large public protests throughout the country. While the country’s government has been focussing on huge investments for the Soccer World Cup and the Olympics which are going to be hosted by her, there are now widespread protests throughout reminding something like the old adage of the sixties in Manipur: “Everyone shouting Naba Naba Naba in the Mapal Kangjeibung appreciating his skills in soccer, but snubbing him as leather-kicker when asked for the hand of a daughter”. The slogans are absolutely telling in the present turmoil in Brazil and some of them are reproduced here: 1. Only education changes a nation. 2. I would exchange a congressman for 334 teachers. 3. Put the 10 cents in the SUS (public health care system). 4. We want schools and hospitals on FIFA standards. 5. No solution?
Revolution! 6. People united will never be defeated. 7. If not now, when? If not we, who? 8. Categorise corruption as a heinous crime. 9. Enough of thieves. 10. Come take to the streets to change Brazil. 11. Brazil without corruption. 12. We are the children of the revolution. We are the nation’s future. 13. Brazil, how about you loving me back? I am sick of platonic love. 14. No disorder and more progress. (Reference to the words Order and Progress in Brazilian flag). 15. Sorry for the inconvenience. We are changing the country. 16. No right or left. We are all Brazilians.

These slogans and the protests have arisen in a country which was till the other day the cynosure of global attention on development debates. These have caused within days a new wave of debate and relook on development trajectories among the scholars working on development issues. As compared to the praise and appreciation on the economic performance of BRICS countries till date and the credit given to these countries for sustaining the global growth trend despite the global meltdown adversely affecting the Western Europe and North America in particular, the happenings in Brazil have aroused suspicion among the development economists about the capability of these countries to sustain the present growth trend; China of course remains an exception in the debate. Tyler Cowen, an economist from George Mason University has just written in the June 22 edition of the New York Times, supporting the view of the Geneva-based economist Richard Baldwin, that the development changes may remain only in pockets instead of covering the entire country in the emerging economies. This seems to be more like so in the case of India. While Seoul now looks more like Los Angeles, Imphal may never look like Bengalaru given the way changes are taking place in India. The Indian development approach has never been encompassing, and the inclusiveness of the present inclusive agenda is of more suspect character; otherwise there is no explanation for the latest reaction and halting of construction work by Myanmar of the interventions in the Manipur-Myanmar border.

The country level weaknesses in the development approach of India are now coupled by provincial level flaws and fault-lines in the case of Manipur. Social movements and revolutions around the world have led mainly to either of two outcomes; the experiences of the Soviet Union and French Revolution are interesting whereas the Brazilian case is yet to yield the results. First social movements and revolutions could result in regime change. The new regime could be cruel or friendly to the people. It could be development enhancing or otherwise absolutely rent-seeking oriented. In the second case, they could lead to political coalitions. These coalitions could herald the beginning of a new era of governance for development or remain as just coming together of opportunists. Manipur’s case happens to be the latter one. The region has witnessed some forceful movements during the last four decades or so. These have not however resulted in any change of regime nor have they caused any alteration in the character of the prevailing regime. The prevailing regime has not displayed any new zeal for putting the concerns of the people in the centre of development agenda and development governance. On the other hand, the visible protagonists of the remaining force of the movements are no longer producing in either words or actions the core arguments of the original movements. The original strength of the eighties is no longer seen among the remaining protagonists of whatever remaining of the movements. What has emerged in the case of Manipur is a kind of political coalition between the prevailing regime and the remaining visible agents of the social movements. This coalition does not have the objective of framing a new framework for putting the concerns of the people at the core of development administration. The newly emerged development administration of the coalition has the character and objective of stunting any voice of the common people. It functions on the principle of self-aggrandisement. Its administrative capability is highly repressive. It also has the capability to buy out any dissent or eliminate it if it does not yield. The present scenario of reduction in the number of casualties and deaths arising out of social movements is pseudo; it does not possess a healthy social attribute for enhancing participation and commitment of the people. It is based solely on exploiting the enlarged social interventions – whatever the sector: education (in this case academics is sacrificed for construction even at the highest level in Manipur), roads, buildings or what not – for bargained shares rather than delivering the outcomes for the larger population.

When we have such a situation where the country-level weaknesses are coupled by provincial level repressive approaches to governance, the fear of the development economists that the emerging economies like India would fail to deliver on the development might just come true. It would be a very unfortunate outcome for Manipur, which is more likely given the present trends.   

(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)

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