Voices Friday, May 22, 2015 - 05:30
    As newrooms go, ours must be amongst the liveliest in India. It is normal for anyone of us to derail the morning news meeting trying to prove a point. The hot potato on the table now is non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with the recent spotlight on Greenpeace leading the drumbeat. This is not a one-shoe-fits-all debate and it must not be turned into one. On that we have achieved consensus. We are also in agreement that the assumption that good always triumphs over evil in a democracy is the stuff of fairy-tales.   The next steps are easier said than done as they involve decisions on a pecking order between people’s voices and governments’ choices and that many-fangled thing called funding.  Who decides, for whom and with what effect?  In a large developing country like India where resources are not plentiful the pressure to get that equation right is paramount. If the planet is at risk so are marginalized communities and above all a genuine dialogue between all interested parties is at the greatest risk. In the process, the Greenpeace discourse in India has moved to a debate of extremes, with one side saying that Greenpeace cannot be questioned and the other side supporting the government with nationalistic fervor.   Greenpeace’s narrative is NGO-speak worldwide.  All NGOs want to save the world. Even the not-for-profit World Economic Forum (WEF) of the Davos fame seeks a better tomorrow for the planet. Is the world a better place today than it was 50 years ago? The jury on that is out and has been for decades. By hitting the wrong button like misguided missiles many well-meaning people manage to put themselves and others at risk.   There are numerous risks that are involved in social, political and economic struggles. Risk expert Paul Slovic writes about risks as feelings (fast, instinctive, emotional), risk as analysis (logic, reason, scientific) and risk as politics. That serves to explain why many of the world’s best known “terrorists” are doctors, physicists, diplomats among others who have taken to guns because the power of the state is repressive and dialogue becomes impossible.   Education, jobs, economic prosperity, healthcare and some resources for recreation is what most people in the world aspire for. Why do people have to risk their lives to get what is rightfully theirs? I was weaned on politics. As I listen to my colleagues in the newsroom, a spark gets rekindled.  I try to think what was the first political issue that got me agitated? Charu Mazumdar, the six-day war, Vietnam or was it Ché? The first time I felt the repressive power of the Indian state was during the Emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspending our civil and political rights. It came close to home as some members of my family went under-ground and others opposed it openly from their political spots. That was when I saw the ugly underbelly of the state.   Greenpeace’s accounts in India are frozen till the government audits their funding. This places the NGO in a difficult spot beginning with salaries and working space. I have funded NGOs internationally, worked with them, argued with them and learnt a lot through the numerous exchanges. There is no template for this struggle.   Greenpeace’s staff has decided to forego their salaries and fight for their cause. This is music to my ears. To Greenpeace I say- go for it, because people you say you represent have even less. Greenpeace has also taken on the Indian state. That is never easy to do, but they have supporters in the form of donors and new members willing to chip in. If you are right, you and the system will emerge strengthened. If you are wrong, the system will be strengthened.   
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