The past weeks have seen some of the biggest demonstrations against the war George W. Bush is plotting against civilization. What is both curious and heartening, the countries of mature capitalism are the focal point of these demonstrations; London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Davos, Basel, Athens, and across the Atlantic, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto. Parallel campaigns and rallies are a-trembling Australian cities, including Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Latin America has been in ferment for several months; townsmen and country people have once more emerged on the open squares and thoroughfares of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Havana and Santiago; they want to be an integral part of the global protest against the devilry planned by the administration of the United States of America, backed up by its principal lackey, the Tony Blair regime in Britain.
These were by far the biggest concentrations of ordinary men and women since the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of the Sixties and the Seventies. A qualitative difference is discernible though between these popular upsurges separated by the deca-des. Whether at Berkeley or Sorbonne, or Calcutta, the ferment 30-odd years ago against the American aggression in Vietnam was by and large a campus phenomenon. Even where street rallies and sit-ins took place under the open sky, the assembled humanity consisted mostly of young people.
In the current season, when Iraq is threatened, the human concordat across the oceans and seas is much more all-inclusive. Young couples with tiny tots on their shoulders or in perambulators are, of course, there. But an additional noteworthy feature is the heavy presence of thousands of men and women from all walks of life — war veterans, demure housewives, shopgirls, company clerks and, above all, solid, huge throngs of ordinary people belonging to the working class. Disdainful of the so-called Labour government faithfully toeing the American jingo line, British trade union leaders have threatened a general strike, determined to shut down the country the moment the first hostilities begin.
Equally remarkably, for the first time since the cessation of the Cold War, fissures are transparent in the flanks of the much-touted Atlantic alliance. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, assiduously built by the American military establishment for over half a century in its own image, is refusing to accept the Yankee diktat. The United Nations too is no longer the docile domestic animal it has been in recent years. Three out of the five permanent members of the security council — France, Russia and China — are ready to exercise a veto against any further UN resolution recommending a go-ahead to the Bush adventure. A number of other European countries, including Germany, have turned their face, with disgust and contempt writ large, against American hauteur. Suddenly, that pithy, searing, agonizing question — “How many lives per litre'” — has become the slogan uniting humanity at large.
Not quite. The former socialist countries are markedly tranquil; their long night of dazed befuddlement is yet to be over. We have little information whether any anti-American stir is reverberating across the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps not; that country, its stance in the UN security council notwithstanding, has currently other priorities. In contrast, the North Koreans, almost in the manner of Rhett Butler, could not give a damn, they must be enjoying the predicament the Americans are in. The prim Japanese do not react in public, but, after all, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are an inheritance gifted to them.
South Asia, too, is pronouncedly less vocal. Anti-American demonstrations do take place on and off in Pakistan, but these have a pronouncedly religious flavour. Elsewhere in the subcontinent, in India and Bangladesh, the left, in the company of a sprinkling of non-government organizations, have sponsored protest rallies. To be candid, these rallies have failed to attain the massiveness and intensity the protests have reached in North America, Latin America, Australia and Europe. For instance, the demonstrations in Calcutta, the bastion of the left, have been a pale shadow of the turbulence witnessed in the city during the Vietnam war. Who knows, the world revolution Lenin envisaged to wind its way through Calcutta and Shanghai has perhaps changed its route.
That apart, an interesting news item has missed the notice of many. An English-language “national” newspaper organized an instant poll, coinciding with the week the global anti-Ame- rican demonstrations were exploding, to measure the average Indian attitude towards George W. Bush’s contemplated Iraqi expedition. True, the poll was hardly representative; it was confined to the newspaper’s readership, those who had access to the telephone or e-mail, and naturally covered an extre- mely narrow stratum of society. Even so, the poll reflected to a fair degree the sentiments of the yuppie generation who are the major, and perhaps exclusive, beneficiaries of the globalization the country has gone through in the course of the past dozen years.
This precious sample of Indians has not the least doubt in their minds; should the US launch a war against Iraq, the affluent Indian community, 80 per cent of them, would unhesitatingly support the American cause. Few tidings could be more flabbergasting. Even in the US, President Bush’s popularity rating is only just above 50 per cent, and experiencing a free fall. The affluent Indians have clinched the point: they are more loyal than even the king.
Obviously, the Indian establishment’s mind-set is hopelessly out of joint with global public opinion. This, it will not be unfair to infer, is the dir- ect consequence of the obsession with profit-making latent in the globalization philosophy. Nothing else matters in life than the jingle of money. Our government has followed the American economic and foreign-policy line consistently over the past decade. The pay-off is the bonanza the Indian upper class has been experiencing.
Industrial recession may threaten to sink the nation, agricultural growth-rate may fall below the population growth-rate, investment may languish, factories may close, unemployment may rise. None of these matters to India’s affluent stratum. They have never had it so good; they are therefore determined to be with Bush all the way, till the last cow comes home, or even if it does not. Some of them are feeling buoyed at the speculation that once Saddam Hussein is liquidated and his oil-supply comes under American control, the world economy will pick up, and so too Indian exports and income levels.
It is not the done thing to be unkind to a motley group who are already down and out. At the same time, does not the present plight of the Indian cricket team illustrate, at least partly, the fate that awaits men who place the profit motive at the top of their agenda' Given the lush domestic consumer market which globalization and pro-rich national economic policies have ensured, Indian cricketers have been reaping a fortune, chased by multinational corporations intent on promoting their products. Money often dulls other sensitivities; many of our front-rank players took for granted their larger-than-life image.
Since the image was the creation of the sponsors, the cricketers seemingly cultivated the sponsors much more than the game of cricket. The outcome is there for all to see. Among the major cricket-playing countries, India’s performance in the World Cup is about the worst; this emerging datum can be correlated with that other datum: the Indian cricketers earn the biggest haul of money, much more than an Australian or West Indies or New Zealand player does.
One wishes that this was the end of the matter. Unfortunately, it is not. Another disturbing thought occurs. The reason four-fifths of the Indian elite — at least a big chunk of them — would like to support the American aggression against the Iraqis is also presumably because Iraq happens to be a Muslim nation. The Americans, the surreptitious argument perhaps runs, are fighting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Vishwa Hindu Parishad war, they are exterminating the Muslim community wherever it exists, it is accordingly the bounden duty of the primitive-minded rich to line up behind President Bush.