The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smaller than Kumbh, twice the Asiad
- Tit-for-tat January jamboree lined up to counter World Economic Forum

Mumbai, Dec. 20: Not counting the Kumbh Mela, Mumbai will host the biggest event in the country till date in less than a month. It is the World Social Forum (WSF), the Third World’s resounding rejoinder to the World Economic Forum.

It is another matter that the protest movement has kicked off another protest movement: if the World Economic Forum spawned the WSF, the WSF has spawned the Mumbai Resistance, which thinks the forum has gone soft.

But between January 16 and 21, the WSF is expected to bring a crowd of about a lakh to Goregaon’s Nesco Grounds and shift the Mecca of anti-imperialism from Porto Alegre in Brazil, where it has been held for the last three years since its start, to Mumbai, if only for a year.

About 60,000 people from all over the world have confirmed their attendance at the event. “The number could go up to one lakh,” says spokesperson Damayanti Bhattacharya.

“It is more than twice the size of the Asiad,” says Gautam Mody, another spokesperson.

The WSF, a platform that brings together several organisations, will also bring a host of international celebrities: Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, who got the prize this year, Ahmed Ben Bella, the first president of Algeria and Nguyen Thi Binh, the vice-president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The guest list of names from whom confirmation is awaited is more impressive: Nelson Mandela, Noam Chomsky, Hannan Ashrawi, Susan Sarandon, Desmond Tutu...

But not everyone is happy.

While there will be discussions, conferences, film shows, stalls, song, dance, performances, US bashing and anti-war slogans, spread over almost a week at the WSF, the Mumbai Resistance, a group of organisations, will hold a parallel meet.

The Mumbai Resistance charges that in these three years the WSF has come to look a bit like those it opposed in the first place — Davos, MNCs, First World governments. It claims that the WSF is funded by agencies with covert globalisation on their agenda.

The WSF says it is funded mostly by Western European endowments. This is what has its critics raging.

“The organisation, Attac, based in France and the Workers’ Party in Brazil are the forces behind the forum,” says Firoze Mithiborwalla of MYIndia, a Muslim youth organisation that is part of the Mumbai Resistance.

“Attac believes in globalisation with a human face. It also enjoys the support of the Workers’ Party in Brazil. President Lula of Brazil of the Workers’ Party, who visited the last forum and expressed solidarity with the anti-imperialistic stance, hopped across to Davos to fall at the feet of the First World leaders,” says Mithiborwalla.

“Most of the forum’s money comes from West European, France and German funding agencies. But how can we not know that France and Germany are no less imperialistic, though more sophisticated, than the US and the UK'”

Mody says the WSF, though associated in its early days with Attac and the Ford Foundation, has stopped accepting funds from both. “We have also not accepted any funds from any corporate organisation. Instead, it has accepted funds from endowments. Oxfam is a major source of the funds,” Mody adds. Another criticism is that the forum does not take a political stance by itself. It only operates as an “open space” for several bodies.

“We are a platform of many organisations,” Mody says, whose objective is to form coalitions at the grassroots level.

The WSF has 200-odd organisations as part of the India General Council alone.

On the agenda at the meet is a host of issues — from those related to ownership of land to violence against women to forest workers. “The forum is an ongoing process where alliances are made,” he says.

To the charge that the WSF clearly negates militancy, another reason the Mumbai Resistance, which has the support of 250-odd organisations, was born, Mody says that within the WSF there are organisations which have resorted to armed struggles against imperialism.

The starting point for the WSF were the Seattle protests in 1999 that led to the first World Social forum in 2001 in Porto Alegre. “After a decade, that was singularly without a debate, a new picket line was formed at least,” says Mody. From Seattle to Washington to Prague to Nice, the movement has grown, he says.

India was chosen because it is more self-reliant than many other Third World nations and Mumbai because it is the cradle of progressive thought. The fire, then, keeps burning. “Another world is possible,” says Mody, underlining the WSF motto.

But that doesn’t meet with universal approval, either. “That is vague. It should be something like ‘We have to make another world’,” says Mithiborwalla.

Perhaps, the number of worlds that are possible should not be limited.

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