By Ranjit Devraj
New Delhi, Feb 5, 2011 (IPS) – Is it more important to build links with African civil society groups or concentrate on existing networks in the South Asian region? That is the dilemma before Indian delegates heading for the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, and some who have opted out.
“Both are important,” Amit Sen Gupta of the Delhi Science Forum (DSF) told IPS. “Today, more than ever before, a world reeling from the impact of multiple crises needs alternatives at the global, national and local levels.”
Those attending the 6-11 Feb. event in Dakar, like Sen Gupta and his fellow activist, D. Reghunandan, have an eye on a meeting there on 10 Feb. aiming to prepare for the South Asia Social Forum scheduled for Nov. 2011 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“This does not, however, mean that Indian movements have given up on the WSF,” said Sen Gupta. “Ever since the WSF was held in Mumbai in 2004, India has had a special place in its decade-long chronology and many still argue that WSF 2004 was among the most successful chapters of the WSF.”
So what happened to the special vitality of the Indian movement and the willingness it showed to work together to build up the WSF?
Sen Gupta told IPS that the situation in India in 2001 – when the WSF movement began – and that in 2011 are very different. “The unity of the Left and Democratic movements stands fractured and this has resulted in lower investment of Indian movements in the WSF process – in India and globally.”
“A fundamental expectation of Indians in Dakar would be that the Indian Left would once again heal the recent fractures and be part of the global voice that challenges neo-liberalism,” said Sen Gupta. “Much of this has to be attended to back in India, but Dakar is an occasion where the need for unity will get more sharply defined.”
Meena Menon, a writer and activist who is attending the Dakar meet, agrees with Sen Gupta, but adds that the fact that there is no strong Left movement in West Africa was also a dampener to Indian groups.
“Of course, African groups are saying that this is precisely why they are hoping for strong Indian participation in Dakar,” she said. “The reality is that had the venue been in South Africa or even in the Maghreb, where Indian groups have linkages, the participation may have been far stronger.”
However, she added that any linkages that could be forged with African groups in Dakar would be valuable because of commonality of interests in such areas as food security and agriculture.
Like other Indian delegates, Menon is also looking forward to the opportunity to strengthen the Dhakaâ€™s South Asia Social Forum. “There is global relevance to recent events in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal and the current regime in Bangladesh offers the democratic space to hold the November Forum.”
Gopal Krishna, convenor of Toxic Watch and campaigner against toxic industries, said he could not spare time to attend the Dakar WSF.
“Right now we are following a trade mission from Quebec led by Clement Gignac, economic development minister, that is in India through the week and we will try and prevent it from signing any deal that will enlarge the asbestos industry in India,” he said.
The proposals, Krishna said, reveal the “callous disregard of the Quebec- based asbestos mining companies and Indian asbestos product manufacturing companies towards the health of Indians”.
Krishna said he was looking forward to attending the Dhaka Forum because “we do need to build regional-level solidarity first,” and because there was a “close commonality of issues and approaches”.
According to Sen Gupta, whether regional or global, there is a general sense that the WSF needs to evolve from a platform of debate over “neoliberal globalisation” to one that can provide space for the forging of strong alliances that would be the building blocks of “Another World”.
“While the WSFâ€™s format has seen changes to accommodate these new expectations, it is still a largely untested format in terms of its ability to play the role that is expected of it,” Sen Gupta said.
“Recent revelations that wealthy Indians had stashed away millions of dollars in Swiss banks reinforce the logic that Indian movements need to build up solidarity and challenge neoliberal globalisation,” Sen Gupta said.
Leading Indian economists say that as the country liberalises so is the amount of money – that could have gone into development – being siphoned away to secret accounts abroad.
“While movements in India are confronting the present government on these issues, the WSF is an occasion to ponder on the need for a much larger unity,” he added.