One writer-activist that I like to read is the irrepressible Arundhati Roy. She is of course the writer behind the bestseller The God of Small things. I am reading her book The Cost of Living.
I noted the advance praise from Salman Rushdie: Arundhati Roy's polemic is necessary and important. She combines brilliant reportage with a passionate, no-holds-barred commentary on.....betrayals masquerading as progress.
Many of us can never hope to achieve Roy's prominence as a writer. But perhaps the new media can provide us the medium through which we can emulate Roy. We can also passionately comment bravely on betrayals masquerading as progress.
For example, I recently wrote an article about the very possible destruction of two beautiful limestone mountains known as Guning Senyum and Gunung Jebak Puyuh. I hear disturbing news that the state government may be forced by yet another attempt by a leading conglomerate to construct a cement plant there.
This renewed attempt to take our mountains comes in the wake of perceived weakened position of the Pahang MB. He lost in the recent MKT elections. While he remains as Ketua Perhubungan, he is not an MKT member. He is categorised as a 'turut hadhir'. His future as MB is therefore, justifiably seen as precarious. So, if there is enough political support for the plan to take the mountains, another business proposal might just work.
What can save the MB and the state from giving in to such concerted attempts is support from the general public. If the attempt to submit yet again a business proposal to turn the sites mentioned is met with popular public sanction, the MB will find a more solid voice to refuse attempts to bulldoze through with the project. I used the term 'concerted' to suggest a collusion of public officials/politicians and big capital in wanting to see this project through.
We are suffocated with the usual reasoning that if the state government does not do it with a moneyed partner, this plant which can generate income will not take off. We are also put off track by the naive remark- of the process of getting approval takes a long time. What if I tell you, land titles can be gotten within a week or even a few days?
But these are not the issues which are of interest here. It's the idea that all these developments including destruction of ecological landmarks is done in the name of progress. Hence we are possibly facing what S.Rushdie said when fore-wording Roy's book- betrayals masquerading as progress.
We see rivers being dammed up, hills and mountains being flattened, all in the name of progress. Voices of dissent are few or if they are any, remain unorganised and isolated. Hence the relevant authorities march on with impunity. Along the way, we hear the stock-in-trade voices, if we don't do it; we don't have the capital and knowhow.
Then we might as well abandon our officious positions and let big capital take over completely. I suspect this kind of officious remarks come from government officials or heads of GLCs who want to justify their collusion. We often forget that most of the time, our own relevance in such a business venture, is made possible only because the law says, as the authority, we have ownership of the asset in question. How did we come to 'own' the asset in the first place? Not by earning or creating it, but because the law empowers us to own it.
I have used the possible re attempt to snatch these gunungs from us, to illustrate a bigger issue. This debate about developing Gunung Senyum and Jebak will no doubt capture popular imagination. This will raise the stakes and complexion of the polemic. From being a fight over the fate of two mountains, it will raise doubts over the entire political system.
The issue touches the very nature of our democracy. Who owns this land? Our rivers? Our forests (of particular importance to Pahang), and of course our mountains? When we touch any thing related to this basic question relating to the nature of our political system, we are met up with rebukes as answers. They are answered ambiguously in bitter and foul language.
How so? You will soon see the usual official response.
Suppose the project actually takes off. There will be destruction of habitat (animals and humans). These will be followed up with occasional but disconnected account of how the government authorities, ever mindful and sympathetic to animals and humans, are doing everything possible to minimise difficulties. These isolated gestures will be politicised as emblems of our caring attitude. We listen to the people, we feel for them etc, ad nauseam.
If that fail, the persistence by such disparate groups like MNS and other NGOs will be labelled as how a handful of subversive activists is holding the nation to ransom and preventing progress, employment and raising incomes.