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Politics not by the book
I’m revising my book on citizenship in Trinidad, building on Indian political theorist Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between civil society and political society. It’s helping me to explain how Trinidadians both in and out of the state navigate authority. Brought home, this is how I’m thinking his distinction applies.
When governments make decisions for us, without proper consultation or process, they ignore fundamental citizen rights. Often, state officials impose such authority to enable continued rapid growth of corporate capital.
We can see this in everything from aluminium smelter agreements to lack of sufficient regulation of quarries to highways and rapid rails planned without necessary studies to the proposed privatisation of Chaguaramas. De-fanging institutions, such as Town and Country Planning or the EMA, are vital to enabling elite expediency to triumph over transparent, people-centred development.
Having undermined civil society, how then do governments appear participatory? Direct benefits, baskets of subsidies and poverty-removal programmes. These control specific population groups by identifying them as targets of government policies.
Men with a history of crime get handouts through sports. Muslims and Hindus get a cheque on Eid and Divali for diversity. Victims of tragedy get new mattresses and food directly from a Cabinet minister. Ex-Caroni workers get deeds a week before casting their vote. Here, the role of the state and bureaucracy is to transfer resources, not to represent our rights. Ordinary people are thus simultaneously marginalised and managed.
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