Lille, France - People from more than 125 countries are gathered in this pretty French town. For next ten days, they will deliberate on making the world a better place. (It could do with some improvement.) At the end of the meet, the hosts expect to come up with a charter that will be like that of the United Nations and the one on Human Rights. It expects to have an equally far-reaching impact on humanity.
The working papers available at the venue are very intellectual-very French. French intellectuals' obsession with theory is supposed to be so strong that there is a popular joke about it: when shown that something really works, a French social scientist replied, "I know it does so in practice. But does it work in theory?"
The theory behind the vision of an alternative agenda for a global future is based on the assumption that the world cannot go any further than it has if we insist on following the path followed by industrialised countries. Resources are not unlimited, neither are our wants. The dismal science of economics has to be humanised. Societies must be made accountable not only for their present actions and future programs, but also for the sins of their pasts.
The logic sounds convincing. Just to take one example, why should Nepal protect its Charkoshe Jhari and let it function as a natural thermostat for the North Indian plains? Partly, it is in the interest of Nepal itself to do so, but as a direct beneficiary, shouldn't India share the cost of saving the last remaining part of the once-famous and dense jungles of the Ganga plains? If this sounds too rhetorical and ultra-nationalist, let me speak for the Indians and say that the British Government owes it to the people of India to pay for the sins of its empire that pauperised the subcontinent beyond belief.
These are the kinds of questions that only the French can begin to ask, and participants here form an eclectic mix of professionals on the margins, activists operating in the back of beyond, and thinkers who do not mind being dismissed as nuts for being unconventional.
The insurgency back home in Nepal is big news here too. The world truly seems to have become smaller-a driver of a public bus here in Lille said he sympathised with the problems of Nepalis living in the mountains but did not believe that Maoism was an answer. Long at the forefront of communism, even the French working class seems to be getting tired of it. This despite the fact that Paris has a communist mayor, one who personally knew Man Mohan Adhikary.
Political ideology is not directly on the agenda of the Global Citizens' Meet, but it will form part of the discussions on governance in the age of globalisation. While capitalism and its inevitable consequence, organised crime, are globalising rapidly, the civil society movement is not doing so. The NGOs and INGOs that operate globally are not representative of civil society because they seek to impose the value system of the donors on recipient countries. They are merely global corporations with a different focus, different products to sell and a different kind of profit to make. What the world needs in the age of globalisation are civil societies that think outside the box of individualistic value systems, and practice the values of responsible global citizens.
All too often, neglecting the poor and shirking from the responsibility of caring for the less fortunate is practised in the name of tolerance. Tolerance is not just to respect the "otherness" of the "other", but also to be an agent of change to reduce suffering according to the value-system of the other. Such an approach requires a redefinition of the concept of power.
In the grand narratives of colonialism, freedom struggle and Marxism, the central theme of power has always been inflected by a concern with ways and means of getting it in order to initiate changes in society. Grabbing power has been glorified as the first step on the road to emancipation. But as Gandhi showed, the more noble way is to create power.
The Maoists in Nepal are also practising a mode of struggle that is outdated. Grabbing power is difficult, and what is more difficult is that even if power is attained, the results that we are faced with often turn out to be counter-productive. That is exactly what has happened to all "revolutions" all over the world-they have ended up being tyrannies even worse than those they replaced. And we are not only talking here about North Korea.
Creating power is an extremely slow process. But it works. It finds a niche, and is concerned with creation right from the beginning. Positive contribution is the most effective tool of subverting the existing order. A road built in Baitadi does take the market and the state apparatus there, but it simultaneously sets the people there free from their bondage: ideas and opportunities multiply with easier access. This is too physical example, but there is no denying that alternatives to armed rebellion have to be explored to affect changes in dormant societies.
A gathering of more than four hundred eccentrics from 125 countries of the world may develop its own dynamics and may even veer away from the agenda set by the organisers. But one thing I am sure of is that whatever the outcome, it will be an alternative way of looking at things. The French will make sure the meet does not turn out to be an affirmation of the values of American capitalism. Watch this space.