Jeremy Corbyn gets a taste of pollution caused by builders in Mumbai

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour party leader, did well to focus on some environment issues apart from talking on Israel and Palestine in his interaction with cultural activists in Mumbai on October 20 because quality of life issues affect our daily lives so severely.

He began by recalling his participation in the World Social Forum held in Goregaon in Mumbai in 2004 when the discussion was disturbed by noise pollution, a commercial music band playing loudly in the vicinity. His visit to Mumbai last week coincided with the worst ever recorded air pollution in the city caused by harmful particle emissions of the builder lobby. The lobby is virtually running this city in some ways, it can be said.

But our establishment behaves as if the problem does not exist. The municipal commissioner of Mumbai in a long lecture at an event organsied by a Marathi newspaper Loksatta earlier in the month sang praises of the work done by the civic body but made no mention of the persistent air pollution which is now so severe. The politicians have been lying to us for years about giving world class infrastructure but even if they do what is the use if we have to gasp for life.

Unfortunately, the government is precipitating the crisis with active encouragement to the builder lobby.

Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar is quoted this morning in the media saying that trees will have to be cut for development. This is totally absurd. Things can be done better, we know that. He attracted a lot of publicity some time ago when he was asked about lack of water in dams His response was Should I piss there so that the water level will rise.

The automobile lobby is another with which the government is embedded with disastrous results for the envionrment .

Corbynn is known for his active campaign for public transport and opposition to automobile dominance.

He was less unconvincing in his defence of technology, the problem is much of our political class does not want to be seen to be against so called development projects, they are afraid of taking on powerful interests. But in the process the public cause suffers.

In any case it was interesting listening to to him and to find a completely new kind of audience, quite different from the usual suspects at Left gatherings in Mumbai At G 5 A venue in Shakti Mills lane there was a lively interaction with the audience which lasted longer than Corbyn’s speech. One young man from the audience declared himself to be a Marxist, said he was working on artificial intelligence and even quoted Rosa Luxumberg, Polish-German revolutionary. Many young people addressed him informally as Jeremy, good in a way and this was quite a change from earlier days .

Corbyn expressed concern over several issues including lack of access to clean drinking water and air, due to polluted air children were losing 15 per cent of their lung capacity. He also spoke about need for social and preventive health care and the need to change to a healthy diet. The Japanese people were in much better health when their diet was fish based, but when they switched to fast food, there was an increase in incidence of cancer.

He also asked the audience not to be afraid of new technology. It seems strange today that there was expression of so much horror when Bob Dylan used the electric guitar in 1965. So we get used to new technology.

He mentioned his encounter with a man who doubted socialism. He asked the man a simple question . Do you want everyone to have access to clean air ? . The man said of course. And he asked more questions, should we have access to decent health care, public transport and so on The man finally got irritated, saying of course he wanted all that. Corbyn said that is what the Left was fighting for.

The programme was compered by Varsha Gandikota, a lively, young girl representing Progressive International organisation which organised the evening. I later came to know she is the niece of Vara Vara Rao, revolutionary Telugu poet.

The slogan displayed on the dais was Interntionalism or Extinction which means international cooperation , solidarity of all thinking people was very important.

Earlier in the day at an interaction with the All India Kisan Sabha Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the political issues in the UK, the working class struggle against the corporates and their Government, the global rise of the right wing, the debate in the UK Parliament supporting India’s Farmers’ Movement, and so on. He condemned the decades-long brutality of Israel towards the Palestinian people and said that it was crystal clear that US imperialism was behind Israel, and also behind many other wars going on in the world. He briefed about the huge protest marches in the UK and in the world in support of Palestine and against Israel that were recently organized and the fact that he will be leaving tonight back to London where he will be participating in a massive protest march of more than 200,000 people to galvanize global support for the people of Palestine. He lauded the various Left movements in Latin America and Europe. He took pleasure in describing his memorable meetings with former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu.

Laura Alvarez, the founder of the Peace and Justice Project along with Jeremy, spoke on the various progressive movements in Latin America. She spoke about her experiences in India and how it is getting difficult for the progressive and social movements to spearhead their pro-people work. She expressed her agony at the internet shutdowns and telecommunication blockades by the Government of India. She lauded the work that has been undertaken by the Left and progressive activists in India in spite of such a hostile situation.

The meeting was then thrown open for questions from the attendees. Ten of them posed questions to Jeremy to which he replied briefly and astutely, while appreciating the broad based nature of this gathering, a statement from the Sabha noted.

Dr Ashok Dhawale summed up the evening with a call to bend all efforts to achieve a democratic political change in the general elections in both India and the UK next year. He also called for solidarity for the Palestinian people with large demonstrations across India. He ended his address mentioning the inspiring poetry of Palestinian resistance called “Enemy of the Sun”.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on the need for priority for public transport


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