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Goa and India fail on diversity

Across the oceans in the UK, Enoch Powell must be spinning in his grave. In 1968, the late conservative politician gave a histrionic warning, “we must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting” widespread immigration from former British colonies in the Caribbean and East Africa, along with India and Pakistan. In that notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham, he continued, “I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”… Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.”

Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was somewhat right on the numbers, because his country’s demographics did, in fact, transform radically due to immigration. By 2025, the UK’s minority population is estimated to top 20%. But the old Tory was nonetheless on the wrong side of history, and especially public opinion, because the influx was never seriously challenged or (as he would have had it) stanched. The unprecedented results of last week’s national elections are a perfect illustration of the positive (though yet incomplete) integration of minorities in the UK, mostly achieved over the course of a single generation. The most diverse parliament in the country’s history is now in place. The most delicious irony is Enoch Powell’s own seat of Wolverhampton South West was won by Eleanor Smith, an Afro-Caribbean union leader from the Labour Party.

There’s still plenty to be wary about in the UK election results, which have allowed the dubious, shaky Teresa May to retain power. But it’s also hard not to be impressed by the unusually diverse new parliament. Many countries across the worldperhaps most especially Indiahave plenty to learn in this regard. The UK now has a record 52 minority MPs (still a bit disproportionately low given national demographics), another record 208 female MPs (also disproportionately low), and also a record 45 MPs who are gay or lesbian (which might be accurately representative of national demographics). Rather wonderfully, there are three Goan MPs, including two women. This means there are as many Goan women in the British parliament as there are in the state legislature in Porvorim.

That last fact particularly underlines India’s comprehensive failure to expand political participation to include all citizens. It is bad for democracy, and also a severe loss to the country because it does not get the benefit of its entire talent pool. Instead, politics has become a dynastic business, with power almost exclusively passed on via feudal primogeniture. At least a quarter of the Lok Sabha is made up of family members of politicians, what the author and journalist Patrick French has called, “a house of dynasts”. Worse, only 12% of the MPs are women. Perhaps most shocking, there are only 15 Muslims in the Indian parliament, far out of proportion to their 11 per cent of the national population.

Even compared to the dismal lack of diversity at the Centre, in this regard Goa is a notable basket case. There are a paltry few of the best and brightest in the state assembly, which displays a collective lack of qualifications far out of balance with the highly educated and prosperous population it represents. Less than half of Goa’s MPs have college degrees, but a full quarter have serious criminal cases against them. India is, by many measures, the youngest country in the world, and the majority of Goa’s population is under 40, but it has elected the oldest legislature in state history, averaging 53-plus. Instead of young and dynamic, they are old and cynical.

Most scandalously, there are only two women amongst them, both entirely sidelined. This is an incredible loss because girls dominate the highest ranks of school and college results across the board, and women from Goa have a superb record of achievement in every profession. Yet they’re still shut out of the political sphere. Every study ever conducted on global politics and administration shows that more women in the public sphere translates directly to less corruption, and better prioritization of government action. This is precisely what is needed in Goa.

The recent panchayat results offer hope. But until they translate to real change in the state legislature, we will continue to look longingly at advancements such as those in the UK, left wondering if the same can ever happen here.

The writer is a photographer and widely published columnist. Views expressed are personal.

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