Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thoughts on Anna Hazare's Movement: An Email

A (non-Indian) friend of mine had asked me for my take on the Anna Hazare movement. I excerpt the relevant portions of my response to him below:

"On the anti-corruption movement, while I obviously don't disagree with the notion that corruption pervades every aspect of Indian life, and that this anti-corruption legislation (the "Lokpal bill", which would create an anti-corruption ombudsman with the power to call elected politicians to account, but which would not itself be elected) that Anna Hazare was fasting to get enacted has been stuck in legislative limbo for years precisely because it is inconvenient for the powers-that-be to just enact it; nevertheless this whole movement, and the orgiastic way in which the media has embraced the cause, is for me a matter of grave concern. I see it as yet another instance of the Indian middle class' flight from politics, i.e. of that class' self-image as fleeing from politics (into the technocratic arms of "good governance" and the like). Once upon a time these fetishes gave us planning commissions and bloated socialist bureaucracies in India; now, with the children and grand-children of those post-colonial days, the same fetish gives us an uncritical valorisation of the private sector in everything, and a corrosive suspicion of India's political class (at the very time when the political system is increasingly subject to the push and pull of various interest groups that were more marginalized in the early decades of the republic than they are now. Certainly, political gangsterism is on the rise, but some of that is also because the politicians are no longer simply the genteel products of the haute bourgeoisie or the elites -- the criminality of the latter, who often did not need strong arm tactics to get that which could be obtained by favors, networks, and patronage, was tolerated for decades with barely a protest by the middle classes, perhaps because the loot was by "people like us." It still is tolerated, and even admired: when was the last time we heard one of the anti-corruption crusaders complain about the coziness of this or that corporate titan to the government, with all the attendant benefits?).

It isn't surprising that the crusade has taken "anti-corruption" as its rallying cry, an abstraction so vague as to be meaningless (who, after all, is for corruption?). That there is no such crusade for greater police accountability, or for a focus on human rights violations by the police/armed forces, the social situation of various marginalized groups, adivasis (aboriginals) dispossessed by mining projects, or even an anti-corruption crusade targeting the business community (when the politicians strike dirty deals, they usually don't do it with themselves!), is telling (I note that support for the movement from India's minority and Dalit groups has been tepid at best, despite Anna Hazare's photo-op showing him breaking his fast courtesy honey water fed by Muslim and Dalit children; whatever the failings of India's political process -- and they are many -- it is access to the political process that has yielded whatever gains have come the way of these sorts of social groups; and one could hardly expect them to side with majoritarian demagoguery at the expense of India's political institutions). Because "politics" could not be effaced from those hypothetical agitations, and once "politics" rears its head, the imagined consensus would collapse. Stated differently, Anna Hazare's political campaign is of course political (he insists it isn't), but this is a politics that functions by effacing itself, by acting dishonestly as it were, and that is thereby liberated -- to try and colonize the entire political sphere. As a result of this completely "non-political" campaign for greater probity in Indian public life, suddenly there is (for the moment anyway) little oxygen for any other discussion, for any other politics. This is the highest, nay the only salient issue in India today, and one might as well say one is on the side of corruption/the ruling Congress-led coalition if one demurs.

So in my view, this is a dangerous precedent: the spectacle of a self-righteous man claiming to be the sole spokesman for all India, browbeating the (admittedly flabby, corrupt, and spineless) government into creating yet another massive Indian bureaucracy (except that this one won't be accountable to the public, but will be manned by experts), the "Lokpal" that will have the power to investigate corruption everywhere in government (but nowhere else); and all of this pervaded by the intoxication of self-congratulation among the commentariat and the bourgeoisie; was a bit nauseating, even apart from the fact that Anna Hazare's own track record isn't exactly the most progressive out there (for instance, his Gandhian views on Dalits seem quaint at best, and completely out-of-step with the temper of contemporary Dalit activism), even ignoring the political use made of the movement by a host of right-wing groups opposing the governing coalition.

At the same time, a part of me resists the above tirade. Because "politics" doesn't just mean "the political process," doesn't just mean "politicking," and the Anna Hazare-led movement demonstrates that -- shouldn't that be cause for celebration? Wouldn't a mass movement in one of the Western democracies thrill me for that very reason, as offering a way out of the apathy that increasingly empties those republics of their democratic fervor, a passion that yet seems alive in India? If my concern is because the stakes are too high in India, that nothing is "settled", that the political spectrum includes -- as legitimate options -- everyone from socialists; medieval-style communitarian politickers, trafficking in myriad caste and linguistic identities; to fascist parties proudly implicated in pogroms and glorifying violence, then shouldn't that be a reason to participate in politics, rather than to abdicate the scene in favor of the rancid compromise that tells us there can never be anything better, that seeks to substitute resignation for any passion for democracy? Isn't that an insight afforded us by Holderlin's line that the saving power grows where the danger does? Yes, those interventions will be more difficult than Hazare's -- because they will not have the enormous force of urban privilege, hypocrisy, and addled millenarian thinking behind them -- but it is possible their path might be eased by the precedent that has been set here (more accurately, advanced; the precedent was set with Jayaprakash Narayan's anti-Congress campaign of the 1970s, culminating in Indira Gandhi's suspension of democracy for two years. Once as tragedy, then as farce...) Perhaps not (very many people have been "doing" politics on the sidelines for a very long time without much support or attention from the culture's commanding heights, so why should the Hazare movement change anything?), but, inasmuch as the anti-corruption movement reminds us what should never have been forgotten -- that although everything in public life is always already enmeshed in politics; in the truest sense politics belongs to the actively political, an immense burden that is at present borne far too often by only the boldly unscrupulous; the fanatical; or the desperate -- perhaps..."

1 comment:

Neha said...

what happend to you mr. anna, first check the corrupt people in your own group and then look at others. A mere law cannot eradicate corruption. corrruption is in peoples mind and heart. which law can remove corruption from peoples minds.