As thousands throng thoroughfares of metropolises holding candles against the dusk and wearing skull hugging caps saying I am Anna Hazare, there is something very critical that gets formulated. Anna is not merely fighting corruption; he is doing something else too. Beneath the veneer of a righteous moral fight, this man and his ilk is challenging the very institution of the Parliament, the crux of a democratic State. He wishes to curb everything that stands for institutions in the country and superimpose a Lokpal which, if ever in effect will be the ultimate word for an absolute Dictator. Beneath Anna’s movement is therefore a search for a dictatorial system, which will curb all that that goes in the name of a democratic State with checks and balances, a Parliament of duly elected persons. It is an assertion of the dictatorship of the citizens so alienated from the very democracy that is supposed to be based upon the will of the people. The tyranny of the Annalogs, the swell of the sea of humanity at Annapolis resembles the Storm of the Bastille, where the haloed halls of the Parliament are purported to be torn down as the punishment for sins of the government to have erected the walls of rules and propriety against the highest authority in the country, namely the free citizen.
The target of the movement is the government, its Prime Minister, whose head must roll at any cost. Those who oppose Anna see in this a license to anarchy, are fearful of the death of a reasoned democracy at the hands of a willful vigilantes. Those who oppose Anna are against corruption through the instigation of the existing institutional arrangements; those who support him are nihilists. Such nihilism is at the very constitution of fascism. The arrest of the government by Anna Hazare, his wrathful posturing, his willful assertion that it is either his way or the highway, reflects exactly, in a mirror image of what the Indian State had actually become when it arrested Dr Binayak Sen, fired on protestors over Posco, killed in Kalinganagar and eroded spaces, ecologies, livelihoods and lives in Karnataka. And all of this happened through the system of bribes, where the corporate could bribe the government to twist rules for suitable interests. This is why corruption has become the space where the weak are shortchanged for the rich; and since the weak are also the more numerous, such acts of the Indian state are compromises on democracy. When the Indian state can itself douse democracy, how does it become the citizen’s prerogative to respect its case? Then go to hell, democracy, there exists none of it anymore says the angry Hazare. Readings from the Third Reich papers show that it was exactly through such a failure of the State that Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. If fascism breaks out in the streets of India, only the Indian government will have itself to blame.
Personally, I do not blame Anna Hazare for the state of affairs on the anvil of anarchy; what worries me is the sovereign Indian nation state that with its elaborate rules and rights to fight corruption appears to get entrenched deeper into the problem with each passing day. There is a secret script that is shaping up between Anna and the government; it is that script that I intend to reach. Anna is attacking a government, a state that has turned a hundred and eighty degrees in its role as a mediator between the various forces shaping the society. The Indian state before liberalization formally vowed to protect the weak against the strong; in the aftermath of liberalization as the Indian economy and society gets more aligned to the interests of the global capital, the Indian state vows to remove the claims of the weak coming in way of the strong’s accumulation of limitless and mindless wealth. This turns the entire edifice of the Indian State and its Constitution into a lie. The Indian state stands no longer as a buffer between the interests of the rich and the poor, but aligns itself shamelessly with the rich against the poor. Such a realignment of the State has eroded its authority with the thousands who are on the streets today. The Anna Hazare movement shows how little the Indian citizen cares for the Indian state, democracy or no democracy.
Corruption has existed in India since the aeons of time but never before now has an entire movement been centred on corruption; I wonder whether such a movement has ever been staged anywhere in the world. Never before now has corruption become a catchword to explain every kind of evil in the everyday life of an individual. Today’s corruption is something else; it is far beyond having to pay a bribe to get a phone connection, beyond having to bribe a excise inspector; today’s corruption is the 2G Scam, where a few people, some people are seen to have access to large moneys where no ordinary soul can even in her wildest imagination wish to access. It is this inaccessibility to wealth for most and its secret password in the hands of a selected privilege few that really enrages people; no wonder then at the crux of the imagery of money stashed away in the secret chambers of the hallowed Swiss Banks. Everything that the government does, the BRT corridor, the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum, oil price hike, development through industrialization are seen to increase inequality in wealth, not through differential merit or qualifications but through differential access to be in the right place at the right time. The economy that drives through large monopoly private venture funds with blessings of the political class constitutes a coterie aided by none other than the democratic system. This makes losers hate democracy, become apolitical, jump due processes, disregard institutions, in short anything that constitutes that world that leaves them behind.
Those who are today opposed to Anna in their fight against corruption refuse to accept themselves as losers even though they may have every objective indicator against them such as not owning homes, cars, designer purses and so on. They would rather activate the RTI, go to the consumer courts, write letters of complaints to authorities and whistle blow to media. These are the usual jholawalas, the intellectuals, the critical cynics of neoliberal growth projects. These people have stood outside the madness of global capital, many a time refused to belong, to jump into the fray of buying gadgets, owning homes and going on vacations abroad. Interestingly, such people who stand outside the competition consider themselves as the winners. These “winners” are the anti-globalization people with outdated beliefs in Keynesian economics, welfare state, public sector and market regulators.
But those who support Anna, despite their management degrees, or foreign jobs and plush bungalows in America, look upon themselves as losers caught in uncertain employment, fearful of retrenchment, plagued by vagaries of their investments at the stock market or regretful of investments whose EMIs they can no longer pay. This is the pro group; who disdain politics because it brings in the claims of the have-nots into the enjoyment of the haves, who believe that privatization is the panacea for every evil and that the State should just up its tail and disappear beyond sight. Yet it is today that this group that contains people whose self image is that of a loser. This is the most interesting aspect of the sociology of Annacronyism.
Neoliberalism has its own way of making people feel unwanted, unqualified, undeserving and underperforming. The more one performs, one is never really on top of things, the growing inequalities of income and wealth more so in the absence of State regulation leads to a loss of a sense of agency. In simpler terms, individuals feel less in command of her life, less capable of shaping it the way she wants to, less in command of her own future. All such trepidations transform into a battle against the one that caused it all, the State. The State is an institution that creates certainties in life, certainties that efforts would be rewarded, opportunities will be presented, and capabilities will be created. These are the basic function of the State in any civilized society. Unfortunately in neoliberalism, these are not possible; only global capital pursues its profits mindlessly and depends a lot on the State system to fructify its agenda. The State turns against its own citizen while promoting a Tata-Corus deal as in the UK, or the award of the 2G spectrum in India, or the speculation of wheat when food prices are shooting through the roof, or even the sinking of the public sector to benefit a private player in the same industry. Such turning of the State against its citizens is captured under the generic term of corruption. Anna’s team is fighting to reverse the dominance, from the State towards the citizen; that citizen who might be a nihilist, a negationist, and a fascist but nonetheless is only the mirror image of a State that has totally belied its own Constitution, perverted its institutions and used democracy only as a cover up of deeply oligopolistic practices.
If I have understood your premise correctly, you seem to argue that the blame of State’s loss of legitimacy lies squarely at the door of Neo-liberalism & unbridled greed. I agree with the broad contours of your argument.
However, in context of corruption, it should also be noted that it is the all-powerful, omnipresent state and its minions with wide, discretionary powers, which give rise to further opportunities for corruption. This is a point often put forward by proponents of economic liberalism. And in this context, it’s the poor, the marginalized who suffer the most. Yes, corruption is not just political or public sector corruption. As leftists love to point out, what about corporate corruption? But isn’t the latter just a function of the former. Why is power much more sought after than money in India? Because if you have power, access to money is a given. I guess this has something to do with Indian pysche as well.
No, privatisation is not a panacea to all evil. A blanket privatisation will only lead to a free-for-all. But then, state has no business in producing steel, running the railways or supplying electricity to homes. To put it simply, the original intent of having a state with over-arching power and reach was to ensure that the interests of the marginalized are safe-guarded against profiteering capitalists. The flawed, underlying assumption was that the poor & marginalized will always remain so. Moreover, this was doomed to be an unintended mean to ensure that they do not rise up in the class ladder at all (by stifling opportunities). Reminds me of that classic, anti-communist rhetoric “What communism does, is not equal distribution of wealth but equal distribution of poverty.”
Do we really want to go back to pre-1991 India, when getting a MTNL connection meant paying bribes through one’s nose? Do we recall the days of huge educated unemployments? Hasn’t liberalization helped even the poor? Probably not as much as we would want to. I agree that the Gini quotient has widened. I do condemn post-liberalization land-grabbing, mining loot, displacement in the name of development, loss of livelihoods in unequivocal terms but then what about the displacement caused by Nehru’s Temples of India. That was pretty much the socialist India.
Finally, I guess I may be pardoned to read this as a gross over-simplification of facts:
“It is this inaccessibility to wealth for most and its secret password in the hands of a selected privilege few that really enrages people; no wonder then at the crux of the imagery of money stashed away in the secret chambers of the hallowed Swiss Banks.”
Do you mean to say that all the people on streets will be pacified if they have a share in the booty? I personally don’t think so. That may be the case with some but definitely not for the majority. Being a beneficiary of liberalization (and privatization), I can say for most of my socio-economic brethren that it’s the islands of obscene wealth & prosperity in the midst of overwhelming poverty, squalor, deprivation and oppression which enrages us. We, thankfully, belong to none.
As an aside, I recently heard about the egalitarian nature of the Finnish society from a friend. In Finland, apparently, a computer scientist and a man sweeping the streets, don’t have much difference in their earnings. If this is true, I have little wonder why Nordic countries have some of the best human development indicators in the world.