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Reading Ur-Fascism in our times

August 24, 2011

When people are marching to barricades, I go back to my library . I know that streets across India are now re-educating many of us and we are keen to get enrolled in this university of action. Yet I want first to understand this moment of action we are being advised to be part of.

Two chief leaders of the current ‘ movement against corruption’ were on a TV talk show hosted by Karan Thapar three days back. When asked why were they forcing the parliament to pass the Lokpal bill without giving members sufficient time to discuss and debate it , forget people who have been asked to make their representations to the standing committee, their reply was that the MPs can pass it in five minutes or two days at the most. That it was robbing the parliamentarians of their right to deliberate was a question they did not even want to entertain. They kept on insisting that the bill had been lying with the parliament for more than four decades and therefore it had lost the right to ask for time to debate it anymore. That this is a new parliament and it cannot be held responsible for the action or inaction of the previous ones and here are new members who have a right to exercise and express their own minds did not sound convincing to them. The question of views of the people has already been settled as it is the movement which represents the people and has it not already made a referendum on its version, improved it thirteen times! What is the need then for seeking opinion from people? When asked about the methodology they adopted doing this referendum and whether it was sound enough, they contemptuously ignored the question. They claim that it is through them that the people are speaking and it is the duty of persons like Aruna Roy to convince them that there is some other way of looking at things.

It was scary, very scary to see how cool and confident they were of the truth that they possess and how disdainfully they dismissed doubts about their approach ! They said that it was for those who hold a different view to come to them because the people are not with the likes of Aruna Roy but with them. And the People cannot wait more , they are frustrated and tired of being ruled and robbed by the corrupt for decades and now they want to get rid of them. A new grammar of impatience and frustration and a new moment for the ‘victims’ to take revenge ! I saw a ghost of Hitler lurking behind these two suave , normal persons , darlings of activists across India and now the heart throb of millions! Was I hallucinating?

I pull out a small book from my bookshelf , titled Five Moral Pieces by Umberto Eco and look for his essay Ur-Fascism. Eco says that ‘it is possible to draw up a list of characteristics typical of what I should like to call “Ur-Fascism” or “eternal fascism” . These characteristics cannot be regimented into a system; many are mutually exclusive …” But all you need is one of them to be present , and fascist nebula will begin to coagulate.” It would be educative to read further and try to see whether some crucial features listed by Eco are present in this movement against corruption or not .

Eco says that the first characteristics of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition. Traditionalism is older than fascism. Tradition has been employed very deftly by the leaders of this movement to touch, move and sway the masses to their tune. Friends are impressed by their wisdom to replace Bharat Mata with a Gandhi. What they do not see perhaps is that this Gandhi is a wronged and martyred son of Bharat Mata and is in fact a caricature of what Gandhi actually was. Gandhi has already been integrated into its being by the RSS and Gandhians are happy singing his bhajans with them on 30 January. The giant Gandhi backdrop which gives a cover to Anna is an antithesis to everything that Gandhi stood for. But that is how traditions are ‘creatively’ deployed to their use by different forms of Ur-Fascism.

Vande Mataram with a Tiranga is again a very creative mix of Hindu and nationalist emotions. What is wrong with a Vande Mataram in its new Rahman avatar is what many of us ask. if you feel alienated with the chants of Vande mataram, you better revise yourself. That Tiranga has been magnified many times to give a feeling of representing power. Why the RSS had quietly  dropped its reservation with it and why Uma Bharati did a Tiranga Yatra are issues we need to think about. It is also interesting that all our friends who are fierce critics of the Indian National project find it incidental. This movement has been trying combinations and permutations of diverse elements of tradition to create a new national moment. Anna Hazare can invoke the warrior figure of Shivaji and yet remain a Gandhian. Militant memories of Subhash Chandra Bose , Bhagat Singh or Chandrashekhar Azad can be used as a resource to galvanize the youth . What is also very interesting is that in popular memory all of them have been portrayed as the victims of the machinations of a ‘worldly’ Nehru led Congress who deprived them of their due space in the national narrative.

Anna Hazare himself was centre staged only after the leaders of the movement found that Ramdev was not syncretic enough a figure to create a broader Indian appeal. If you look at the history of this movement , you would find that Anna was a minor character of this drama in its first phase and Ramdev was the hero then. The decision to replace Ramdev with Anna has perhaps to do with the fact that Ramdev did not look sufficiently militant and his hobnobbing with political class had contaminated him. Therefore, Anna was brought in. He is a celibate , who for the sake of the nation did not raise a family. His past as a member of Indian Army also helps. He is naive and speaks a language which the masses understand easily. He can ask for Death to the Corrupt and yet remain nonviolent because he can fast umpteen number of times. He is a doer. Many ministers in maharashtra have resigned, forced by his power of nonviolent fasts. So, he is also an achiever. This is a how an ascetic fighter was discovered in Anna and Ramdev was conveniently dropped.

Anna gives us solace because he sacrifices for us and the least we can do is to stand by him in his Tapasya. This would also fetch us Punya. In our families a senior member, usually a woman, fasts and the whole family benefits. The act of fast itself is culturally appealing. All religions have their own versions of the act of fast. How can you call it coercive when it was employed by Gandhi? Invocation of Gandhi makes arguments about the nuanced nature of Gandhi-fasts redundant. It is also not thought important that fast was an absolutely personal decision for Gandhi. Never did his associates, Patel, Nehru, Rajaji or Maulana Azad or his admirers like Tagore approve of it. They always tried their best to dissuade him from doing it. Gandhi, to be fair to him very consciously dissociated them from his decision. He never wanted it be turned into a public affair. But here fast is a collective decision performed publicly by a carefully selected holy old man. The figure of Anna also fills the gaps in Gandhi. You have now a Gandhi with clenched fists exhorting the masses to go for the final act.

Eco says that Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. It disguises as condemnation of the Capitalist way of life, but mainly concerned a rejection of the spirit of 1789. In academic circles modernism already lies bloodied. The enlightenment and the age of reason, Eco says, were seen as the beginning of modern depravity. Gandhi , the central traditional figure around which the yarn of this ‘movement’ is being spun , has been seen as a critic of modernity and interpreted as a potent source of post modern ways of thinking. He is also a votary of self sufficient Gram-Swaraj and was betrayed by his disciple who threw this dream aside. Anna is again someone who has realized the Gandhi dream in his village.That his ideas about life, freedom and justice are pre-modern or irrational has been shown by studies done by scholars like Mukul Sharma.

The third characteristic of Ur-Fascism , according to Eco is the cult of action for action’s sake. Action is beautiful in itself , and therefore must be implemented before any form of reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Critical attitudes are abhorred. We see that the appeal of parliamentarians or individuals seeking time and space to think is being spurned. Now is the time to Act. And Action would be perpetual. The promise of permanent action and suspicion of intellectual life have always been the symptoms of Ur-Fascism. Thinking is done while acting. The parliamentarians are idlers. Moreover , in our context, the idea of action itself has been made so elastic that watching repeated shows of the ‘protest’ on TV becomes an action, sitting on your computer working on your facebook , visiting Ramlila Maidan on a holiday with your family munching chips or gulping colas is also action. Television has extended the field of action to our bedrooms. So, all of us are actors while in actuality we are consumers of the grand spectacle of action. The whole nation is feasting on a fast and relishing it. It is one of the safest, state protected protests we are witnessing after the Anti- reservation stir led by the IITians and Medical students. This is the second nationally televised movement after the anti- reservation movement. And please do not forget. Those young men and women did not a have an Anna hazare but they had also fasted. It was their ‘non-violent’ fast which had forced the government to make reservation more ‘equitable.’ When we participate in action in this manner 24X7 we suspend thinking and brush aside ambiguities.

Eco says and we all know it that Ur-Fascism springs from individual or social frustration. He says that one of the characteristics typical of historic Fascist movements was the appeal to the frustrated middle classes , disquieted by some economic crisis or political humiliation and frightened by the social pressure from below. He also tells us that in our times the old proletariats are becoming petit bourgeois,and therefore fascism would have appeal for this new formation. Recently Vinay Sitapathi in his articles in the EPW and the Indian Express talks about the changed character of the middle class which is now largely employed with the non-state, or private sector. He calls it the Shining India. This newly emerging class feels frustrated by the moves of the state like reservation and however cosmetically done, schemes for the minorities. It feels that they are impediments in its path and the state and the parliament is to be blame for it since no political party has the guts to oppose it.

We now have a clearer picture of the way mobilization for this’ movement’ is being done, of the social composition of the youth which is loud in its support for Anna. The affinity that the anti-reservation agitationists feel with this anti-Corruption movement cannot be explained away by saying that in a mass-movement like this there would be contradictory social voices co-existing. This class is impatiently demanding, holds in disdain everything that has some connection with the state. Parliament , for this class is a waste in a time when we need to take fast decisions. Echoing Marx we can say that the ideology of the ruling classes is the ideology of the masses and in our times the ruling mindset is that of this ambitious , ever consuming shining India with little patience for legal or parliamentary processes. The movement against corruption promises quick and final solution to the disease of corruption and is therefore appealing to the Shining India mindset.

A heightened sense of deprivation and an identifiable group as the source of it is another feature of Ur-Fascism. There has to be an enemy with vaunted wealth and power. Eco says that Hitler managed to persuade his people and other part of Europe that Jews were wealthy and helped one-another through a secret network of mutual assistance. In India , Muslims have long been portrayed as illegitimately making claims to what should naturally belong to Hindus. So killing them on mass scale occasionally does not perturb Hindus. Now the taxpaying Shining India has been persuaded that its money is being looted by politicians who seek shelter in and are secured by an institution called the parliament. This is our educated class which firmly believes every minute of Parliament is being paid by it and therefore the parliament has either to listen to it or disappear. Parliament has also been seen as an unholy network of politicians cutting across ideologies and parties which are actually helping each other in looting the people’s money. The new source of loot is this political class and the war has to be against it.

Critics of the movement against corruption say that the parliament is a forum which does not speak in one voice . There are diverse voices, diverse sets of opinion and they should be allowed their space. But, as Eco says and I quote him, “ Ur-Fascism is based on “ qualitative populism.” In a democracy the citizens enjoy individual rights,but as a whole the citizens have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view. For Ur-Fascists …the people is conceived of as a monolithic entity that expresses the “common will.” Since no quantity of human beings can possess a common will , the leader claims to be their interpreter…. the citizens are called upon ..to play their role as the people . the people is thus merely a theatrical pretense.” the following lines of Eco sound very prophetic, “ In our future there looms qualitative TV or Internet populism , in which a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the ‘voice of the people.‘” The future Eco is talking about is our present.

What Eco says further is to be read carefully, “ As a result of its qualitative populism , Ur-Fascism has to oppose “rotten” parliamentary governments. One of the first things Mussolini said in the Italian parliament was , “ I could have transformed this gray and sordid chamber into a bivouac for my soldiers.”…every time a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the ‘voices of the people’, there is a suspicion of Ur-fascism.”

The residences of ministers and MPs are being raided and the parliament is under an unprecedented seize. Mobs are being unleashed on politicians. The element of spontaneity is being used by organized groups as an excuse to defend and rationalize these acts. It would really be a sad day for indian democracy if the parliamentarians fail to resist this onslaught.

An atmosphere has been created where it is impossible to think. Thinking involves complex use of language. But, Eco says, “Ur-fascism uses newspeak. …based on poor vocabulary and elementary syntax”, the aim is “ to limit the instruments available to complex and critical reasoning. But we must be prepared to identify other types of newspeak, even when they take the innocent form a popular talk show.”

Newspeak is glorified as it helps simplify things. It is much harder and requires much time and energy when you invite people to participate in critical reasoning. It is easier to think of a tough , patriarchal Institutional frame as suggested by the leaders of the movement against corruption or a dial 101 which would bring Lok Pal police to you to help you get a bribe seeking babu arrested. Newspeak thrives on the habit of sloganeering. It is also loud and clear and more often than not, eloquent and powerful. It makes a direct appeal to the emotions of the people. That is what Anna does and his other educated leaders do when they make simple appeals , adopt tough postures. But Communicability and eloquence can be deceptive , as Ram Jethmalani said recently in the Rajya Sabha participating in the debate on the impeachment motion against Soumitra Sen,

“Eloquence has nothing to do with morals. It is often the property of the biggest thieves and charlatans. Today glib-talkers are on top of the world and people who cannot talk are nowhere.”

Another feature of Ur-fascism , one may add , is its ability to send different signals to different sets of people and rattle them by the sheer speed and force of its popular appeal. Political parties are forced to declare their stands , intellectuals are shamed into action or are called armchair thinkers and enemies of the people. Universities are called upon to move to streets where democratic education is happening. Poets are asked to frame slogans. Leftists are tempted to join the chorus as the movement does have all the charcteristics of a mass movement and also gives an illusion of open endedness which holds some promise for them as well. They fight pathetically to gain a space on the dais. Thus the movement gathers strength and respectability. But one has to watch out as Eco warns, “ Ur-Fascism is still around us , sometimes in civilian clothes.” With Narendra Modi in 2002 it was easier to identify it. Life in 2011 has becomes much more complex. You would be mocked if you called Modi a fascist now. And it is even more difficult now to tear the Khadi mask that some ordinary shirt and trousers clad persons like us are wearing and leading a movement against corruption representing the anger of the righteous against the corrupt and idlers. What can be fascist about this movement and its leaders? But that is our job, in Eco’s words, “to unmask Ur-Fascism and to point the finger at each of its new forms- every day, in every part of the world.” It is unpopular to do so. So be it.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. Kishore T permalink
    August 24, 2011 7:41 AM

    Absolutely correct. I wish I had the platform and the ability to state things with as much clarity.
    I did read the EPW article you mentioned and I completely agree with the assessment too.

    To add to your concept, don’t forget the hijacking of icons and symbols. A couple of years ago, out of nostalgia, I visited an outlet of Navakarnataka Publications which used to be staunchly leftist (or so I thought) and I was aghast to see books on Bhagat Singh and Azad etc for kids published by ABVP!

    Most people will look incredulous if I tell them that Bhagat Singh was a communist/atheist. When I tell them about Bose being the founder of the FB, they look just as surprised. It is easier to hijack existing symbols/institutions and use them to generate mass hysteria than to start from scratch and build upon them over time. All dictators and fascists do not have the patience to wait many years to get what they want. Thus, the shortcut. Hitler himself states this clearly when speaking about making use of existing organizations to get a jump start.

    A similar thing can be seen here in India with the appropriation of symbols that stand as objects of admiration and patriotism. (In fact, over the years there has been a concerted effort to actually prove that SC Bose was himself a staunch Hindu – thanks to several interviews with his daughter. One might ask how much of her father she has seen or known – although that is digressing from the issue here).

    In all of this, one must not forget that all the original trouble started with the Indira years. There was a lot of cynicism and genuine hatred for the Congress policies and governance and the pettiness that Indira’s politics generated. It is this discontent that was the seed of all the support we see for anything Anti-Congress. For all of us, born in the late 60s and 70s, we have neither seen the Indira years firsthand or if we have, we do not have a firsthand experience or knowledge of the corruption, the exploitation, the high handedness and the wretchedness of it all. However, what we did have was a legacy of bitterness from our elders. All of what we see today is a result of the comments overheard in our childhood from our parents, grandparents and elders.

    So when I hear a young kid proudly announcing that Gandhi was a scoundrel who helped create Pakistan and Nehru was a selfish bigot who was desperate enough to be the first Prime Minister that he gladly agreed to partition India – it makes my blood boil. There might be a grain of truth in all the apocryphal stories. But what really burns me up is that these youngsters have made absolutely no effort whatsoever to learn of this firsthand. No one reads anymore. Everything is hearsay. Moreover, to judge those people from the time of the freedom struggle and at the time of the first birth pangs of a nation, to judge the policies of a time when the country had to first stand up on its young feet – is not just galling but disgusting in the extreme. I would love to wipe the smirk off the faces of the young yuppies who in casual debate tell me that Gandhi was a sly fellow who was up to some hanky panky with his granddaughters.

    The man, the man, the man – a thousand times. He was a man, not a god. In spite of that, he was probably a better man than all the smart yuppies and “second freedom strugglers’ today.
    I blame my elders and their contemporaries for instilling the bitterness and cynicism in the newer generations. Perceived favouritism towards Muslims and the insidious gossip that the Muslims were never meant to be assimilated in our society and how they burst crackers when Pakistan won a cricket match etc – all this led to a sympathetic hearing from the middle class (which was ignorant then, and is ignorant now) and this resulted in the mindless support for the Chaddi-wallahs.
    I sincerely lament the loss of a young Arun Jaitley to a motley band of lunatics who wanted to build a Ram temple. Whatever happened to those sincere young men who were ready to face a fate worse than death at the beckoning of a JP? Or, am I possibly naive enough and were these young gallants always opportunists who wanted to participate in politics in order to gain power?
    Of course, it is quite understandable too. With a ridiculous third front filed with the very same crooks who would destroy it time and again and several experiments at alternate political formations, is it not possible that all these youngsters felt disheartened and joined the only organization that looked like it had a real shot at power – the BJP?
    If only the first time the Janata party had set things right, maybe we could have had a better today and tomorrow. But that is just wishful thinking.

    All this seems like a long digression and I apologize for the lengthy comment. But this is exactly what I want to caution against today. This movement that has brought forth so many on to the streets is bound to end in another disillusionment and a future generation might have it worse because we did not stand up and fight against the events that seemingly are poised to change the very nature/character of our nation. I probably do not have the guts nor the means to stand up for it. But, hopefully, other more influential voices will let reason prevail. Your article is one such voice that will raise the hopes of several other despondent people like me. Thank you for the article.

  2. August 24, 2011 10:02 AM

    There is a simpler way of saying the same thing.
    Fascism is the philosophy of losers who, deep down, know they are losers but run a Ponzi scheme of faked success.

    Hazare and Co. are a bunch of proven losers, nevertheless hyped as ‘role-models’ for Civil Society, who are now driven by cognitive dissonance- they need to have some great achievement to their credit- no matter how mischievous its accomplishment might be.

    Kiran Bedi was hyped as the first woman IPS officer who, by magic, would raise up the status of Indian women and put an end to ‘eve-teasing’ and hopefully look gorgeous while doing so. We can’t blame her for not having lived up to these expectations. Still, it is noteworthy that other IPS officers of her seniority have shown far more insight, intelligence and efficiency. If Bedi doesn’t say senseless things now- like ‘Anna is India, India is Anna’- she will soon have to admit that she’s just a loser who, perhaps because of the hype surrounding her entry into the IPS, has achieved little.

    Agnivesh, at one time was hyped as a second Dayanand Sarasvati who’d turn the Vedas into a Liberation Theology and end Child Labor and acquire a status equal to Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama. He failed. His Liberation theology was third rate. His Vedic hermeneutics a joke, the Arya Samaj recoiled from him in horror, Child Labor was a problem that he had no real interest in- the man was a sham. Even after he suddenly started denouncing America, the Americans had little interest in him. By the standards of godmen, he came of looking like a second rate Babu. Naturally, he’s jumped on this bandwagon. It’s safer than getting slapped by Gujerati Sadhu’s for saying ‘Amarnath is pakhand’ or being quietly bumped off by some Salwa Julum gunman for sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

    The Bhushans have a proprietary interest in the Lok Pal concept and, in any case, are legal professionals. One may commend the filial piety of the son and admire the old man’s refusal to just die already or express his senility in some less noisome manner- but, unless both are exceptionally stupid (and their wealth suggests otherwise) they must understand that the Lok Pal as panacea is an idea that has no relevance today and has already been proven to have failed.
    Bhushan was in the Janata Govt which abrogated the Constitutional right to property. That’s the real problem. The Govt. can take land from Peter and give it to Paul. Whether anyone in the Govt. takes a bribe or not is not relevant. The injustice still stands.

    As for Kejiriwal- what a loser! He graduates from IIT and…. goes to work for the Revenue Service? Who does that? Is he utterly stupid? The guy is a loser. Okay he’s doing quite well out of the NGO side of things and will ultimately be at the same level as people who stayed in the Service, but what’s that compared to actually making things better the way only engineers can?

    The point I’m making is that there isn’t some immanent menace called Ur-fascism lurking in the mirky air- no. There are losers who don’t get that they’re losers. Because they’re losers they seize upon any utterly silly old idea (whose propagation they can monopolize because non-losers don’t like ideas which have already lost) and jump up and down demanding power and attention and all the other goodies that, they hope, will finally convince them they aren’t actually losers.

    But they are.
    And losers such as this we will always have with us so long as we continue to believe that Gandhi and Nehru and Ambedkar and so on weren’t also losers. Except, those three didn’t start out as losers. Nor was it thrust upon them. They simply started to think they were smarter than everybody else. Now they are Gods with statues all over the place.

    Interestingly, in ancient China, a disgraced official whose suicide had prevented his execution, was sentenced to become a God. The local God of Shanghai was one such official. Once we understand that our Gods are losers, we too will prosper like Shanghai

    • dinesh permalink
      August 24, 2011 12:25 PM

      what nonsense. You are only the great achiever.Giving example of China like they care most for human rights.there is a proverb in hindi ,”Khisiyani billi kbamba noche.”
      Is this the strategy of left? Attack people, those don’t fit in your scheme of ideas.
      I feel, you are an overground Maoist as Rahul Pandita mentioned in his book.
      As you are loosing initiative and not able to convince people so you turned yourself on attacking those who are able to mobilize the masses. Great strategy but unlikely to pay any dividends. i feel ashamed to call myself left liberal.Is this left? Do nothing, just castigate, those have taken pain.

      • Natasha permalink
        August 24, 2011 7:00 PM

        @ Dinesh: There is a lot of merit in what Vivek wrote (minus the Shanghai example of course, which you latched on and beat it to death).

      • August 27, 2011 12:06 AM

        what does ‘khisiyani billi kamba noche’ mean?

  3. August 24, 2011 10:39 AM

    Thanks for this lovely & lucid analysis. Have shared it.

    By the way, could someone please look into the font size of the text towards the end of the article?

  4. Charakan permalink
    August 24, 2011 10:50 AM

    Was M K Gandhi also a Ur-fascist? At least some characterestics match.

  5. Vasudevan permalink
    August 24, 2011 12:22 PM

    Kishore’s conclusion of his comment on Apoorvanand’s article, were exactly my sentiment too: “I probably do not have the guts nor the means to stand up for it. But, hopefully, other more influential voices will let reason prevail. Your article is one such voice that will raise the hopes of several other despondent people like me. Thank you for the article.” For an old man like me, already confused by articles of the possible response of the left to this situation, Apoorvanand’s article has provided a clarity.

    • Kishore T permalink
      August 24, 2011 12:48 PM

      Thank you, sir. I was bracing for a barrage of dissenting, acrimonious criticism of the kind that is mistaken for debate these days. Maybe that is the pusillanimity that prevents us from saying anything these days, too. We’d rather not comment for fear of being shouted down by a descending horde of lunatics. More than being a coward, it is the pointlessness of it all – to be called names and to engage in the lowest form of slander and then to sink away silently in a morass of shame and run away without having resolved anything. I truly admire the writers who stick to their point, with dignity and courage.

  6. Avinash Jha permalink
    August 24, 2011 12:26 PM

    I am truly surprised by Apoorvanand’s piece.

    First of all, to portray Anna Hazare as the puppet of some over-zealous activists (who first put Ramdev as the leader and when that didn’t succeed, chose Hazare) seems so blind to me that I do not know how to argue against it. I think Anna Hazare has shown his decisiveness on many occasions in the course of last few months and it seems to me that the tone of impatience and the decisiveness is more his than anyone else’s in the movement.

    The way the movement has developed, various steps that have been taken – the arrest, the refusal to be released from Tihar, exhortation to people to give dharna in front of local MPs houses and offices – it has taken the movement in a direction which has made people more and more fearless in front of a political class which inspired a lot of fear among people on account of the muscle power and money power. This bodes well for future, whatever be the outcome of this movement. It is not only a bill that may or may not come into effect or may or may not be very effective by itself, but more the strength to face up to those in power that will be an essential social resource for future.

    In your entire argument on Fascism you have not raised the question of violence at all. Popular movement can be fascist, but in all such, violence is integral. Of course, a non-violent mobilization can become violent. But till now, we have seen a movement which is ‘kinder and gentler’ than many others in the past. Moreover, there is no demonized (in an essentialist manner) ‘other’. As far as the political class is concerned, there is indeed no distinction between the right and left in the spectrum of political parties as far as the use of money power and muscle power is concerned (notice the skeletons coming out the CPM cupboards, literally).

    There may be similarities in class configuration of the support base of this movement to some fascist mobilizations like the Ramjanmabhoomi one. This may have other reasons. Most movements of the last 2-3 decades have been on behalf of the excluded (class, gender, caste, religion). But there is a large underclass of people who are not excluded in any of these ways, but still are deprived. There have been no movements fought on behalf of this underclass of the included. This has formed the mass support base of fascistic formations like Shiv Sena etc. etc. If this class can join a non-violent movement against corruption, that is something to be welcomed.

    I think we need a new language to understand and analyse a figure like Anna Hazare or a movement like this. Shiv Visvanathan’s open letter to prime minister has glimpses of such a possible language (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/shiv-visvanathans-open-letter-to-the-pm/176067-3.html). Remember also that Shiv Visvanathan has written a lot in the past on ‘necessity of corruption’.

    Corruption issue may go deeper than it seems and it may not be entirely wrong to call it a part of a second freedom movement. The whole state structure was inherited lock, stock and barrel from the British one, which was naturally designed to rule, and not to serve. People now had brown masters instead of white ones. Independence is only half-achieved till this state structure is democratized, and people are empowered with respect to it.

    • August 24, 2011 1:50 PM

      ‘Corruption issue may go deeper than it seems and it may not be entirely wrong to call it a part of a second freedom movement. ‘
      My own impression is that, contra the IAS history books, the original freedom struggle was against being governed at all. What we call the ‘freedom struggle’ was actually a sort of Quango, called into being by the Govt. and working closely with retd. ICS officers, which acted as an interlocutor and which hindered rather than helped the Govt. along its path. Note that Sri Lanka, where people like the Bandarnaikes and Coomaraswamys and so on worked much more productively with the Govt, got more faster than India- for e.g. universal suffrage in 1931 or thereabouts.

      To get a handle on corruption we need to consider what sort of phenomenon it represents. I’d classify it along with price, wage and service provision discrimination. Essentially, it represents an extraction of consumer or producer surplus. Crucially, it requires a cheap indefeasible method of segmentation. However, gender, color, creed- but also class (and in India caste)- provide ready made segmentation markers. Thus corruption will tend to be discriminatory in a manner that reinforces existing Inequities. For this reason, the Economic ‘transformation potential’ (Mushtaq Khan) of Corruption is off-set by Social retardation such that the productivity of discriminated against sections is adversely impacted.

      You write ‘Independence is only half-achieved till this state structure is democratized, and people are empowered with respect to it.’ In terms of Fiscal policy, this means nothing but subsidiarity. That would be worth mass protests and hunger strikes. Transparency without subsidiarity is pretty meaningless from the point of view of democratization.

  7. August 24, 2011 12:35 PM

    We’ve started a movement to make this alternate voice heard. The idea is to create an online campaign through social media & blogs, appealing to people’s sense of reason. Wherever our resources permit us, we’ll also take this on ground. Please join us on our FB page and contribute through your ideas and in kind (helping us with resources to take the movement on ground)

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Alternate-Voice/181614248576261

  8. August 24, 2011 1:08 PM

    I too watched the interview that you talk about and maybe because of my naivety I could not see through the arrogant confidence that you talk about. You have mentioned that they are not giving the Parliament the time to debate the bill. Let us assume senses return to the group that calls itself Team Anna. So they will say – we have removed all timelines. Now, we will not fast. I am assuming what we are going to do is let things take their due course. So the Parliament will discuss government’s version of the lokpal. I am sorry to say but I am not hopeful of a stronger Lokpal if the source is the govt bill. Having said, I am not saying “Jan Lokpal bill or no bill”. There is room for negotiation. Is there such a possibility being explored? Was the government not aware that Anna Hazare and his team had decided (and in your language – threatened) to fast from Aug 16th. Did the govt not know that there were thousands of misguided middle class youth who were flocking to support this movement? What did it do about this? Nothing.

    I think in the interview, you did not pay attention to the manner and questioning of the interviewer himself. As rightly put, he was more interested in speaking rather than listening. If the bill is really of importance to the government, has it even started consultations on the matter. The govt of the day has been more busy in discussing how to resolve the crisis of this fast rather than discuss the contents of the bill.

    I am not a blind supporter of this movement and I do know there are a lot of points that go against it but I would really appreciate if the author presents a balanced case – not because it looks good but because that is how one helps people form opinions.

  9. August 24, 2011 2:58 PM

    Excerpts from editorial, Sept 2011 issue of Liberation (forthcoming )-

    Combat Corruption, Protect Land, Defend Democracy

    In a shameful assault on democracy..the Congress-UPA Government launched an offensive on citizens’ freedom, and arrested anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and others. Subsequently, a massive countrywide upsurge against this arrest and crackdown on democratic protest forced the Government not only to release Hazare, but also to give him permission to hold his fast at Ramlila Grounds…

    The PM’s Independence Day speech had already shown the way for this crackdown, by warning against peaceful forms of protest, and branded democratic activists as ‘people who are trying to create disturbances.’ The President’s Independence Eve speech also warned that people’s movements could lead to ‘erosion of credibility and authority’ of Parliament. Earlier, the Home Minister P Chidambaram had argued that since the Lokpal Bill has been tabled in Parliament, any ‘extra-parliamentary protests’ on this issue would be ‘unconstitutional.’ The huge people’s protest that greeted the arrest of Anna Hazare is a signal of how thoroughly the people have rejected such dishonest arguments. The people have made it clear that if anything is unconstitutional and a threat to democracy it is the government’s attempts to muzzle protest, and not people’s movements!

    .. It is true that with the Baba Ramdev stream effectively pushed out of reckoning, the RSS network has started throwing its entire weight behind the Anna agitation, and the attitudes and views of many of Team Anna including Anna himself are often contradictory and inconsistent on many integral aspects of democracy or a progressive social vision. But that makes it all the more important for all in the progressive camp to step in with all their might and lead the popular anti-corruption awakening in a consistently democratic direction…

    Now the debate has clearly moved beyond Lokpal…here are concerns over the prospect of concentration of too much power in the hands of the proposed ‘Jan Lokpal’, there are also concerns over the JLP bill’s silence over corporate corruption given that corruption today thrives not just under the table in government offices but is fueled most prominently by the private sector, whether thanks to outright privatization or through the ubiquitous public-private partnership.

    But beyond the specific content of Lokpal legislation, the government has made it into a people versus parliament debate and even some in the Left have fallen for the claim of saving parliament from the people or saving parliamentary democracy from the whims of mobocracy as they would like us to believe. Thus the movement has already progressed from ‘Lokpal’ to ‘Loktantra’ – from the specific turf of an ombudsman to the domain of democracy, be it resisting state repression or asserting the rights of the people’s movement.

    ..[I]t is necessary to emphasise the organic links between the anti-corruption movement and the anti-corporate thrust of a whole range of ongoing people’s struggles. With the rural development ministry releasing the draft of the proposed land acquisition bill, it is also clear that the government is bent upon legalising and accelerating the ongoing corporate war on farmland and forest and tribal-inhabited land. The anti-corruption campaign must therefore seek closer unity with the anti-privatisation struggles of the working class and students as well as ongoing people’s movement in defence of land and livelihood.

    The CPI(ML) seeks precisely to emphasise and embody the linkage between the anti-corruption movement and the broader resistance against corporate plunder of productive resources and state-inflicted denial of people’s rights. The August 9 jail bharo agitation and the August 9-12 student-youth day-and-night barricade at Jantar Mantar marked both the culmination of one phase and the beginning of the next phase with the battlecry “Combat Corruption, Protect Land, Defend Democracy.”..

  10. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    August 24, 2011 3:53 PM

    Your first line nicely sums up the time-worn Left principle, Apoorvanand: “When the people march to the barricades, I go back to my library.”
    Yes, the key to understanding a movement in early 21st century India has to be found in some texts written in another place and another time. Just that in 1974, during the anti-Fascist conferences in Patna, it was the books of Lenin and Dimitrov (and the CPSU resolutions); now that they are not ‘in’(or not there) any more, it is Umberto Eco! Gives a clue to many things….
    I am waiting impatiently for a full-fledged theory of fascism to emerge from India now: Mamata was/is a fascist, Ramdev was/is a fascist, Anna Hazare is a fascist, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal are ur-Fascists (and you are not the only one saying all this). Maybe, it can be a collective production of the Indian School of Radicalism!

    • rohit negi permalink
      August 24, 2011 10:40 PM

      Yes, and also that by terming what’s happening here fascism one is not abiding by the experiences of those who’ve found themselves at the short end of ‘real’ Fascists. While one is also, in a strange way, redefining and even sanitizing fascism. I can here imagine a response from those less likely to have visited a good library: ‘if this [Anna et al] is what fascism is, then I’m proud to be a fascist!

      ps. sorry to burst the bubble, but you are not a small, unpopular minority, but in academic circles, what you have just outlined is part of the predominant analysis.

    • August 25, 2011 12:51 AM

      Well said Aditya. No problem in studying about the movement,but a field study would have been better

  11. GAM permalink
    August 25, 2011 1:41 AM

    Excellent piece of analysis…Thank you..:)…and Please keep writing for u write exceedingly well…

  12. ajay permalink
    August 25, 2011 1:43 AM

    I am beginning to worry if you have read Gandhi well yourself. Because in your fawning fascination for Umberto Eco, and disgorging ‘his or ur-fascism’; before reaching any conclusions about Anna, you have reached conclusions about Gandhi (that is not of course what you wanted, given the new found liking for Gandhi among some not-so-Gandhian quarters and the sense of legitimizing everything by relating it somehow to it..Gandhians with Guns is still in the air!). Ok, let us take your, or rather your library-induced, five points:

    Cult of Tradition: After a massive earthquake in Bihar in 1934, Gandhi wrote in Harijan: “I want you to be superstitious enough to believe with me that the earthquake is a divine chastisement for the great sin we have committed against those we describe as Harijans”. He called earthquake a divine chastisement. Can anything be more traditional and irrational than this?

    Rejection of modernism: ah, I can’t write the whole Hind Swaraj here. Spare me that burden. But read it yourself and tell me if ‘rejection of modernism’ could be any more ‘vulgar’ (the words is in keeping with ur, or your alter Eg(c)o’s, tastes).

    Action for Action’s sake: After Chauri Chaura, Gandhi went on a five day fast as a way of self-punishment, for not having made the people ready for something like a non-cooperation movement. In short, he practiced action for action’s sake, without reflecting much. Abhorring critical attitudes – Gandhi did not change his own attitude much despite criticism from all sorts of people – Tagore, Bose, Nehru, Ambedkar and so on.

    Individual or social frustration/appeal of frustrated middle classes: (ah, by now I am beginning to wonder if at all there is a movement of any kind possible) Yes, every movement stems out of frustration. You see, no one likes to protest because it is an individual’s metabolic necessity. People protest because they are frustrated, So when people in Egypt – I have a sudden fit of epiphany, wasn’t it too a middle class movement – protested, it was a pent up frustration that came out. So only fascism is not only capable of arousing the depraved masses. Nevertheless, coming back to Gandhi, wasn’t our independence movement too largely led and fed by the middle classes?

    Sense of deprivation and an identifiable enemy: I do not need to explain this. Yes, the Gandhian movement was exactly this. But can anything be more unfortunate than what you wrote: “It would really be a sad day for indian democracy if the parliamentarians fail to resist this onslaught” (how should they do it by the way? You could suggest). ‘Unprecedented siege, onslaught, spontaneity of organized mobs, etc.’ – all kind of draconian things you seem to suggest to be happening to our delicate, fragile (‘dove-bathed’ seems more appropriate to project their suppleness that you present) parliamentarians – seem like nice provocative words, but you know deep down they are just that – provocative words. They are well ensconced in their homes and offices, enjoying the dim light of the candles or the fragrance of the roses. At worst they will face a non-violent gherao, and trust me you do not have to worry about their medical bills (which they would in case not pay out of their own pockets) since all it would do is keep them inside their AC cars for a couple of hours.

    Meanwhile, you have done a fantastic job of proving to me that Gandhi was a fascist (oh sorry) ur-fascist. To hell with him and kudos to Nathuram Godse then for removing that Hitler-sque presence from amongst us! Cheers!!

    • Kishore T permalink
      August 25, 2011 6:21 AM

      I do realize that you have addressed the author directly and I have no business commenting on your comment. However, for all your wonderful language and thoughtful analysis, I would still like to differ (and digress, as I usually do).

      Cult of tradition: Do not ever forget that Gandhi was a wily politician as well and I do not mean that in the sense of the RK Laxman cartoons with fat men wearing Gandhi topis. If he could use the sentiment to push forward a pet theme, then yes, it would seem insensitive but would be an ideal way of educating someone through shock. If I were in his place, I would employ the same means to shock a people into giving up what is not right.

      Rejection of modernism: I see nothing wrong in it. I stepped out of a metro and went back to my seaside village a long time ago and have never gone back to the tech world in years. That does not mean that I turned myself into a complete imbecile without any means of livelihood. In these days of BT Brinjal and god-knows-what-else I prefer to grow my own veggies, breathe a cleaner air and I have not had any desire to go back to the frenzy of your modern world. Am I a loser? In your eyes, probably. Of course, the rejection of modernism a la Gandhi would be even more difficult and, to agree with you, improbable. But, in the end, when you are older and do not wish to struggle anymore, you will be left wondering what it was all for and if all the achievements and the hard work were worth your while. His vision may have been flawed, but did Gandhi ever tell people that this would be his diktat? I would probably agree with you in condemning him for the luddite in him that ended in the callous loss of his wife, because of his abhorrence of modern medicine. Was he wrong? Probably. But I would still look at modernism as the cause of all the senseless wastage that I see around the world. Can we go back to the stone ages? No, we cannot and should not. But a little moderation would have helped.

      Action for action’s sake: Whatever does that mean? He should not have called off the movement after Chauri Chaura? He should not have shown his remorse or misgiving of the results of that experiment? More importantly, the criticisms of Tagore and the others were not at that occasion (correct me if I am wrong) but it was after the Poona pact, when Ambedkar bitterly complained about the Mahatma using his fast as a political weapon. Do you not see the greatness of all the people you mentioned, who while considering him a great man could still show dissent when they felt he was wrong? Would you be prouder of him if he DID change his thoughts and attitudes and principles each time someone criticised him?

      Sense of deprivation and an identifiable enemy: You have not said anything about it explicitly. But the lines following disturb me a bit. Non-violent gherao of the MPs. Who controls the violent or non-violent character of a mob? What happens when a spark ignites and causes a chain reaction elsewhere? What if it is someone else, an outsider, who wants to create mischief and causes the first violent spark? Are you telling us that all the people involved in this movement are Gandhians or non-violent? I foresee dark days ahead and I would really be glad if my thoughts were disproved completely. I do not see any peace in the coming days, but if I am completely mistaken in my foreboding, then it is a welcome snub to my despair.

      Lastly, your comment applauding the action of a Godse is not what I would call provocative, but unutterably sad. A man died – Mahatma or not – and died at the hands of a misguided patriot (as some would call him). A few decades later, the very same people he cherished seem to celebrate his removal from the world. I can not and will not pity you or say that you should be condemned for thinking so – it is your prerogative to use your thoughts and words as you wish. However, the thinking induces anguish in a fool like me. I hope you will value life above all else – nobody, not even the vilest person, deserves to be killed for maintaining his beliefs. I am not a Gandhian, never have been and will never be one – simply because I am not competent to be one. But I firmly believe that what that man (not god not mahatma) left behind as a legacy is the reason why we are able to discuss this in a public forum without fear or rancour or unseemly scenes. I sincerely hope that some day, when a calmer sense prevails, you will wonder if the man who died deserved to die the way he died. You are free to criticise him until then.

      PS: My apologies if any of this seemed provocative or confrontational. Not my purpose nor my business. Just venting a grief that my people have descended to an insensitive level and mentality that brooks no dissent.

      • ajay permalink
        August 25, 2011 9:18 AM

        I wonder if you caught the drift of my satire. I wasn’t eulogizing Godse but merely taking Eco’s ur-Fascism to its ‘logical’ end. I am really glad that you have come so staunchly to the rescue of Gandhi, even though some of the ‘non-explainables’ become political strategies and others remain moral ethics. To remove the mask, I am a great ‘unapologetic’ fan of Gandhi, despite all his shortcomings. His in-your-face-traditionism, anti-modernity, stubbornness to stay true to his words (however ridiculous they seem at times) all have their pluses like you have mentioned. My criticism, if you could read the undertones, was against forcefully using some one else’s vocabulary – Umberto Eco in this case – to define a movement which overtly may seem to fit-in with your (the author’s) purpose in this case. I am sorry if it caused you disgust – frankly I wrote it with as much disgust as you felt.

      • Kishore T permalink
        August 25, 2011 1:32 PM

        So sorry, Ajay. Lack of sleep or simply my inability to understand nuanced writing. However, not disgust, sadness – that someone so familiar with Gandhi’s writings and words could use it so callously. My mistake. Hopefully, no harm done. I need to give it a rest. Not really a crusader or defender of anything. So, apologies and warm regards.

    • August 25, 2011 11:45 PM

      Ajay, A splendid annihilation of ur-fascism.

  13. rajphys permalink
    August 25, 2011 2:43 AM

    Eco has been overly broad,and in a sense sloppy in his categorization here. He is using a new word “Ur-fascism” and technically it can mean whatever he wants it to mean. But if you are using qualifiers with broadly accepted and charged words like fascism, you cannot be that sloppy. And any one of the criterion is enough? A lot of example fits into that description one way or other. In latin american context Evo Morales, with his clever use of traditional tribal iconography comes to mind. I am not sure if apoorva thinks he is an “Ur-fascist”.

    What we are seeing is a populist movement with a right wing authoritarian bent. That does not neccessarily make it a fascist movement. What has happened is that with the advent of technology and an unprecedented flow of information, the governing consensus of elites is no longer enough to sustain governance. This is a global phenomenon which has taken different forms in different places. In a way, this is close to Chomsky’s wish of breaking the governing compact, although it is working completely opposite to his vision. This is an opportunity to remake governing contracts. The current movement iis shifting the contract to the right by working towards a top-down bureaucratic agency with unprecedented consolidation of power; the question is whether there is strong enough civil libertarian voices in the country to channel it towards a different direction.

  14. Rohini permalink
    August 25, 2011 11:59 AM

    Thank you, Apoorvanand, this is absolutely brilliant. A very original piece.

  15. Shirish Inamdar permalink
    August 25, 2011 2:00 PM

    Could not have been said in a better way! Our hearts and minds should be with the millions of Indians who neither give bribe nor accept them, yet believe in the Indian Constitution and all-inclusive social & economic development. The so-called middle class strengthening Anna,s hands is selfish and self-centric to the core. It wants to have the cake and eat it too. To facilitate this, it is attacking the Parliament and paralyzing the Constitutional process of law-making. For them, going to Ramleela maidan or to light candles post 26/11 is important and easier than to vote in general elections. This middle class is spending almost as equal an amount of wealth on sending and educating their children in foreign countries as it claims to have been dumped in Swiss banks by our politicians.

    The sheer disregard for rule of the law by the so-called anti-corruption brigade is frightening. Virtual collapse of public order and tranquility, mockery of the law implementing agencies is there for everybody to see. Is this a new freedom that Anna and his cohorts envisage? The remedy seems to be deadlier than the malady itself. Let all the like-minded people like us unite and save country from these hypocrites! Amen!

  16. partha sengupta permalink
    August 25, 2011 2:50 PM

    i also saw the same but for me to conclude i didnt need a library…karan thapar was just trying to impose upon Arvind and Shanti bhusan and the question is what will the parliament deliberate upon ?..we all watched a remarkable speech by arun jaitly and the plethora of issues concerning corruption came to light, but what was the result..nothing. if the deliberations are on the lokpal bill as presented to the standing commitee then there is no justification of involving team anna in the joint drafting commitee in the first place and why is all this disscussions and deliberations be away from public gaze in side closed door’s..this hush-hush attitude of government should throw a thousand question and karan should invite salman and arvind togethar to present their views and let the public be much informed to take a stand.

  17. nina rao permalink
    August 26, 2011 11:18 PM

    wonderful, having been discussing these issues, but it is so well put and such a fine way of approaching the Jan Lok Pal agitation. Great that Udit Raj has a Bahujan Bill now. Bedi and Om Puri today from the stage could have been case studies for this article.Great.Thanks.

    • August 26, 2011 11:49 PM

      @Nina= Ma’am, something very touching and appealing in your comment. My affection for Udit Raj arises from love and reverence of his community and tradition and some theophanic ‘divine discontent’ in his own personality.

      Sorry to trouble you to spell things out which may be obvious to North Indian people, but Ma’am I’d be grateful to understand the sub-text of this ‘Bedi and Om Puri today from the stage could have been case studies for this article.’

  18. Kanwaljot permalink
    August 28, 2011 12:54 AM

    Beautiful analysis.

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