What is right-wing about the anti-corruption movement? – Saroj Giri
Guest post by SAROJ GIRI
A draft for discussion
A ruling class contradiction is being played out as anti-corruption movement. It is however politically articulated as ‘a movement of the people’ with possibly a space for the left to intervene. Can the tide be turned against the right-wing upper classes?
“What we are witnessing (the anti-corruption movement) is nothing short of a revolution. Only on two earlier occasions in recent memory such grand scale people’s participation was recorded. The first was under Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan in mid-seventies. The second was during the Ayodhya movement, in the early nineties, propelled by L K Advani’s historic Rath yatra.” This is the RSS Organiser magazine (August 21-28, 2011).
“The anti-corruption movement must resist repression in every form and align itself with the struggles for democratic transformation in India. Only then can it defeat the UPA Government’s efforts to defend corruption and unleash repression, and expose the BJP’s false claims of championing democracy and resisting corruption.” This is the CPIML Liberation (ML Update, 07-13 June 2011)
“At our previous meetings, we have realized that lack of political awareness in the middle class often served as major bottleneck in the spread of communist movement and the time is ripe when the public outrage against governance evident today through the mass participation in the Hazare-Ramdev movement should be channelized in the right direction,” (Maoist spokesperson Manas in ‘Maoists lend support to Hazare mission’ Times of India, June 8, 2011)
Same movement. Different interpretations, different appropriations?
So is it a right-wing or a left-wing movement? Or are there shades of grey?
Loads can be written about what is right-wing about this movement or why it is right-wing. But it is very clear that this movement is not at the same time like the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. No reasons had to be given why that movement was not a progressive movement – it was obvious. With the Anna Hazare movement, it is not that obvious. So people are giving reasons to show why this is right-wing too.
But the reasons given are mostly empirical and behavioral, relying on the acts of omission and commission of the movement or the imageries used and the slogans raised. So it will be told that this movement is not raising the question of corporate corruption for example, or that it is against social justice and opposes reservations. Arundhati Roy asks, why is Hazare not talking about Operation Green Hunt. Or one points to the overt display of Hindu right-wing imagery and symbols. I wonder why such reasons and grounds need to be given to prove the right-wing character of this movement – something we need not do for say, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
So what is the difference here? In providing such reasons it seems to me that one is trying to suggest that there is no essential right-wing character to this movement, that this movement can change its character if only it includes say corporate corruption or casteism in what it means by corruption. Those critiquing it (as well as the above two statements from left parties) tend to suggest that this movement has a progressive potential since the fight against corruption can go beyond what it presently is, that this movement’s right-wing character is not positivistically given but is contingent upon the balance of political forces that push it forward. This is like treating the anti-corruption movement as an empty signifier. There is a contradictory character to this movement – a contradiction which allows one to assume that the left can effectively intervene in it.
But then there are those on the left who do not see any potential in this movement and reject it as right-wing in a way that leaves no scope for a left intervention. While this position takes the right-wing character of the movement as fixed and definitive, it however still operates with the same empty signifier model. That is so since it does not locate the right-wing character at the level of a deeper logic but only in terms of the contingent balance of forces. Its difference with the other approach is only that it believes the RSS and its affiliates have fully taken over the movement and there is no way one can now challenge that. What both positions share is the refusal to identify the right-wing character at the level of the structural logic at work.
I propose that the right-wing character cannot be located in these contingent factors.
It is here that we see that this movement and particularly the stand-off between the government and the authoritarian upper middle classes is an expression of the balance of class forces inIndiatoday. The basic question here is the question of managing the class struggle – how to control the poor, the political mechanism and instruments of control of the poplar classes n the fact of increasing disparities and heightened exploitation pushed by the neoliberal regime. And here I propose that we must not be solely focused on only the RSS type Hindu right, but of the technocratic right-wing – market-friendly, global Indian, ID-loving kinds. We will come to that towards the end.
What is essentially a right-wing agenda is however politically articulated in terms of a wider process which touches a chord with vast sections of the poplar classes. This only means that the movement of the people, along with some kind of organization, can push the movement and the agenda of fighting corruption beyond its right-wing ‘character’. Bt the fact that the right-wing character is more appropriately located not in the contingent factors of who is controlling it (RSS control) but in its deeper logic means that this movement of the people must be organised and well-directed, involving a conscious political intervention.
In short, there is no open-endedness at the level of the structural logic of the anti-corruption issue – that is, it has a definitive right-wing character to it. However in terms of the movement of the people it is displays contradictoriness and open-endedness. I will try to show below what provides this open-endedness in spite of the strong presence of the RSS and its affiliates. Then I show that the movement is controlled by the Hind right, the issue of corruption itself does not seem to be commnalised. Lastly I show how the conflict between the authoritarian middle classes and the democratic government is nothing but a reflection of ruling class contradictions about the right kind of strategies to be adopted for the containment of the popular classes under neoliberalism – the rite of passage for generalising Modi-style good governance, transparency and efficiency with UID and other instruments in tow. This is the political clearing of ground to clinch and consolidate the shift from democratic containment to technocratic of the popular classes.
Organic whole, internal divides
Let us here look at the question of right-wing character, particularly Hindu communal mobilization at the level of the movement of the people. And here I will point out how this movement does not lend itself to a full-scale Hindu right-wing appropriation. It is true that the movement is deeply nationalistic and macho. The reason why we are supposed to fight corruption is so thatIndiacan march ahead, a resurgent and powerfulIndiaand so on – here the hawkish, strong state and efficientIndiadream is unmistakable. But what constitutes thisIndiawhich is aggrieved, which is apparently the victim of corruption? I can imagine here the RSS can come up with a trope saying that just as Bharat Mata was once afflicted by Moslem invasion, then by pseudo-secularism, it is today afflicted by corruption. However there is a problem as this or similar narrative does not seem to be taking off.
The problem exists for such a right-wing appropriation partly since the very issue of anti-corruption as it exists resists that. Unless of course the Hindu right is able to show something to the effect that those corrupt are all Muslims, Dalits or immigrants. That clearly is not the case – which means while they might control the show, manning entry and exit to and from the movement, the issue of corruption itself is not communalized. This points to the contradictory nature of the issue at the level of movement of the people. But it must erect an enemy, it must invoke some divide in society, something which is afflicting organically homogeneous and harmonious Mother India from the outside (or an external enemy inside). My understanding is that it is failing in erecting any such image in the context of the anti-corruption movement.
The deeper problem for the Hindu right is that any serious focus on the anti-corruption issue means complicating its story about an organic harmonious whole called Hindu Rashtra being attacked by an external enemy. Instead this issue points to internal divides, internal contradictions – netas and babus or taking of bribes. Or it points to those whose black money is stashed away in Swiss banks – also internal. Anna Hazare’s otherwise problematic slogan too points to the internal divides: he often repeats that it is not just the external enemies we fight but also the traitors within. He shows a scar on his forehead from his time in the army and says how he has fought the external enemies of the country but now it is time to fight the internal enemies – the point is that there is no link essential connection or nexus drawn between this internal and the external enemy. The internal enemies are actually internal.
The usual right-wing move is to show that the traitor within is somehow linked up with forces outside, some Pakistan or ISI connection or infiltration from across the border, or Muslim invasion and so on – instances which preserves the idea of a pure and homogeneous organic whole from time immemorial. Now this narrative is not working here. Instead in a strange twist it is the other way round – the Indian anti-corruption movement is infiltrating across the border toPakistan! The Pakistani right-wing and the corrupt establishment are more fortunate – they can more effectively resort to the right-wing tactic of declaring the anti-corruption movement there as ‘foreign hand’ out to givePakistana bad name!
Out here then the anti-corruption issue so far resists appropriation by the RSS brand of right-wing politics – it does not resist though the appropriation by the technocratic right, which then points to the larger dynamics of the anti-corruption issue. This is not to deny the presence of RSS and its organizations – including ‘volunteer organizations’ and NGOs. In fact it is more than a presence – the RSS most likely controls and keeps a close watch on all the happenings. However in terms of communalizing the very notion of corruption, this does not seem to have happened.
Rich and poor divide
If you look at the divides around which the Anna Hazare movement mobilizes people then the rich and poor divide is quite central. And the Ramdev phase is crucial here as it marked a transition of sorts from the Anna Hazare stage 1 movement to the present stage. It is in the Ramdev phase that the movement went outside its narrow upper middle class base and got people from the lower middle classes and the poor – without, let us be clear, losing its basic upper middle class right-wing orientation. What was the centerpiece slogan around which this broadbasing took place?
This centerpiece slogan was the one on kala dhan – black money stashed away in Swiss banks. This kala dhan was to brought back not just to give a blow to corruption in the country – but it was told that this was to be done in the interests of the poor. The dream that Ramdev and others peddled to the poor was that if only that money is brought back, there will be no more any poor in this country. This story is more refined now. Big boards at the Ram Lila Maidan today give you a detailed breakup of how much money each district and village and even each person will get once the black money is brought back – so we will all get rich. The approach here to poverty is of course extremely superficial and populist – not very different from what was propagated by the pro-market Chinese communist party after Mao: ‘it is good to be rich’.
In a sense then the rich-poor divide underpins the fight against corruption – this is what appeals to the popular classes. Being poor is not a natural state of affairs. There is a reason behind it and we can perhaps do something about it. A collective effort can be made to counter it and bring about some kind of change. The grip of the stats quo and business as usual loosened a bit – does this not open the space for the left to now intervene?
Authoritarianism versus democracy?
The contradictory picture for the Hindu right then is that while it attempts to save Bharat Mata from the scourge of corruption, the issue of corruption itself is not communalized. Hence the popular classes are getting mobilized not against a racialised or ethnicised enemy or against Muslims or immigrants but against the corrupt – who here happens to be politicians, minister, bureaucrats and so on. Bharat Mata’s patently communalized Hindu identity seems less pertinent if she presides over a nation where the central divide is not between Hindu and the (enemy) non-Hindu, but between the rich and the poor, or between the corrupt and honest.
Thus the Hindu right-wing domination of the anti-corruption movement is riven by internal tensions and huge gaps that cannot be overlooked. But this does not of course mean that this ongoing anti-corruption movement is not essentially right-wing. And here we most do some structural analysis and need to focus on the question of the balance of class forces and the efforts of the ruling classes to contain the popular classes – and Modi’s techno-fascism as the active subconscious of the anti-corruption movement (see my piece in the Economic and Political Weekly, June 25, 2011). This is what explains why the upper middle classes, who are anyways mired in corruption, suddenly find it so important to fight it at this juncture today.
First what is the authoritarianism versus democracy struggle all about?
As I have argued elsewhere this fight is about the hawkish middle class telling the government to shed off the democratic garb and tone down mass politics and instead usher in ‘clean governance’, technocratic rule and fast growth. Thanks to Parliament and its democracy and social justice the dangerous classes are coopted and included enough to no longer require reservations, rights, social justice, mass democratic politics and the like. How long will inclusive democracy, reservations and so on continue? If democracy and reservations continue beyond what is necessary to contain the poor and the marginalized, then these policies become part of corruption: vested interests, vote banks, appeasements and so on. We should therefore shift from democratic containment to technocratic containment of the masses – enter UID.
Social justice is equal to corruption. That is the equation the right-wing middle class is trying to establish. Hence the best way to fight social justice and push the free market agenda is to say merely that you are against corruption. Those opposing NREGA is not going to tell you that they are against the poor or that they are against social justice. They need only self-righteously say that they are against corruption and that will do the trick. For, isn’t it established, the argument goes, that NREGA leads to corruption, vested interests, and ultimately to vote bank politics?
The crucial upshot: the poor can not only be deprived of the benefits of social justice policies but can also be mobilized for the same, all in the name of the apparently just cause of fighting corruption! So if the popular classes are so coopted, so internalized and included in democracy, then why bother with social justice and representative democracy and so on. Bring about Modi style technocratic rule all over the country with high growth, public amenities, and a happy people with asmita about to transformIndia into another Hong Kong orSingapore!
In other words, replace democratic containment with technocratic containment – this to me seems to be the overall logic of this process. Should we not locate the right-wing logic at this level instead of only at the level of the RSS Hindu right? Which only means that even without the Hindu right, that is, even if this movement and the struggle for Lok Pal Bill were to be led by Modi-hating impeccable leftists, the right-wing logic to it would not go away. Hence the struggle against the right-wing has to be located keeping this in mind. The authoritarians are calling for technocratic containment while those for democracy are calling for democratic containment – hence there are no sides to be taken here and one mst align against this very terrain of false divides. Democratic containment leads to too many market distortions and inefficiencies (isn’t corruption a market distortion?) – all this will be straitened out by technocratic rule, by techno-fascism if you please.
Popular classes defending Parliament?
Clearly then we cannot narrowly restrict the right-wing designation only to the Anna Hazare movement or only to the RSS or to the upper middle classes – that is we cannot restrict ourselves only to opposing technocratic containment but also must include democratic containment, carrot and stick, authoritarian ‘civil society’ and ‘democratic government’. But talking about democratic containment, will the traditional recipients of social justice benefits, reservations and so on rise up to defend the Indian parliament and democracy against the anti-government upper middle classes? Shouldn’t they? Sorry to sound rhetorical, but why are the popular classes not rising up in defence of the democratic government? ((http://sanhati.com/excerpted/4049/)
Some Dalit leaders and left activists have rightly denounced the right wing core of this movement but they stop short of defending the government. Perhaps here we have the most decisive indictment of Indian democracy and its progressive avatar. And it is difficult not to conclude from this that the basic orientation of the government’s social policies for the poor and the marginalized were to contain them and their resistance in order to ease the passage of neoliberal policies. Instead of any real politicization of the popular classes, these policies seem designed to at best prop up interest groups and pro-state factions within deprived or marginalized communities – social movements too were so focused on getting this or that progressive social policy passed, as is the case today where the Left is supposed to back the best version of the Lok Pal Bill. It helps mentioning that the Bolivarian Revolution inVenezuelahas an interesting way of not reducing the popular classes to mere recipients of benefits but of keeping them politicized, so that they have their own political subjectivity. Hence they fight right-wing upper middle class mobilizations, defending Chavez and the government often with great militancy.
In India however the popular classes have sensed that the Parliament and the political dispensation here (precisely in its democratic best) is more interested in democratic containment than any real ‘empowerment’ of the masses. Even if the democratic spaces provided by Parliament can be sometimes used to further develop the progressive movement, the government’s basic orientation is to favor a right-wing agenda. Moreover, Indian democracy has been opportunistic right since its inception in and around 1947. It can be shown for example that it was really to contain the demand for separate electorates that secularism for minorities and reservations for Depressed Classes were adopted. Today the proponents of Indian democracy talk about secularism and reservations as though they emanated from a singular and definitive commitment to these ‘values’. Similarly it is only to defuse the situation after the Telangana armed struggle that bhoodan (land redistribution) is carried out. More recently you have for example the Home Secretary saying that Forest Rights Act is necessary in order to contain the attraction adivasis have for the Maoists. So it is not entirely inexplicable that the popular classes rally behind the so-called authoritarian upper middle classes than defend the present Parliament and its democracy.
And yet, were the dangerous classes to assert themselves, the right-wing middle classes will most likely go over to gang up with the Parliament and the government – the default mode. They are extremely chummy on intensifying Operation Green Hunt, on the question of terror, privatization, relations with the US-Israel axis and so on. That is, both ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘democracy’ would be on the same side – no real divide between the two. This shows that this divide cannot be sustained in any real sense. It is only when the dangerous classes lie low that the dominant classes enter into internal conflict and disagreements even though their fundamental class interests are the same.
Thus, the so-called authoritarianism of the middle classes is merely a continuation of the authoritarianism of the Parliament and the ruling classes. The struggle from the perspective of the left therefore cannot be merely about bringing in the democratic Lok Pal Bill as against the authoritarian Jan Lok Pal Bill. Nor is it about merely rejecting the Anna Hazare movement as right-wing and fighting for a so-called progressive Indian democracy and Parliament. The authoritarianism versus democracy conflict is no more than the ruling classes trying to resolve the question of how to manage class relations, how to keep the popular classes in place, particularly in the period of neoliberalism where even the minimum protection is not available to labour and the working classes, where accumulation through dispossession takes place against the ‘rural proletariat’. The technocratic right-wing is up against democratic containment as a strategy of rule – this has strong elements of a ruling class contradiction.
On the other hand, in the manner in which this ruling class contradiction is getting articulated politically as the fight against corruption, we have here a movement where the participation of the popular classes cannot be fully contained by the right-wing (both Hindu and technocratic). But this can be ensured only through conscious and organised left intervention. Further it is not merely a question of filling up the empty signifier of anti-corruption by a left-wing content – passing a democratic Lok Pal Bill, or defending the democratic government and so on. The right-wing we target must be understood in terms of its deeper logic and wider reach – and here the balance of class forces in the period of neoliberalism, the class struggle to be precise, is what is instrumental.