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Are We Talking to the People Who Are Out on the Streets? – Kavita Krishnan

August 27, 2011

Guest post by KAVITA KRISHNAN  (Editor, Liberation)

The people saying ‘I am Anna’ or ‘Vande Mataram’ are not all RSS or pro-corporate elites. They’re open to listening to what we have to say to them about corporate corruption or liberalization policies. The question is – are we too lofty and superior (and prejudiced) to speak to them?

Throughout the summer, student activists of All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) engaged in this painstaking exercise for months. They campaigned all over the country, in mohallas, villages, markets where there is no visible Left presence. No, these were not areas of ‘elite’ concentration – mostly middle, lower middle or working class clusters, or students’ residential areas near campuses. In most places, people would begin by assuming they were campaigners of Anna Hazare. When students introduced their call for the 9 August Barricade at Parliament, they would be asked, ‘What’s the need for a separate campaign when Anna’s already leading one?’ They would then explain that they supported the movement for an effective anti-corruption law to ensure that the corrupt don’t enjoy impunity. But passing such a law could not end corruption, which was being bred by the policies that were encouraging corporate plunder of land, water, forests, minerals, spectrum, seeds… They learnt to communicate without jargon, to use examples from the state where the campaign was taking place. They would tell people about the Radia tapes, and the role of the corporates, the ruling Congress, the opposition BJP, and the media in such corruption.

Without exception, they never met with hostility from people. It was also obvious that the Anna campaign had generated great interest in the issue of corruption and great support for street actions against the Government. It was easy to initiate debate and discussion on the need for an anti-corruption campaign to link itself with the struggles against corporate grab of land and resources, against privatization of water, health and education, against unemployment and price rise, and draconian policies like AFSPA and Green Hunt.

Yes, in campuses and other areas, ABVP/RSS activists have donned Anna caps, masqueraded as ‘apolitical’ anti-corruption supporters, and tried to prevent AISA and our other mass organizations from using their own banner and slogans or having independent anti-corruption protests. We have responded by demanding that they speak up on Bellary and Yeddyurappa, or on the BIADA land scam of the Nitish Government in Bihar that led to the Forbesganj firing. This quickly blows their cover and separates the wheat from the chaff. For the non-RSS participants, our slogan of ‘Congress-BJP dono yaar, desh bechne ko taiyyar’ becomes the rallying cry, isolating the RSS elements.

So, what do all of us do, who’re worried about the RSS riding piggyback on Anna and attempting to give a fascist direction to this movement? Do we have the luxury to play it safe, retreat to the library, analyze the movement from a high pedestal and making dark doomsday predictions so that we can say ‘I told you so’ later? Do we wait for it all to blow over and go away? Do we leave the field free and uncontested for the RSS? Or do we get into the fray, get our hands dirty, make common cause with the ordinary women and men who’re out on streets against corruption, and drum some politics into the anti-corruption discourse, with all our strength?

Baba Ramdev has been cut to size, and that is a setback for the RSS. RSS is seeking to capitalize on the Anna-led movement in clandestine ways, because they know full well that coming forward with their own identity will elicit questions about the BJP’s own corruption – in Karnataka, in Gujarat, in the cash-for-questions scam and so on. All the more reason for progressive forces to heighten our own outreach among the people, reminding them about Bellary and Bastar. AISA’s experience in Modi’s bastion, Gujarat, is instructive. Modi has been talking big against the UPA Government’s corruption and repression and claiming to support Anna. AISA-RYA held a march at Bhavnagar in which 700 students raised slogans not only against the central government, but against corruption, corporate loot and cover-up of communal violence and fake encounters in Gujarat. Exploding Modi’s “we-are-with-anti-corruption-protests” claim, police lathicharged the march and the leading activists – Yunus Zakaria, Jignaba Rana, Sonal Chauhan and Farida Zakaria – were jailed. The very next day, against the arrests, many Bhavnagar colleges including engineering and medical colleges observed a bandh called by AISA-RYA. 5000 students protested against the local administration, forcing them to free the jailed activists. Left student-youth organisations – on their own banner – took the anti-corruption initiative in their hands, and as a result, turned anti-corruption anger against the Modi Government too.

It was the Congress which first accused the Anna-led movement of using fasts to ‘blackmail’ Parliament, being RSS-backed, fascist, anti-Constitution, a threat to democracy. Now, that cry has found an echo, not just among apologists for the Congress, but in some rather unlikely quarters too. Two serious commentators who have elaborated on this theme recently are Prabhat Patnaik (a member of the CPI(M)), and Arundhati Roy.

Prabhat Patnaik accuses Anna’s fast of ‘holding a gun to Parliament.’ When does a fast stop being democratic? Is Irom Sharmila’s fast ‘blackmail’? Or fasts used on various occasions by workers’ or students’ movements? Haven’t workers’ strikes been called ‘blackmail’ on countless occasions? Are fasts ‘blackmail’ only when they get popular support or when the Government is forced to feel the pressure?

Prabhat Patnaik says that people have a right to protest, to “convey their mood to the elected representatives.” But in a democracy, he says, there is freedom of expression, but no single mood can prevail, and all is decided through debate. Really? Wasn’t the SEZ Act (a blueprint for land grab) passed without a word of debate or demur in Parliament? The Radia tapes gave us an insight into how laws are made and policy issues decided in Parliament – with Ministers, MPs, Opposition leaders acting to ensure the interests of Mukesh Ambani or Ratan Tata. Decisions taken through debate? Don’t make me laugh.

Should peasants, workers and adivasis also bow to ‘parliamentary supremacy’ when parliament makes laws that rob them of their rights? Have they not defied such laws on many occasions? Do people’s struggles only have the right to ‘convey their mood’ to parliament – not to create sufficient effective pressure to ensure that parliament respects that mood on a matter that is to affect their lives? In a situation where there is a deeply unequal relationship between the elected representatives and the people who elect them, can we brand the methods of fasts or strikes as ‘anti-democratic’?

Prabhat Patnaik says people are reduced to mere supporters or cheerleaders for Anna. Arundhati Roy, similarly, argues that people are reduced to ‘spectators’ with an old man ‘threatening to starve himself to death’ as the spectacle. Many of us joined Medha at Jantar Mantar when she was fasting. Were we too spectators? Is it not arrogant of us to say, ‘Oh we know what we’re doing, we’re enlightened, but these people on the streets now are simply like a World Cup cheering crowd, a media-propelled herd that is being manipulated to serve a hidden agenda.’ Let’s be wary of ourselves doing to this movement what the media does to most other movements: brand the huge crowds in Left rallies as ‘brainwashed herds’ or ‘hired mobs,’ accuse Maoists of ‘manipulating’ innocent adivasis and peasants, and so on. Let’s respect one fact that’s staring us in the face: that a huge number of ordinary people are feeling a new confidence to confront and challenge a corrupt and repressive Government! It’s not a mindless faith in Anna that is the driving force in this mobilization – it is a conviction that the Government is corrupt and authoritarian, that the Government’s Lokpal draft is a farce. Much of the media may be projecting the people as ‘cheerleaders.’ Let’s take people at their own evaluation instead; let’s respect their initiative in distributing leaflets, organizing fasts or marches, confronting the police or MPs, courting arrest. For many of the younger people in this movement, this is their first experience of any public action. Let’s engage with them.

Prabhat Patnaik contends that Anna’s ‘messianism’ is fundamentally anti-democratic. Weren’t there strong elements of messianism in the tactics adopted by Gandhi? Undoubtedly, the very idea of a leader as ‘Mahatma’ is messianic in character. Did that make the freedom struggle in which Gandhi played a leading role, ‘anti-democratic’? It is one thing to have a critique of such tactics, to argue that movements must be more democratic, that no one leader can be a sacred cow or object of worship. But to say the movement is a threat to democracy is going too far.

Moreover, one seems to recall that Prabhat Patnaik accused Kolkata intellectuals who protested after Nandigram, of ‘messianic moralism.’ Those intellectuals, many of them erstwhile staunch supporters of the CPI(M), had protested in solidarity with poor peasantry resisting land grab and police firing. There was no Anna in West Bengal. Who was the ‘messiah’ then – the peasants of Nandigram or Singur?

CPIM Politburo member Sitaram Yechury has said that Anna’s arguments are “akin to that used by the Sangh Parivar and the BJP, which had asserted that the 80 per cent people of India [the Hindus] want to build a Ram temple at the disputed Babri Masjid site…Should Parliament have caved in to that demand?” Can this comparison hold water? Does fascism lie in the political content of a demand, or do we call any movement that creates pressure on Parliament, to be fascist? Look at it this way – what if the BJP got a full majority in Parliament and sought to make the mandir at Ayodhya? Would that be ‘constitutional’ or ‘democratic’ just because Parliament decreed it so? Clearly, the demolition of the masjid and the campaign for a mandir were unconstitutional – not because they constituted an extra-parliamentary pressure on parliament, but because they sought to establish majoritarian supremacy and suppress the rights and liberties of minorities. There is nothing in the draft Janlokpal Bill that in any way threatens the rights of minorities or challenges the Constitution.

What people on the streets are demanding is a law that has been on the books of Parliament for the past 42 years. They’re demanding that parliament respect people’s rejection of the sarkari Lokpal draft, and pass a law that reflects the aspirations of people for an effective anti-corruption institution.

Prabhat Patnaik assumes that people protesting today have no idea of the nuances of difference between the sarkari Bill and the Janlokpal (JLP) Bill. The movement has relied on a messiah, it hasn’t educated people about the facts, he says. I think the facts are otherwise. In fact, for the first time in a long time, ordinary people are debating a piece of legislation with a passion for details. Movement leaders have, in fact, taken pains to convey the nuances of the differences between the Government Bill and the JLP Bill – both at interactive question-and-answer sessions at the Ramlila as well as countless other sessions, and in much-viewed videos on the internet.  Questions posed to the drafters of the JLP Bill have been answered with patience, some criticisms taken on board. We may not agree with every provision of the JLP Bill, or with any exaggerated or hyped-up claims being made for it. But it would be great if every other Bill in Parliament could be put through the process of public scrutiny and debate that this one has – not just by PLU in the NAC, but by people at large!

Much is being said about the undemocratic character of the deadlines being imposed on Parliament by Anna. Well, most of our parliamentarians had no problems in obeying ‘deadlines’ as long as it was the US doing the dictation – for instance on the Nuke Deal!

Arundhati Roy compares the JLP movement with the Maoist one, saying its aim is the ‘overthrow of the Indian State’. Strangely, that’s a comparison the Government too has been making. The difference is that Arundhati says the Government is ‘participating in its own overthrow.’

If the Government is really in on the game, if it is participating in its own overthrow, if the JLP really ties in with its own agenda of pro-corporate, World-Bank-dictated ‘reform’, then why did it not accept the JLP draft at the start? Why embarrass itself by abusing Anna Hazare in public and then arresting him? Why has the BJP itself been reluctant to support the JLP draft? Is the JLP campaign an attempt to overthrow the state – or is it in fact an attempt to stem the erosion of trust in the state? There was a time when the judiciary was projected as the institution that would redeem the battered credibility of the state – today it the Lokpal.

Most critics of Anna agree that the Government Lokpal draft is toothless and weak. Would any Bill that provided for an effective and independent Lokpal be draconian? Does the JLP as conceived by ‘Team Anna’ amount to an ‘oligarchy,’ a ‘supercop,’ as it has been variously called? It seems to me that its powers of investigation, surveillance, and prosecution in corruption cases of everyone from patwari and peon to the PM, are already enjoyed by the CBI. The big difference is that its selection and functioning would be relatively more independent of Government and would even have some scope for people’s participation/intervention in the selection process. It is one thing to argue for modification or deletion of any specific clauses, or for inclusion of more checks and balances, in the JLP. But it’s quite another to paint the JLP draft as draconian.

Of course we ought and should demand that the corporates, media, big funded NGOs, big funded political parties – all be brought under the ambit of anti-corruption laws. Would a Janlokpal alone be enough to tackle corruption? Most corruption today is of the ‘PPP’ (public private partnership) variety. So measures that address the ‘public’ part can only be partially effective. As Prashant Bhushan is in the habit of observing, such a law could address the supply side of corruption – but the demand side would still remain as long as policies of privatization of natural resources and services are in place. A law that seeks to address corruption by public functionaries may only be a partial solution, not the panacea it’s made out to be, but does that make it draconian and beneficial to corporate interests? I think not. After all, the ‘private’ plunderers do need the ‘public’ ones – Tata and Ambani need A Raja, Jindal, Essar, Rio Tinto need the likes of Madhu Koda, the Bellary brothers need Yeddyurappa. A law to deal with the Rajas, Kodas and Yeddyurappas is no panacea for corruption, but it would be a much-needed measure.

Some newspapers are certainly prescribing a greater dose of liberalization as the cure for corruption, as are various voices from the corporate sector. Does it follow that the people in the anti-corruption movement, in turn, are all going to demand more liberalization with the fervour that they seek a JLP now? Till recently the media portrayed ‘Gen-X’ as enthusiastic votaries of liberalization. Doesn’t the participation of young people in this movement indicate a spreading disillusionment with the promises of liberalization – in the wake of expensive education and insecure employment? Isn’t there ample evidence that the people on the streets are angry, not just about corruption, but about price rise and joblessness? If the neoliberal ideologues and corporate media are busy peddling the disease as the cure, surely it ought to be all the more reason for the more radical political forces to take this moment to engage with the people in this movement, to connect the dots between corruption and the privatization (and ensuing corporate exploitation) of land, water, electricity, minerals, spectrum, gas, education, roads, highways, airports? Between neoliberal policies and price rise, corruption, joblessness?

TV channels, for the most part, have been hyping the movement, and dumbing down the issues involved. But before we leap to ‘conspiracy’ conclusions, let’s also remember that most newspapers have taken an editorial stand upholding ‘parliamentary supremacy’ in decision-making rather than endorsing the movement. The media’s role and coverage is, with few exceptions, selective and problematic. It has allowed little debate or discussion over corporate corruption to surface. But to put the large-scale people’s mobilization down to media hype alone is misplaced. In April, many predicted, ‘Wait till the prospect of police crackdown and arrests is imminent; this crowd will vanish in seconds.’ Instead, in August, they courted arrest in droves. Now, some cynics are saying, ‘Take away the TV cameras and watch how people disappear.’ Somehow, I don’t think they will.

There are, necessarily, many issues with Anna’s political philosophy, his social vision. Consistency on political and democratic issues – caste, communalism, state repression, economic policies – will be demanded of all movements. Anna’s 15 August speech touched upon some concerns, such as corporate land grab and police firing. But his silence on Yeddyurappa and Bellary has been rather conspicuous. An anti-corruption movement should, surely, be expected to hail the ouster of a CM thanks to a report prepared by one of the drafters of the JLP, Justice Hedge? There is political opportunism involved in remaining silent on Yeddyurappa and the Bellary brothers while talking about Raja, Sibal and Kalmadi in speech after speech.

The Anna-led group’s attitude towards political forces, too, is contradictory. Way back in March 2011, they invited all political parties to seek support for the movement. But political activists have been heckled away from their dais – not based on their stand or record on corruption, but just because of their political identity. Activists of one party of socialist ideology were apparently prevented by India Against Corruption activists at the Ramlila grounds from distributing a booklet analyzing corruption (which, ironically, had been released by Prashant Bhushan!). Meanwhile, a variety of right-wing formations do freely distribute their literature and even find a space on the stage – under various ‘non-political’ guises. Anna does not have a monopoly on the apolitical ‘rajneeti dhokha hai’ ideology; there are many other formations too which define ‘people’s movements’ as those that are not ‘political.’ We cannot accept that definition – but we cannot challenge it without contending with it on the streets, among the people.

For those of us with a political analysis of corruption, or an organised political movement, the Anna movement is not one with which easy, comfortable, unqualified solidarity or support is possible. Unity and struggle, and contentions with other political forces within it, are called for. But aren’t most big movements usually rocky and turbulent, with forces contending within? The one at Tahrir Square must have been. The JP movement certainly was. The anti-corruption movement may not be as momentous as Tahrir Square or the JP movement, with their central focus on democracy. But for people in the movement for ‘Lokpal,’ the question of ‘Loktantra’ (including the right to protest, the right to ensure that Parliament makes laws that people want) has begun to assert itself. Rather than creating bogeys, we need to get in there and contend with the real challenges and dangers; we need to expand the definitions of ‘corruption’ and ‘democracy.’

Could this moment of crisis and turbulence for the Indian state take a fascist turn? Of course it could. But do left and progressive forces accept a fascist resolution as the only fate of this crisis and berate protesting people as ‘pre-modern’? Do we preach ‘parliamentary supremacy’ to the protesting people and ally ourselves thereby with the ruling class? Should we not rather warmly welcome the people’s mood and determination to fight corruption? And doing so, show the way forward – beyond the limitations of a purely legalistic struggle that is silent on the policy roots of corruption? Instead of lowering our political banners and succumbing to the pressure to appear ‘apolitical,’ this is the time to be seen boldly on the streets, building a dialogue with protesting people on the basis of our own political understanding of corruption.

It has become quite the thing to contrast Anna’s fast with Irom’s. The news is that Irom herself, in response to an invitation from Anna’s colleague Akhil Gogoi, has expressed warm support for Anna’s “amazing crusade”; pointed out that while Anna has the freedom to protest non-violently, she herself has been denied that freedom; asked Anna to work for her release and invited him to visit Manipur! Maybe we could learn from the grace, nuance and maturity of Irom’s response.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2011 12:05 AM

    Excellent artilce!

    Here’s something I had written on facebook as a comment on Patnaik’s piece:

    ‘.. I am not convinced by the democracy-messianism dichotomy set up here. To me it looks like political movements in the real world always lie somewhere within the two extremes of direct democracy and ‘messianism’) Isn’t there an element of messianism in just about every political movement?….for a movement to be truly democratic in Patnaik’s sense(with enlightened people playing the subject role) all the decisions and strategizing of the movement must be done by ‘the people’. The leaders whose only role is to bring enlightenment to the masses must surely disappear within their ranks when their job is done. Now think about this and tell me how many movements have truly been democratic in this sense? And how many haven’t been ‘anti-democratic’?

    Hazare’s movement definitely lies towards the extreme in this spectrum, it is in no way an organized ‘people’s movement’ but to call it anti-democratic would be incorrect.

    … if we look at the various political parties (including Patnaik’s own) don’t we see hosts of semi-messiahs and wannabe messiahs ? The discourse between the leaders and the people that Patnaik talks about has long died out from our political culture. Patnaik’s examples, you must have noticed, are from decades back. Given the death of people-politician discourse which is so necessary for a healthy democracy, ‘the pre-modernity of our society and the shallowness of the roots of our democracy’ should have come to Patnaik’s notice much before the rise of Hazare.

    Should the Govt bow down to ‘messianism’, Patnaik says, it will create a future where
    ’…multiple (quasi-religious) messiahs sprout, who would compete and collude, as oligopolists do in the markets for goods, to keep people in thralldom.’ Not so different from the present political scene, then?’

    btw, I think the nature of Team Anna’s politics may have been misunderstood. My thoughts on this here:http://fizpoky.blogspot.com/2011/08/team-anna-and-new-style-of-political.html

  2. August 28, 2011 12:11 AM

    Superb Post

  3. Inasu THALAK permalink
    August 28, 2011 1:55 AM

    I entirely agree with you Kavitaji. To my mind, the problem with the progressive/forward
    minded activists in India, is that their analysis of the movement is almost always pegged on to the mindset of the authors and thinkers, they have been fed with, for the most part,
    all of European descent. There is nothing wrong in getting a clue or inspiration from
    Western authors or theories of social change. But to move people, masses, into action and
    support you need to know what “the deep rooted cultural symbols and icons” are, that can
    stir the people of a country. Now, as far as I could understand, the supporters of IAC -whatever their political/religious/regional belonging, are clamoring for the honor of Mother
    India, because on a subliminal level they all feel that this culture of corruption – so shame-
    lessly practised, amounting to plunder and pillage of the country’s wealth, aggravated in
    recent times by huge scandals in which the key players are all public figures ( people’s
    reps. and publuc figures, they are!) Millions of Indians -call them crowds, middle classes,
    or what have you- begin to think that it tarnishes the image of India and that of Indians.
    As you pointed out, the large number of young people support this crusade because they
    want, let us admit it, a “shining India” in the best sense of that expression, tainted now with
    BJP propaganda. And what if at Ramlila maidan they chant Vande Mataram, Sare Jaham Se Achha or Vidutalai of Bharati for that matter? I would say, Gandhi instinctively grasped
    this. Didn’t he yearn for “ramaraajyam”, a just and equitable state? Despite his readings of
    European authors and having a rather firsthand experience of Europe? I have often wondered why MKG was not enthused by the revolutions in France or in Russia? By what
    kind of magic wand he succeeded in moving the people, including women in our country?
    Is that all a “banya tactic” or a “fighting strategy”? Why was he able to fascinate the Indian
    mind in a such large measure? It is high time that sincere minded political activists in India
    specially of the left of center brand, get to some “underground gushing springs” of the
    Indian psyche such as : What is the role of Hindu ethos and moral precepts played in our
    collective thinking and behaviour, reactions and responses? What influence do Rama,
    Krishna, Sita, and all the other figures of our revered puranas and itihasas still play in our
    personal and public lives? In our music, arts, cinema, literature, etc.? What does our
    secularism mean and how is it practised compared to, say, the French notion of secularism ( laicité) How can we divest of our cultural myths and religious epics of their
    “hindutwa” orthodoxy, transforming them into commonly shareable elements of our
    national heritage into which every Indian -brahmins to dalit/adivasis, hindus to zorashtrians,
    can fusion? Anna with IAC may win or fail. However, as you said, this mobilization has shown that people can/should challenge (of course by all available nonviolent means) the
    ruling power in place if that power is callously/arrogantly indifferent to their feelings. And
    in this demand for a clean/strong/effcient democracy for the people, of the poeple and by
    the people, the presence of the Left is woefully absent! Did wielding power/parcipating in
    the government, corrupt you too, dear comrades?

  4. prabhat permalink
    August 28, 2011 2:22 AM

    Much needed piece. Thank you Kavita.

  5. August 28, 2011 3:53 AM

    Fasts really have no place in a mature democracy. They are tyrannical in as much as as any tyranny implies the end of dialogue. The end of dialogue is the end of democracy. No one can be denied their right to fast (for penance etc.), but please do it in the confines of your home. It cannot be an instrument of dialogue.
    And if fasts are to be asserted as instruments of dialogue and negotiations, then the choice to completely ignore fasts without the slightest moral burden must also be admitted as an equally valid instrument of this dialogue.
    In other words, if you have a right to choose to abjure food, I have a right to choose to ignore you.
    This is particularly relevant when fasts are undertaken with no large moral purpose but merely the (coercive) fulfillment of demands 1, 2, 3 ,……

    • geet permalink
      August 28, 2011 8:24 PM

      fasts indeed have no place in a mature democracy. but can the Indian democracy be called mature yet??

      • August 29, 2011 1:32 PM

        “but can the Indian democracy be called mature yet??”

        Perhaps not. But fasts don’t help the maturation process either! If anything, they have a retrogressive effect.

        • July 21, 2013 6:17 PM

          Can Indian democracy be called mature yet? And its response as ‘fasts don’t help the maturation process’ sense a deep confusion. But, I have a query, what exactly is a ‘mature democracy’? why do we feel the need for inventing the prefix ‘mature’?

  6. Pradeep.G permalink
    August 28, 2011 8:25 AM

    Good article.

  7. August 28, 2011 9:46 AM

    very good piece. good to discuss how the left can and should be positive in welcoming this people’s movement and take it forward in the correct direction.

  8. August 28, 2011 10:06 AM

    Irrespective of questions raised as to which extent Anna matches a true Gandhian, Anna’s fasting is typical and unique of the Gandhian style; which is characterized by selective prioritization of a particular agenda from possible many . This might not even be about honestly taking up one cause among many, but could just be an exercise in camouflaging the root cause of suffering and unrest of millions of the oppressed. Further, in any any Gandhian satyagraha (anasan) people get almost pushed to the walls with the only option of blindly following or morally supporting.
    Therefore, the left engaging with the people on the streets would also mean exposing the mendacity of much hyped claims about the expected outcome of the whole drama.
    Where else on earth people are left with just one option in peaceful agitation – ie; in sitting in fast with blind obedience to a leader who is not chosen by them(a ‘dictator’!?) and on an agenda where ending social and economic gap, ending state repression ,etc are nowhere among its spelt out demands?

  9. dinesh permalink
    August 28, 2011 12:38 PM

    One of the most sensible article on Kafila about Anna movement.People are not inherently aligned to right wing, we have to show them the progressive way by working with them, engaging them. According to me, this is the only way, left will be able to persuade people. I have first hand experience in this matter because people are biased due to propaganda of right wing that is more sophisticated than left. I was able to convince many people, by listening them first and by keeping my point of view with facts. And i feel, people will listen if we make genuine effort in masses.

  10. Ashish permalink
    August 28, 2011 1:38 PM

    we need to expand the definitions of ‘corruption’ and ‘democracy.’
    nice article indeed!

  11. Sanjay Kak permalink
    August 28, 2011 6:38 PM

    Kavita Krishnan of AISA offers a nuanced perspective on the Ramlila event

  12. Tina permalink
    August 28, 2011 7:51 PM

    Very, very good! Other than in Kavita Krishnan, this calibre of insight on this movement or protest is found only in Ashis Nandy.

  13. August 28, 2011 8:28 PM

    absolutely kavita, your last line says it all – when irom invites anna , we have something to learn as you say … every nuance you do , of our discomfort with the characters and characteristics of the team anna, etc , i am totally in agreement… but the trigger and the public response really is to be celebrated . there is an analysis of the people who were in the ramlila maidan int he economi times to day-and in my opinion quite professionally done in the circustances which gives the demographic profile , in three sites,mumbai, ramlila and combined .

    Taking ram lila , 32 % female, graduate 42 % , majority upto SSC and HSC ! age majority under 30 airly evenly distributed below 40 above 40 and fo +equal and below 20 16 % Work profile, largely full time working , and amongst that majority are clerks salesmen , and office executives and next category small trader shopkeeper .

    In the last speech or call by Aravind kejriwal who has been the most contested character in this drama, the calls were most constructive .He had an oath taken that every person there pledged never to give or take a bribe , he called for the use of gram sabha and gram panchayat for sharing of information and collecting opinions, a crucial in my view, foundation for democratic decision making , especially on economic policies, etc If that is an outcome, we would have a constructive program following a satyagraha, in the terminlogy of gandhi .

    and anna hazare talked of electoral reform , etc parts of rahul gandhis package ! altogether quite an informed and serious conclusion, which given the extraordinary spell he cast on so many young people couldgo a long way in enabling citizen participation by those who are not like us, in these important required changes .. also for govt to recognise the value of listening and including ..

    So we need now to forget the less pleasant fumes from this huge public presence and energy and engage as much as we can to enable those who have got enthused by the public space to direct their energies to the matters that are on the board which are troubling us, SEZ , the new manufacturing policy put out by anand sharma which is going to give more and more land to corporates in the garb of infrastructure devt , neglecting the small from whcih in fact indias gdp is coming, – electoral reform certainly especially inner party democracy – we can form our nucleus like the team anna did and fore ground movements with local energies

    it was good to read you and nivedita who gave us all the courage to speak up . devaki jain

  14. Saurabh Naruka permalink
    August 29, 2011 12:40 PM

    Comrade..great piece of writing…congrats… this nuanced perspective on anna led movt against corruption reflects the kind of political maturity we in left need to aspire for..i hope this article becomes a water-shed among left leaning intellectuals writing which can assist us in taking correct political line at every such crucial juncture from now on.. we have in past been guilty of defining the country very rightly as semi-feudal and at the same time running away from the demand of social justice which manifested semi-feudal order of society only under the cover of bourgeois conspiracy leaving the field open for stooge of bourgeois like mayawati, lalu and nitish kumar to be champion of the cause of social justice..if we are aware of phenomenon of labour aristocracy than we should not have left field open for forces which now can best be described as Social Aristocracy( Bourgeois agents among dalits, OBCs)..AISA has recently corrected the mistake by fighting for social justice when seats of OBC were taken away in institutions like JNU, DU, etc..

  15. Richa Singh permalink
    August 29, 2011 1:10 PM

    Contrary to all I had been reading about the “elite” and Anna, the streets, and the varied protests sites were mostly peopled by lower middle class and a whole lot of other organisations, activists, and yes, even the RSS. Outside Tihar jail, house wives from the nearby colonies stood, carrying placards made on used calenders; students from ‘non elite colleges had joined in-a few girls, but mostly young boys. At a protest in Aya Nagar, close to where demolitions had taken place during the Common Wealth Games- price rice was the issue. There were about 80 activists inside Chatrasal stadium, sitting on an indefinite hunger strike along with Anna Hazaare. Most of them had come from far flung areas in Bihar, Uttranchal, Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra, from Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana. Many spoke of a broader and deeper understanding of corruption which stalked the lives, and livelihood of poor and marginalised. Outside at Chatrasal, Tihar, Ramlila ground- often, there would be young boys joining, or passing by in bikes carrying “bharat swabhiman va Patanjali banner” with baba Ramdev’s pictur looming large. And there were RSS cadres and groups one came across. And I was glad that AISA was there,and so was NAPM, and Survivors from Bhopal Union Carbide Gas Disaster, and other “progressive” organisation that had decided not to cede space to the right wing. I had witnessed the rise of the right wing in Indian polity in the 90’s, and remembered the criticicms launched against the left for ceding space and allowing the right to come and take over so easily.And I was glad to see that,this time round, there were some organisations/groups/activists that had decided against “lowering our political banners and succumbing to the pressure to appear ‘apolitical,”. I agree with Kavita, Nivedita, and appreciate the point that this is the time to be seen boldly on the streets, building a dialogue with protesting people on the basis of our own political understanding of corruption.

    Richa Singh, (CDSA)

  16. Meditating Monster permalink
    August 29, 2011 3:24 PM

    Well said!

    So far, most of the arguments against the JLP movement, have only used assertions and emotional labels (messianic, mobocracy, fascist, populist, unconstitutional, dictatorial, RSS, undemocratic, supremacy of parliament, anti-minority etc). The people making these arguments regard these assertions as self evident truths which need no further discussion.

    Certain sections of the intelligentsia have stopped talking to us (but they certainly haven’t stopped talking at us) because we are considered to be too unintelligent to even understand the debate.

    This bizarre and condescending attitude is frustrating, to say the least.

    Jay Rosen has posted a very insightful article wherein he talks about why he thinks that political coverage is broken. Well worth a read.

    http://pressthink.org/2011/08/why-political-coverage-is-broken/

    Thanks to Kavita Krishnan, Shuddabrata Sengupta, Nivedita Menon, Vrinda Gopinath and others, some rationality is finally beginning to percolate into the debate.

    Bash on!

    Meditating Monster

  17. kamal permalink
    August 29, 2011 3:28 PM

    Kavita seems to be more righteous and emotional when dealing with the issue of corruption, rather than ideological.
    Fast as a protest should open the closed door and get in all the opinions to clash and bring out the best one. But the way Anna and his team dictated the government to just follow the JLP is what Prabhat meant when he said ‘holding a gun to parliament’.
    Picking few examples and decide that parliament does not debate at all shows the immaturity of the author regarding parliamentary democracy. Just based on her examples, can we decide that there should is no space for debate in parliament and everything will be decided by fasting in ram Lila ground? Then why is a need for parliament and other institutions. Rather than creating a situation for debate using the protest from Anna, the so called ‘radical’ leader of ASIA seems to follow the politics of Anna completely. Prabhat meant the way in which the Anna movement tried to push in its agenda….the pressure on parliament cannot carry with it certain fixed agenda and sit in a fast and tell that everyone should accept it or else the messiah will die…..is this your line of politics….
    Those, who oppose the Indian govt following the deadlines of US, would also oppose the impractical and autocratic deadline set by Anna movement….I wonder how AISA is taking positive cue from the Indian obedience to US. Your politics gives more leeway for right wing forces to use tactics.
    It was not only through my personal interaction with many people who went ram Lila ground and also thought various television interviews, it is known that people are angry against the government and wants corruption free country. Nothing more than that. Their understanding of corruption and its dynamics is limited as it is to the right wing politics of team Anna. AISA’s inability ot organise people should not give legitimacy for piggybacking on any moment and claiming it to be progressive

    • Kavita Krishnan permalink
      August 30, 2011 12:38 PM

      We (the CPI(ML) and its student wing AISA) have at no point ridden ‘piggyback’ on Anna. In fact, we began our campaign against corruption (underscoring our ideological understanding of corruption as linked to liberalisation and holding the UPA Govt responsible for the recent huge scams) in January 2011. On 14 March 2011, the All India Left Coordination comprising CPI(ML) Liberation, CPM Punjab, LCC Kerala and Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) of Maharashtra held a huge all-India rally in Delhi where corruption and the 2G and CWG scams were the main issue. We published a booklet on the issue that argues for reversing the (liberalisation/privatisation) policies breeding corruption, along with the need for effective Lokpal legislation.

      My arguments with Prabhat Patnaik and all the others who are branding fasts as anti-democratic and preaching ‘parliamentary supremacy’ is that whatever apprehensions we may have about Anna’s agenda, we should not legitimise weapons (against Anna) that the government and ruling class routinely use against all people’s movements. That involves not just outright repression, but the argument of ‘parliamentary supremacy.’ In the eagerness to attack Anna, it is alarming that some in the left and progressive camp are preaching ‘limits’ for people’s movements and obedience to ‘parliamentary process’.

      All laws are, of course, made by Parliament. But we all know that corporate pressures operate very easily on parliament. People’s struggles, too, have every right to supervise, pressurise and place demands on parliamentary process of law making. Dr Ambedkar said, “It is not enough to be electors only. It is necessary to be law-makers; otherwise those who can be law-makers will be the masters of those who can only be electors.”

      • kamal permalink
        August 30, 2011 2:51 PM

        That seems to be a clear white washing argument that you either support any form of fast or be in the opposition. Prabhat was critical of the way in which the anna group has been doing its fast and setting deadlines. He never made such a sweeping statement that all fasts are anti-democratic. Using fast-unto-death for extracting or fulfilling particular demand can never be a non-violent as the death of the fasting person will further incite violence. In fact Gandhi believed more in movements than in fast-unto-death. The below article will tell that clearly

        http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110621/jsp/opinion/story_14136304.jsp

        There is a considerable difference between placing demands on the parliamentary process of law making and dictating the parliamentary process to happen in a certain manner. The real definition of corruption which includes the neo-liberal corporate loot will never find a place in such conservative movements (they ride more on nationalism and its symbols) as we witness the overwhelming corporate support for the movement.

        http://www.timesnow.tv/articleshow/4369898.cms.

        This movement is more in tune with satisfying the tenets of procedural democracy than the real substantive democracy. There has to be real parallel movement fighting the real causes of corruption than defending and supporting such conservative movement just because we see a big crowd.

  18. jyoti punwani permalink
    August 29, 2011 9:57 PM

    very well argued and well-written article, full of feeling.

  19. nina rao permalink
    August 29, 2011 11:37 PM

    agree with the above, since i went to both jantar mantar and ram lila. People were in a heady mood because they tasted the power of the street and those on the platform lost their heads and behaved in what i thought was a very crass and bigoted manner, some of annas speeches were also a bit over the top, but i had a sneaking sympathy for him till i got behind his strategising! and yes, any movement that gets people out on the street teaches all of us something, but only romantics will say its all positive.when you get away from the street and read all the bills, I hope the romantics will have a second opinion on this.

  20. abdul permalink
    August 30, 2011 7:15 PM

    I think we need to look to all the movements more critically and Anna’s movement is not immune to it as proposed by Kavita. Prabhat argued about the state of our democracy and i think he is right. Kavita should no be under any illusion that it was the mobilization done by AISA-RYA which flooded Ramlila maidan. Most of the people there were only because of Anna thanks to the hype created by the Media. I am not discounting the fact that corruption is a problem. But what is the role of the left then? Just to become a part of any crowd because numbers are high?

    • Kavita Krishnan permalink
      August 30, 2011 11:29 PM

      We never became part of the crowd – at Ramilia or anywhere else. What we did do was to take up an anti corruption campaign with our own emphases and political direction. AISA and RYA held a sit-in against corruption and corporate plunder at jantar mantar from 9-12 August, in which many thousands did participate, and defy the police diktat that no continuous day-night sit-in would be allowed.
      Following Anna’s arrest, we initiated protests all over the country, highlighting the question of democracy. As I described in Gujarat, we took up anti-corruption protests on our own banner. Similar struggles were taken up in Bihar, Jharkhand and so on, targeting the respective state govts too. In Bihar, on 27 August, AISA-RYA called a bandh, highlighting not only the demand for a genuine lokpal, but also demanding investigation and punishment in the BIADA land scam in which the Nitish Govt, ‘Adarsh’-style, has handed out land without a fig-leaf of process, to kith and kin of BJP-JDU leaders.
      The CPI(ML) and its student-youth wings have emerged as a significant left-democratic current in the anti-corruption upsurge. Anna represents one kind of current in it (albeit it is the one that gets more media attention); but why should it be the only one?
      My point is that all left-progressive groups ought to be more proactive in shaping the anti-corruption sentiment of people. Where Anna demands a Janlokpal with the PM, MPs under it, or a judicial accountability bill, and some of the other very relevant clauses of the JLP which can even help to curb corporate corruption, we should support those demands. We can demand more democratisation of the lokpal. But our anti-corruption agenda can go beyond that. We should reach out to common people in the anti-corruption movement and aim to unite them with a consistent democratic agenda. We cannot do that if we imagine that all these people have a pre-determined reactionary character; we can only do it if we appreciate people’s renewed sense of confidence in the power of movements to force governments to listen to them.

  21. Shripad Dharmadhikary permalink
    August 31, 2011 11:03 AM

    Thanks Kavita, for a very well argued, well reasoned and nuanced piece on this complex subject. The piece also draws strength from the fact that AISA and RYA were amongst the people thru this whole period.

  22. Charakan permalink
    September 2, 2011 10:39 AM

    An appeal to Kafila authors
    Pls try to give a 5 point summary of each post either in the beginning or end.

  23. gangadin lohar permalink
    September 5, 2011 4:51 PM

    Problem is not our exclusion from the highest decision-making bodies, where we should intervene in order to democratise it : as NGOs, Civil Society and various leftist, rightist and centrist political parties put it.
    Problem is our complete exclusion from 96 % of the products of our total social labour time.

    In the recent bailouts in USA or EU more than 96% of the total social labour time of the future generations has already been plundered and distributed generously among the decision makers. Needless to add, most of these countries are far more corruption-free in their public life than India. Here in the sense of getting necessary things done by babus etc.

    This was possible because of their guaranteed control over our future labour through direct and indirect taxes. Thus they could plunder and speculate future labour of not only USA and EU wage-workers but also of Indian and Chinese and Brazilian socially dying small peasants, artisans and small shopkeepers and of their young offsprings´ potential income as wage-slaves as they have done earlier. It was possible because value is produced, coagulated and resdistibuted at global level.

    Corruption by public servants came into existence in the river-valleys after pemanent direct and indirect taxation system (and the standing armies on its basis, thus reinforcing each other and the enemy´s armies ) was introduced. Movements, reforms and most of revolutions generally we know of, never touched this taxation system and left our position as workers-for-life-for-the-tax-system unscratched. Thus our labour was turned in to means against our existence. It was mostly about the proper regulation of the rest 4% and never about taking back the 96% ! Let us freeze the debate about the unavoidable ecological destructions caused by civilizations, by all of them, for a moment.

    Masses are not untouchable, we are them, I agree. Point is that, if we confine ourselves to demands about democratic and fair distribution of the rest 4% then we are fasting to make the running of prison-system called wage-slavery more transparent and accountable.

    Problem is that we do not want to democratise prison we want to raze it to ground.

    It has happened in history and not only in theory. 1857 witnessed not only confusion and consensus about “who should be our leader ?” but at the same time it was one the largest jail-breaks in the world history. They did not want to reform it. Or democratise it or to make its functioning transparent.

    Masses are not untouchable, we are them, I agree with you. But I would not like share with them at all what you say. I would like to share with them:

    We should be corrupt, really !

    Corruption is about pilfering from the products of social labour and keeping it to yourself: sharing it with your own people and clan. Not with Others, because they do not belong to your clan and the family. It is confined to stingy amounts and stingy clans/people or corporates-politicians-bureaucrats network.This is the corruption we disdain and are against. We are for searching and finding ways and means where pilfering of all of it is for all of us. We all are a family. We like it this way. The complete corruption. We all take it all back to us.

Trackbacks

  1. Corruption, the Parliament, the Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare: A Reading List | Entelechus
  2. The Sublime Object of Anti-Corruption « Kafila

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