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In the Ruins of Political Society – A Response to Partha Chatterjee

August 28, 2011

Partha Chatterjee’s post, following on Shuddha’s Hazare Khwahishein… is something of an eye-opener for me. I will not enter into a debate with him on his reading of Shuddha’s post as Shuddha and I have had our long online and offline exchanges and I have learnt immensely from these exchanges, even if a core of disagreement persists. I do think, however, that Partha is mistaken in thinking that this is the first time the question of corruption has been discussed on Kafila or elsewhere but since I am not interested in discussing that question here, I will leave that matter aside. I think I have said pretty much what I wanted to say on the movement and the myriad issues related to it and so I am no more interested in going over that territory all over again. Interested readers can see the Kafila archives if they so wish.

What has been an eye-opener for me is the way a certain other Partha Chatterjee has emerged, as soon as his theories were brought face to face with the hurly-burly of politics. The imprint of this other Partha is clearly evident in every word and sentence of this post, but most clearly in the concluding sentence where he claims that the indepdent Left has ‘its populist moment in Nandigram’. This sentence encapuslates the gist of our disagreements. It was this assessment that led Partha to write the essay, ‘Democracy and Economic Transformation‘ where, in some elliptical fashion, his own discomfort with popular politics  found expression. That is when he extended the definition of ‘political society’ to say that it was the sphere of ‘management of ‘non-corporate capital’ (of course, by capital and government). That Partha links his discomfort over the Anna Hazare movement to his discomfort over Nandigram, is in my view, a sign of the fact that his idea of ‘political society’ lies in ruins, that it collapsed at the precise moment of its encounter with the popular.

I say this as someone who has not only found Partha’s work enabling for my own, but as someone who has impatiently waited for everything he writes, to consume it, mull over it and use it as part of my own theoretical/ conceptual paraphernalia. As an Ekalavya would, I have no shame in acknowledging this debt to my Dronacharya. I had built a statue – perhaps of a Dronacharya of my own imagination – and learnt my political theory at its feet. I have long engaged with the idea of ‘political society’ itself as one of the central categories I work with.

The core of my disagreement here concerns the very idea of politics. Let me start with the very early attempts made by Partha – most notably in Land Question in Bengal – of distinguishing between a domain of organized politics and a domain of unorganized politics. The point of this distinction clearly was that there was a way in which politics exceeded ‘the political’ – the way in which peasants conducted their politics was seen as fundamentally different from elite politics. As we know, through the work of Ranajit Guha (especially, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India), the idea of politics was expanded – far beyond what its European/ Western antecedents allowed: what was seen as ‘pre-political’ (because marked by religious symbolism and not in tune with the secular domain of ‘politics’, was placed by Guha squarely in the domain of politics. The entire project of early Subaltern Studies as I understand it, was centrally concerned with the autonomy of subaltern consciousness, with an exploration of the ways in which subaltern politics always exceeded and escaped the control of the nationalist elite. In other words, it was not so much about the ways in which the colonial government and nationalist elites ‘managed’ subaltern populations but, on the contrary, the ways in which, the subaltern escaped the mechanisms of control.  And it is from the work of Subaltern Studies that we had some of the most fascinating accounts (especially works like Shahid Amin’s ‘Gandhi as Mahatma’ and later his book on Chauri Chaura) that showed how subaltern politics made its own sense of nationalist calls and slogans. Thirty years after Subaltern Studies, I am somewhat stunned to see Partha tell us that ‘corruption’ is an unthought issue and that people supporting it (in Ramlila Maidan or in thousands of different locales across the country), are actually the kith and kin of the same corrupt who they rail against. There is apparently no moment of disjunction here between the call of the Hazare Team and the people who flock to support him. The moment of excess, of escape, of overflow – are all now over, subsumed within that overarching logic of governmentality that brooks no flight. In his disdain of the popular, I hear the voice of the normative theorist here, not that of one of the key figures of Subaltern Studies.

But then these were studies that came out of the Gramscian-Guhaian phase of Subaltern Studies. It was in the second phase (the late subaltern studies?) that what Sumit Sarkar described as the ‘Disappearance of the Subaltern in Subaltern Studies actually occurred. Partha’s work is emblematic of this phase. Thereafter, we had the sharp move away to a preoccupation with nationalist elites and nationalist discourse as the object of SS – and an easy insertion of SS into the happy binaries of ‘colony’ and ‘empire’ that postcolonial studies entrenched in the Western academy. I do not agree with Sumit Sarkar that this was the inevitable result of a turn to Edward Said and Foucault but, there is, it seems, a point in that observation. It seems the subaltern can neither speak, nor even silently escape. Elite knowledge and politics – and the Partha-ian notion of governmentality-as-welfare, become the insturments of discipline and control. The wilder side of Foucault – the insurrection of subjugated knowledges, biopolitics, sexuality, activism for prison reforms and so on – are carefully excised, in order to produce for us a Foucault that is palateable and insipid. It is with this notion of governmentality that Partha then proceeds to bring popular politics under control.

My initial response to his idea of ‘political society’ was that it was a momentous intervention in political theory that inscribed the postcolonial (in a generic sense), at the heart of political theory. It now turns out, it is just another version of ‘management of populations’, where the initiative is always, without any disjunction, only and only in the hands of the governmental state. If the Habermasian public sphere dreamt of arriving at consensus between rationally acting , disinterested subjects, Partha’s political society seems to simply modify that now to define another arena – that of negotiated settlement. This negotiated settlement now seems to be another version of the Habermasian consensus – except that here, in postcolonial societies, governments arrive at it with unlettered people who are forced to live in different degrees of illegality and para-legality – in other words, with those who cannot be dealt with as rationally acting citizens.  This settlement is not based on transparent, rational speech – since this population is incapable of it – but rather on mobilization, forming of associations and representation. In his early writings, Partha included in this domain not only the formal political domain of political parties but also social movements and non-governmental organizations, which provided the different forms of associational life and forms of organizationa and mobilization to these populations. Now, with Anna Hazare, clearly his definition of politics has been abridged to excise everything but political parties and elections.

Clearly in line with the overall  thrust of his argument in recent times, is his claim that

The present “Anna” moment is an exact populist moment (in Ernesto Laclau’s sense in On Populist Reason) where “the people” have identified an “enemy of the people” in the entire political class, including the government bureaucracy.

This is Partha’s Laclau (like his Foucault). For this is not the key thesis of Laclau’s book. On Populist Reason carries forward Laclau’s investigation of populism from the 1970s, and this thesis on the division of the political space into two camps is only a tangential part of his argument. If I may, not only does Laclau not posit populism against politics, he in fact claims, on the contrary, that populism may indeed be the royal road to the constitution of the political.

Indeed, in his discussion of populism in this work, Ernesto Laclau refers to the political mobilizations of Adhemar de Barros in Brazil, whose campaigns in the 1950s had as their motto ‘Rouba mais faz’ (‘He steals but keeps things going’). Laclau describes the politics of de Barros as ‘essentially clientilistic’, one that involved an exchange of votes for political favours (Laclau 2005: 122). The element of populism is given to this politics, says Laclau, ‘by the presence of an anti-institutional dimension, of a certain challenge to political normalization’ and ‘an appeal to the underdog’ (Ibid: 123). But this populism exists at the heart of the political itself. It is also the same with Peronism in Aegentina. And do we need to go very far to find out examples of populism in India that not only exists within the political domain but is in some ways, fundamental to the way it is structured.

It is useful at this stage, then, to mention that Nandigram and Singur, did not remain a populist moment (in Partha’s sense) that has happily passed. It led, in the event, to a transformation in the political domain itself and a government that has ruled for thirty-four years with an iron fist, was voted out of office. In the case of the Anna Hazare movement, the call was explicitly for the enactment of a law that would keep, among other things, the political class of representatives in check. And it was not articulating a demand that came from outside the political domain: the Lokpal idea, I need hardly remind Partha, was mooted in the parliament and delayed for over four decades, brought on the table six times (or thereabouts) and pushed under the carpet each time. It was a demand, in other words, that came from within the political system. The neat divisions between the domains do not work here – except in certain exceptional moments when politics irrupts outside the boundaries and in apparent violation of conventions of ‘the political’.

I had once thought that there was tremendous potential in the idea of political society and that one needed to continue working on and refining the concept. I now feel, that one should do to ‘political society’ what Partha does to ‘civil society’: keep its use restricted to its ‘original’, authorial meaning of management and control of populations. Only then will one see that this is a concept that reached its dead end precisely when it encountered the popular that often overshoots (either through direct struggle) or simply escapes (by going outside the state’s radar) the formal domain of politics.

It is here that I stand, in this field, haunted by words from a not-so-distant past, when the subaltern was not always only an instrument of elite manipulation.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. johng permalink
    August 28, 2011 8:48 PM

    Partha Chatterjee´s response to recent events have left me genuinely puzzled. I had always understood his work as a continuation of pioneering rejections of constitutionalist cretinisms in political theory which had left political reality woefully untouched. The bloodless platitudes of civil society discourse in the 90s and noughties had seemed to cry out for critique (if not satire!) in much the same way that modernisation theory had in the 1970s. Much of the uneasiness with Partha Chatterjee´s concepts had seemed to me to be informed by the implications of his ontology for those caught up in the toils of NGO´s and related phenomenan. His work had seemed important both in relationship to those concerned to look at the actually existing logic of social and political worlds and in relationship to certain kinds of (banal) normative liberalisms (although I´d also always felt that the achilles heel of his work was precisely bound up with the relationship between the normative and the positive). But now…It just seems to me that the minute that the kinds of questions he appeared to be raising are seriously posed (first around Nandigram then around the populism we have seen around corruption more recently) he appears to retreat back to the very orthodoxies one had (perhaps falsely) seen him as rejecting. This is not a judgement on his concepts really (I wonder if actually his latest comments are in line with his theoretical work). More a confusion about his political commentry at present. Partha Chatterjee´s work had always seemed to me to avoid the kind of defects alluded to in sumit sarkar´s critique Aditya refers to above. He had also, in most of his commentry, always seemed to be way to the left of most commentators (on reservations for instance and a whole host of other questions). There is something bizarre about seeing a political theorist of his perception simply complaining about ´´populism´´. Yes perhaps I ought to just say I´m puzzled.

  2. Partha Chatterjee permalink
    August 28, 2011 10:19 PM

    Aparna’s responses to my piece are important because she articulates very eloquently the concerns that are driving the present movement.
    Many of the examples of corruption that keep recurring are about the forced nature of the corrupt transaction – a perfectly legitimate demand such as a passport or ration card or permit will not be fulfilled without paying a bribe to the government functionary who has the authority to grant the demand. The question is: what is the difference between those who pay the bribe and those who demand it? The officials in the passport office or food department or municipality are as much a part of the middle class as those who complain about them. In fact, it is perfectly possible that the corrupt food department babu will complain bitterly about the corrupt police officer. Corruption is not a concept that credibly distinguishes between “the people” and “the enemy of the people”.
    But Aparna advances a powerful argument against this contention. People, she says, are able to tell in each specific context who are the good people and who are the bad ones. People are able to make the distinction between the poor who have no option but to violate the law to make a livelihood and the rich and the greedy who resort to corruption to become richer. The distinction, she might have said, can be made not by applying a legal principle but a moral principle.
    People can apply the moral principle to judge corruption because the people are good and the moral truth belongs to them. That is what is being said on behalf of the Anna movement, and Aparna says it very sincerely.
    This is also the basis for her other assertion that the leadership of the movement is uninterested in power. They don’t want to form a party or fight elections or get elected to parliament. All they want, Aparna says, is that parliament listens to them. Is that not power? One of the definitions of power is that it is a relation in which one side has the ability to get the other side to do what it would not otherwise do. That is exactly what Anna Hazare is demanding. He is doing so, and his supporters are echoing him, because they are convinced that they have the moral truth.on their side. Corruption must be dealt with not by the law and the legally constituted institutions because those institutions are themselves riddled by corruption. Corruption can only be dealt with by a moral authority standing outside the domain of government and politics.
    But if such an authority does come into existence, will it not need its own institutions? Thus far, the institutional character of what we might call the Jan Lokpal is utterly vague. Necessarily so, one could say, because it is still an idea that is being fought for. But if the movement is victorious, what would the status be of an institutionalized moral authority standing outside of, and with supervisory powers over, the legal-constitutional authorities? Do we have examples of something like this in modern politics anywhere? If we discount examples from the history of communist revolutions (because none of them recognized any moral authority outside the political), the only example I can think of is the authority of religious clerics in Iran over the government. In fact, the arguments of Ayatollah Khomeini and the grounds on which the authority of the clerics was established in Iran after the revolution have striking similarities to what is now being said in India. There must be a government of laws, it is being said, but when government becomes corrupt, there must be an institutionalized moral authority to bring it back in line.
    Frustrated by the corruption and paralysis of government, there seems to be a certain popular hunger for a powerful moral authority standing over government and the politicians. That is what I hear in what Aparna is saying. I would request her to think through the implications.

    Regarding Aditya Nigam’s response, I have nothing to say about his analysis of my intellectual biography since i have no competence in that subject: I leave it to people like him.
    But I must point out that nowhere did I say or imply that all populist politics is anti-political. In fact, I think it is actually quite puzzling how this particular populist mobilization came about by designating the entire domain of government and political parties as the enemy. (Once again, Aparna has articulated the argument very well.) I think this is a very recent phenomenon. The only populist movement I can think of which is very similar is the Tea Party movement in the United States – a powerful, highly motivated, populist mobilization of largely ordinary middle-class people who feel that the original citizens of the country – industrious, thrifty, honest white people who obeyed the law – had been rendered powerless by a Washington establishment dominated by big business and big banks and pandering, for political reasons, to lazy blacks and dishonest foreigners. It is a perfect populist movement, but Aditya, don’t ask me to feel enthusiastic about it.
    Let me reiterate that populist movements are not always worthy of approval simply because they are able to mobilize large masses of people. Nandigram was a major populist moment that deservedly won the support of all democratic people. But the critical observer would have seen that the identification of the enemy as simply the CPI(M) would inevitably lead to the internal division through the entire society – in every institution, in every village, even within families – into the “good people” and “the enemy”. And when victorious, “the people” would get, in place of the domination by a rotten party machinery ruled by a fossilized collective leadership the domination by another party swearing loyalty to a single leader. That is what West Bengal has got. And the Independent Left there is split down the middle between those who still wish to retain their faith in the new government to dismantle the structures of authoritarianism and those who have already decided that what the new regime wants to do is set up its own authoritarian structures.
    I would indeed extend Laclau’s analysis to claim that populism is the most pervasive form of democratic politics today. But surely that does not mean that one must be swayed by every populist mobilization. If intellectual genealogies must be invoked, I still retain the lessons I drew in my youth from Marx, Lenin and Mao that not everything that moves the people is worthy of support. The critical Left must not throw away its right and duty to be critical.

    Partha Chatterjee
    August 28, 2011 .

    • Avinash Jha permalink
      August 29, 2011 11:12 AM

      It seems to me that two things are being confused here. One is the moral authority of the movement. The other is the institutional authority of Lokapal. The basic argument of Prashat Bhushan et al seems to be that there is a conflict of interest in the current institutional structure when it comes to cases of alleged corruption, which can be addressed only by having an independent institution with its own checks and balances. Whether fight against corruption is important or not, and who is entitled to lead this fight, and support it, is another question.

      One can contest the moral authority being claimed for the movement whether on the basis of popular support or the ‘blameless’ life of its leader on the one hand. On the other, one can contest the nature of the institutional mechanism being proposed. It seems misleading to say that what is being proposed by the movement is that corruption can be handled only by a ‘moral authority’ outside politics. ‘Outside politics’ can also have an ambiguous meaning. Courts are also outside politics in one sense. That does not mean they are a ‘moral authority outside politics’.

    • Aparna permalink
      August 29, 2011 3:36 PM

      Forcing parliament to listen-if that must be called power, then let that be so, they are interested in power.

      Moral authority watching over other institutions-as things stand, this is the judiciary. Lokpal, like Lokayukt are only a way to speed up only the corruption-related cases bypassing the regular legal channel of regular courts, which are heavily burdened already with a backlog of some 3 crore cases. A way to quickly solve the open-and-shut cases that can be quickly solved without going through the present judicial system. That the cases which the people who man the govt system and elected representatives are the alleged culprits deserve to be solved quickly is the rationale for this argument. Lokpal-Lokayukt would not swoop down from the skies on unsuspecting people: case by case individual instances would have to be brought to its notice, presumably by aggrieved party seeking speedy justice. “Watching over other institutions” is not the only aspect of the proposed complex solution. Two examples: There is the very practical demand for delinking the anticorruption wing of the CBI from political interference. There is a transparency demand in the selection process.

      According to you the idea of Lokpal may only be vague, but I think it is a fairly clear idea and most points or questions have been identified and asked, and different camps may have different ideas on these points, but the idea itself is not vague as far as I know, and more questions can still be asked. I hope that the parliamentarians in the standing committee will ask detailed and meaningful questions among themselves and to those who appear before them and make a good enough law after such vehement arguments from their part on the need for time and detailed analysis.

      If the real danger is that “what if other people use the same method now and claim to be moral authorities to whom everyone must agree?”. First, I don’t think that Anna etc are denying anyone the right to disagree with them. They have been open to change and criticism. Second, it is not easy to do what they have done, so there will only be a few such of similar scale and influence and determination and narrow focus. Third, parliament listening to views of people or groups is not a bad thing in itself–maybe each MP should listen more to more people and shout less to less people. Fourth, each side (movement, politicians, intellectuals, public, parliament, government, media, bureaucracy) have made mistakes as well as shown competence and this has been a learning experience for each person concerned. Fifth, I don’t think that the movement has actually defied or gone against the spirit of the constitution in anyway. But beyond all these (what I think peripheral arguments) I would say the question “what if other people use the same method now and claim to be moral authorities to whom everyone must agree?” is a needless fear, because under the guise of that sane question is the real question, “What if other people start thinking on their own?”

      “Moral authority outside the political” I think Gandhi is a more appropriate analogy than Khomeini. I don’t think there is a real danger of India becoming a theocratic state any more than there was that danger before this movement occurred.

      “Frustrated by the corruption and paralysis of government, there seems to be a certain popular hunger for a powerful moral authority standing over government and the politicians. That is what I hear in what Aparna is saying. I would request her to think through the implications.” I said it like a thing that has already happened. That popular hunger is an explanation of, or one of the contributing factors of, the success of the campaign. That hunger turned out to be a good thing. I don’t know what I am supposed to think of the implications now.

      Anyway, thank you Partha, for answering to my comments.

  3. August 28, 2011 11:01 PM

    ‘ In his disdain of the popular, I hear the voice of the normative theorist here, not that of one of the key figures of Subaltern Studies.’
    Yes, but surely what Partha is doing is courageously taking on the chin the unwelcome blow that Hazare is the Homo Sacer of this historical moment. We can conclude nothing about his nomology from the cri de couer of his pathos because only one mythos occupies this momment and its popular character can’t be questioned, abstracting from its situationist vector algebra, because it exists as pure moment.
    Furthermore, is it not retrograde to revisit an epoche in Subaltern Studies which was long ago sublated by an invaginated reading which, among other things, yielded the concept of fistulaization instrumental to a proper engagement with Queer Theory, or even- salve veritam- ordinary ‘daal bhatta’ Grass Roots, Bahishkrit dialogic which, vulgar Methodenstriet apart, we all recognize our own to be supervenient upon.

  4. August 28, 2011 11:24 PM

    I don’t get it – are we simply not supposed to criticize populist movements? Can there really be anything more silly than a movement against ‘corruption’ in the era of India Shining? Can a piece of legislation have any effect in a system where self-interest, careerism, status is the be all and end all of life? Isn’t corruption what the system is all about? Who among the middle-classes at least is not corrupt?

  5. Shuddhabrata Sengupta permalink
    August 29, 2011 12:09 AM

    This is to jump into the conversation between Partha Chatterjee and Aditya Nigam. Just to say that in my earlier post on the first episode of the Hazare saga – I had said something that echoes Partha’s reservations about the dangers of an extra-political moral authority being set up under the guise of institutions like the Lok Pal.This is when Nobel Prize winners of Indian Origin (presumably including Sir Vidia Naipaul) were supposed to be party to choosing the Lok Pal

    “This is a classic case of a privileged elite selecting how it will run its show without any restraint. It sets the precedent for the making of an unaccountable ‘council of guardians’ something like the institution of the ‘Velayat e Faqih’ – a self-selected body of clerics – in Iran who act as a super-state body, unrestrained by any democratic norms or procedures.”

    In April, i was responding to the content of the draft of the Jan Lok Pal Bill that was in circulation at that time. That draft has disappeared off the website of India Against Corruption. And the draft in circulation now does not contain the most egregious provisions about the selection process. However, I think the substance of the spirit of a ‘Velayat-e-Faqih’ style institution, composed of ‘civil society’ rather than clerics like in Iran, still I think, remains.

    • August 29, 2011 1:42 AM

      I honestly don’t think it acceptable to write ‘…Velayat e Faqih’ – a self-selected body of clerics …’ .
      The concept derives from the Islamic duty to widows, orphans, and the disabled and is the first step, as well as the last, on the path of Jurisprudence. Mindful of the enormous animus which gives alterity its emotional charge or valency, surely this is better than that Leavinasian first philosophy which proved its bankruptcy after Shatila.

      Why endorse, by quite gratuitiously perpetuating, the meretricious memes of sipah-e-sahaban polemics? Why do it when innocent brothers and sisters in Karachi are still bleeding from what are as yet staunchless wound?
      No doubt, loosely, for polemic purposes, one may say that this concept has been perverted by some ‘self-selected’ people like the current Iqbal-parast ‘Supreme Guide’- however, it is still rather unfair and… well, I don’t want to be sanctimonious… the point is why drag Velayat e Faqih into this?
      Nobody with any knowledge or decency would deny that the Shia Mujtahid- though certain ‘Mujjadid’s’ abide our question- has met objective and demanding standards, just like a PhD from the best Universities, and is not ‘self-selected’ or essentially ‘self-serving’ in the slightest degree.
      P.Sainath did any excellent job of laughing out of court the draft Sengupta refers to. What I don’t understand is why this gentleman is bringing in a word with a religious meaning- viz. duty of care to the helpless as being first and last step of ‘Fiqh’ (Jurisprudence))- when he himself is not of that background or community?
      Is this some sort of ‘strategic essentialism’ or plain ‘parapraxis’
      What is the point? Sengupta Shaib- do you really want to show, the Shia mujtahid is a kaffir and Shias worthy of being killed?
      To say ‘Velayet-e-Faqih’ is institutional rather than categorical is to occlude both an immanent and ongoing Liberational struggle as well as an atemporal and transcendental meta-critique of Society..

      • August 29, 2011 4:03 AM

        I retract this. No offence was meant. I was wrong to suggest Sengupta was insensitive on this point. I made a mistake. When the hegemonic power uses Orientalist memes, THAT must be combated as a matter, not of integrity or solidarity, but just to save our own souls.
        I would like to point Sengupta Ji to Hazrat Imam Jafar as Sadiq’s concept of ‘takvin’ – wrongly labelled ‘artificial or alchemical creation of life’- but actually a more than Fuerbachian creation of an ‘apoorva’ new essence for Man by Man and for Man. It is so easy to see Iran as through a glass darkly- it is Hegemony, masquerading as the Light of the Public which darkens everything- though the truth is ‘as we see, so are we ourselves seen.’
        That said, and in the context of mourning the recent passing of Tareque Masud,I would seek to remind Sengupta Ji of that marvellous ‘baul song’ in his film where Hazrat Fatima is celebrated even against her own Impeccable Husband.
        Iran’s Supreme Guide, on the other hand, heaps praise on Iqbal but ignores the fact that he placed the Ba’bi martyr Qurratulayn on the same planet (Jupiter) as Ghalib and Bedil.
        Sorry, if I have given offence to any by this.

  6. datura permalink
    August 29, 2011 1:16 AM

    What puzzles me is how very few of these posts actually discuss the role of global capital in all this. Is this discussion not set up precisely to disavow this role? At this time, when this campaign is simultaneous with the UID project spearheaded by ex-Infosys Nilekani, I am forced to wonder whether the state and the populace are not being set at odds with each other just so that the problem the nation faces is “corruption”. Corruption, which has existed for god knows how long, but has now seemingly come to the surface through the 2G and other such scams being brought to light by the media. If one is to ask why this moment, why this timeliness, I can find an answer only in the fact that there is a way in which, at a particular moment such as this one, a discourse of globalization will disavow the nexus between the state and global capital in order to place the corruption of the state on view. This is not to say that populism is insignificant or non-existent, or that it does not mean anything that people are out there in Ram Lila. The statement that politics always exceeds the political holds good here as well, different groups are there to claim different stakes, and sometimes the claims spill over even what “Team Anna” has imagined as the goal (the demand for a Dalit-Bahujan Lokpal Bill, for instance, or the fact that sex workers support this movement). But if one is to stick with the formal face of this movement and what it is asking for, isn’t there an underlying stake that capitalism has here, whether it is in a certain way in which the citizen imagines himself/herself, or the ways in which the private sector operates? (And I don’t mean this as directly relating to the Bill in question, but rather to whom the state is made accountable – has the state been made accountable to Irom Sharmila in similar ways?). The nexus between state and capital was visible in Nandigram, why can’t we see it here? And not just in the form of corporate corruption, but as something far more constitutive of the time that we occupy?

  7. Tughlaq permalink
    August 29, 2011 1:57 AM

    @ Vivek: I believe you are making a point. But can you please translate for the benefit of those of us unschooled in Husserlian phenomenology, French, Latin, and esoteric neologisms? Or is this the only linguistic register that the largely leftist American academia you referred to in one of your earlier comments traffics in?

  8. August 29, 2011 2:09 AM

    I agree with Partha Chatterji that “critical left must not throw away its right and duty to be critical” even in the face of populist movements. But Lok Pal is not any institution outside the Constitution but an institution sought to be created within the framework of Constitution because Parliament itself is creature of constitution. But if such an institution is given too wide jurisdiction and powers, the real deliberative, legislative and ultimately executive functions of the Parliament themselves will suffer and at least for a short period the Lok Pal may create havoc as an extra-constitutional authority within the constitutionally sanctioned structure. Of course, another fight will ensue and ultimately his wings will be clipped but why to step in the mire first and then wash the legs later? Let us seriously think over all the pros and cons while making the law or while the law is being made itself, than get just swayed by Anna Team’s populist exhortations. Anna of course deserves credit and respect for inspiring and mobilizing the people in millions for the anti-corruption movement but there is always a ‘thus far and no further’!

  9. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    August 29, 2011 2:10 AM

    I think Partha hits the nail on the head (but doesn’t stick to the point beyond pointing it out) when he links the issue or corruption with morality. I have argued in my piece on the Anna phenomenon (The Messianic Order of India, available on the Hardnews website), that a very specific class and class morality is masquerading as universal morality in this case as it does in any issue picked up by the middle-class of this country. Partha is right in calling it anti-political, because of the pathologically moral character of the movement. But this is also a kind of politics – what Aditya doesn’t want to dismiss – which is the politics of the popular. I think in the Indian case, the idea of the popular is however unavoidable without the class and more problematically, the caste element, where the very idea of consensus is assumed under a particular moral idea. That idea cannot be disturbed by any movement. Those who are pro- reservation supporters, for example, belonging to backward castes, can take part in the Anna movement on the corruption issue alone, because the anti-reservation part of the crowd, who are also those who enjoy more social and political power in India, won’t accept it. On the coming together of a disparate crowd of people however, across communities and class, one must keep in mind the the reactionary potential among all sections of people, suddenly caught up in the attractions of a messianic politics. Rather than being the assertion of their political interests, I think it is a dissolution of their interests into a moral realm of political idealism. This attack on politics is therefore not a political attack based on certain political demands (what someone like Irom Shormila is engaged in), but rather a demand on character – that universal abstraction of human identity. And such a demand on character precisely takes us back to the question of morality – that in the Anna movement, both the possibility and the closure is centred around morality and ceases to exist – politically – beyond it. That morality in turn is consonantly attached to the upper caste Hindu world view and its specific identification of the messiah as someone who is born and re-born like Krishna, to bring a corrupt regime to its knees, but keeps the society’s religio-moral structure intact. Lastly, it appears as a contradiction to question the morality of those who are fighting against corruption. The garb of morality suits every self-denying Indian. After all, for them, to twist a famous line of Sartre (as I did in my article):
    Immorality is other people.

  10. August 29, 2011 4:31 AM

    It appears to me that the Hazare movement represents India’s struggle (and perhaps ‘confusion’ is the better word here) over what to do with its Gandhian heritage in the age of India Shining. Thus you have in this movement a wholly moralistic appropriation of that heritage, evacuated of its politics, evacuated of self-criticism, evacuated of the critique of modernity and of civil society – in short, of everything that made it postcolonial. As usual, the middle-classes want to have their cake and eat it too: leave intact the ethos and system that would make India a ‘superpower,’ and still claim the moral high ground.

  11. ravisrinivas permalink
    August 29, 2011 8:08 AM

    The context in which the Anna Hazare movement arose and why people considered that as relevant and hence supported it could not be ignored.The LokPal idea itself was not invented by his team.LokAkuythas and LokPal function within the constitutional framework just like Election Commission. That is why there are many versions now, including the ones from those who claim to represent Dalit-Bhaujans. It is interesting that they did not reject the
    idea but wanted that to address their concerns and drafted their one version. Today people applaud the role of EC in ensuring that polls are conducted in a free and transparent manner.The results are for all of us to see. Has not this development enriched democracy in India. In the recent assembly elections in Tamil Nadu the then ruling party complained about EC’s functioning as EC took steps to prevent people being bribed to vote in favor of a party. Money power could not derail the democratic process because of that. The authorities seized crores of rupees that were unaccounted for and in one instance 5 crores was seized from the top of a bus in an early morning raid.In fact even after elections there were not claimants for a portion of the money that was seized by EC. The functioning of EC has undergone a change over the last two decades.Thanks to intervention by civil society today the voter knows more about the candidates than ever before. Like that the LokPal can also result in a less corruption milieu in the society. Even with limited powers the LokAkyutha in Karnataka could do so much. It did not stop with politicians and covered officials too. The citizen of this country may be less interested in all high brow theories, and (s)he wants less corruption more transparency and better administration. If LokPal can contribute to that it should be welcomed as it is well within the constitutional scheme of things.Today voters know about the option of not voting in favor of any of the candidates and registering that in the poll process. This gives them the voice to speak their mind.
    It was not the political parties but civil society that alerted the votes about this option.
    Over the last two decades or so Supreme Court and civil society have intervened and tried to bring in changes in a system. The political class might not be enthusiastic about all this.
    But changes have come in not because of the political class but despite their resistance.
    Anna’s campaign is a link in that long chain of interventions and is not going to be the last link. That may be bad news for Partha Chatterjees but it is good news for a vibrant democracy in India.

  12. August 29, 2011 2:03 PM

    this is awesome guys….i think kafila’s the only blog .. where the comments make more sense than the post!!! way to go ..guys!! I think i hv never been more challenged intellectually than to see the level of discussion that is happening here…..the debate here has been taken to new level altogether likes of which cannot to even imagined by fllwrs of big media!! My 2 cents though..Can we do with making the language a bit more .. wht do i say ..self explanatory…

  13. August 29, 2011 3:00 PM

    The only populist movement I can think of which is very similar is the Tea Party movement in the United States – a powerful, highly motivated, populist mobilization of largely ordinary middle-class people who feel that the original citizens of the country – industrious, thrifty, honest white people who obeyed the law – had been rendered powerless by a Washington establishment dominated by big business and big banks and pandering, for political reasons, to lazy blacks and dishonest foreigners. It is a perfect populist movement, but Aditya, don’t ask me to feel enthusiastic about it.
    Let me reiterate that populist movements are not always worthy of approval simply because they are able to mobilize large masses of people.

    Ultimately, any movement is judged by its goal. Is the ‘Anna movement’ (or shall we call it the Kejriwal movement, because Anna is used more as a symbol of a movement designed mainly by Kejriwal) middle-class and against a section of the people, like the Tea Party? Not at all. Some have compared the movement to the Babri movement (anti-Muslim), the anti-Mandal movement (anti-OBC).

    Partha Chatterjee writes that the Anna movement is against the political class. It is that, but not in a way that it see the political class as an ‘enemy’ in the way that politics in Bengal divided people. The Anna movement is now thanking the political class for accepting its demands (the PM, Parliament and Delhi police have been profusely thanked). The Anna movement has been articulating itself in the name of Constitution and democracy and in my view, this articulation has not been done in a dishonest way, that is, it is not a cover for class/caste interests. It is here that we must, at least for a moment, get down from the high horse of judging the movement’s leaders and personalities and judge the popularity of its goals.

    Surely, a populist movement is not worthy of our admiration only because it is populist. But is a populist movement necessarily to be seen as regressive simply because it is populist?

    • A despondent Software Engineer permalink
      August 29, 2011 6:59 PM

      The current negotiation on this issue between Govt and Anna team has left me bit puzzled (I agree it does not take much to do that!)

      I am not sure what the goal of this movement is – if it is to erect an institution with huge power but with no clear accountability, then I am worried. If the dancing crowd in India gate is any indication of the emotion and sentiment attached to this moment, then I am worried. I would have celebrated, at least to a little extent, if I was working for Netcore who apparently earned handsomely in doing the online advertisements for the movement by sending SMS, email etc. – with the penetration of handheld devices both in rural and urban India, spontaneity can be manufactured – if one can get the timing right.

      Possibly, there is nothing much to worry about anyway . I presume that this movement will soon lose its shine, erect another state institution and will be absorbed in the colossal structure of Indian state, which will result in a win-win situation for all – Govt (see, who brought the Lokpal bill, like RTI?), Anna team (see, who compelled the Govt?), TV (good topic to have after cricket WC), and of course, Netcore (no comments on this as I am looking for a programming job with them to improve their processes for email and SMS distribution using adaptive algorithms utilizing liner regression).

      As long as organized or independent left cannot present an alternate policy of economic growth and indigenous technological innovations on clean sustainable energy and agriculture that actually matter for this country (and not for some companies shipping technical work to India because of low cost, which anyway benefits already developed economy) and devise an effective delivery mechanism for redistribution of wealth, any other discussion or movement, will only result in a temporary solution for a moment’s problem. Nandigram will be pacified but the same economic policies will be forced upon people at some other time on some other location either forcefully or beguilingly.

      On these issues, am I wrong in saying that all are the same – Modi, Nitesh, Mamata, Buddhadev? Are pulverizing people for growth which is supposed to trickle through to cover all eventually and having stagnated growth with poor work culture and little technical innovation the only options? I hate to accept that, but cannot find an answer myself – it is not the same as writing an algorithm.

      I therefore come to kafila to find answers to this question, but in vain. May be my search is not detailed enough or may be no such answer exists. Perhaps it is accepted by now that “one king goes, another comes, blue is his colour, red was his, colour changes, days remain the same (please excuse my poor attempt to translate a poem in English). Or maybe, just may be, one day Mr Sengupta or Mr Vij will enlighten me on this with their views.

  14. joe permalink
    August 29, 2011 4:23 PM

    A kind of consensus evolving out of the debatae in kafila points to the need for critical engagement with mass movements. Agreed. But the critical part can be enriched by thGail, Arundhati, Teltumde, Gazala, Sen gupta et.al , aswell. I think , some comments lose sight of this, and get carried away by the ‘kumbhmelisation’.That has the possibilities of making a new left , a new right.The whole history of the trajectory of evolution of Indian left, is forgotten, all on a sudden.The classical stalinist to revolutionary, revisionist to radical ‘maniacs’, had at various points, proven their ability for mass politics and creativley engaging with religious crowds. Except at a theoretical level, their atheistic persuasion,never came in the way of engaging the religious crowd. Sometimes even to the extent of manipulation.But toeing the line of an inchoate relgious mass, without critical engagment would not pay off, in the long run. As Lucien Goldman philosphises, Jansenists quest for absoluteness in religosity , is the space to build on for progressive endeavours, which has it s parallels in liberation theology or political budhism.So it is not mere kumbhmela crowd one should aim for. The whole debate on postmandal politics, problematisation of symbols of majoritarian religiosity, which enriched left debate of all schools to a positive internalisation, cannot be cast away , for the sake of crowd politics, by drawing in postcolonial subsatntiations.Or rather than the apparent subversitvity of the majortiarin relgiosity, which poses as a kind of ‘enfeebled’ minority, pitted against normativity of the ‘modern’, is not a panacea. As is understood , the majortarian construct called Hindusim, which draws on for its genesis from a discourse on orientalism, could be fascistic majoritarianism, well understood and explained by Ambedkar. So their rightful ire on it as not simplistically any relgion, but a systematic and idealistic fascist dscourse. So one cannot wish away rational kernel and materialist spirit of various budhist schoolos of yore, or charvaka legacy. Apart from progressive religiosity, the left can even build on progressive schools of atheism as well, if things are not to be seen in black and white. Thus along with dalit budhism, radical humanism of an M.N.Roy to Periyar’s antibrahmanic atheism, had its own mass politics.(Add even Gora)

    As Henri Lefevebre puts, the politics of personal subjectivity wallowing in rest, to differ from the majority, in the critique of daily life, can contribute to build on a politics of spatiality , entirely different from countless reproduction of majoritarian workaholism.

  15. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    August 29, 2011 5:36 PM

    Correction:
    I think in the Indian case, the idea of the popular is however unavoidable WITHIN the class and more problematically, the caste element, where the very idea of consensus is assumed under a particular moral idea.

  16. Malay Deb permalink
    August 29, 2011 9:28 PM

    This my first visit to this site. I am pleasantly surprised to find the quality of the articles and the subsequent comments is of high order.

  17. Sokalism permalink
    August 30, 2011 5:24 PM

    A tip of the hat to the brilliant parody of Vivek.

  18. Anush Kapadia permalink
    August 31, 2011 10:43 AM

    Partha sees a paradox: how is it that mobilization against “corruption,” a concept that cannot credibly distinguish between “the people” and “the enemy of the people,” successfully assumes the populist shape of “the people vs the enemy”? If this is a middle class movement, but the entire middle class itself benefits from corruption, how can this same middle class avoid the cognitive dissonance of identifying itself as the enemy? Simple: “by designating the entire domain of government and political parties as the enemy.” Being inveterate moralists, the middle classes simple don’t admit to any wrongdoing. Middle Class = Apolitical and Politics = Corruption, therefore Anti-Corruption = Anti-Politics.

    Now while there is certainly a healthy overlap between the anti-corruption sentiment and the anti-political imperative, I think to conflate the two completely is incorrect. It is thanks to this conflation that Partha fails to grasp what I take to be the thrust of Aparna’s comment, namely that there is *political* judgment in play when people make the distinction between their everyday practice of corruption and their desire to mobilize against it. This political desire is not adequated by erecting institutions to discipline and punish erring politicians; it is a democratic desire for great control over one’s own fate.

    To wit, we are all ensnared by capitalism, yet we construct our critiques of capitalism by distinguishing its structure from our agency: we participate in a social formation that is not of our own making. Our critique is a prelude to a politics of transformation. Thus Partha’s paradox dissolves: corruption might not distinguish between the people and the enemy simply because anti-corruption is not totally populist anti-politics. How then do we account for the anti-political rhetoric?

    “Corruption” might be a placeholder for a systemic critique that has no other conceptual vocabulary ready-to-hand from which a progressive transformational politics might emerge. It is in the darkness of this absence that anti-corruption devolves into anti-politics.

    Partha has construed Aparna as citing *moral* judgment in making a distinction between the good and the bad, the people and the enemy, in the context of corruption. What he fails to see is that people do make a distinction between involvement in and complicity with corruption, that is, between entering in to a corrupt practice because that is the way the “system” functions and valorizing this act as good for the body politic. However inchoate, this identification of a coercive system beyond one’s control might be the precursor to a deeper analysis. By failing adequately account for this political moment, Partha is lead to an overly critical gesture rather than one of critical solidarity.

    Partha parenthetically notes this ability to acknowledge proximity to corruption at the level of practice even while decrying it at the level of political judgment when he mentions his IIM graduate. This is a strange point in his post because it stands in stark contrast to the “people vs the enemy” frame he is seeking to generalize, so he has to rush over it. But Aparna is dead right to highlight it by asking, “How do you explain then the widespread repeated pledges, affirmations, reminders of the need to stop giving and taking bribe?”. Of course, the widespread call to swear off corruption presumes intimate imbrication with the practice. This puts paid to Partha’s claim that the dominant notion is “corruption is always what someone else does.” It therefore limits our ability to see the movement in purely populist terms.

    It is precisely because this animating political desire for transformation has not been cashed out as systemic critique that this movement’s rhetoric persists in anti-political form. This stance is of course amplified by the availability of a rights-based discourse that sees “independent” institutions as the solution to all manner of social and political problems. This discourse is itself undergirded by the middle-class ethic of the back-seat driver, namely someone who wants to tie the driver in all kinds of procedural knots to ensure a certain behavioural outcome but who doesn’t want to actually take the wheel, heaven forbid. Indeed, there is a certain disdain for the somewhat tawdry task of driving. This disdain for the political is shared by the neoliberal “expert” and the central planner and accounts for the smooth transition from one regime to the other. The neoliberal aims to construct the rules of the market game to insure a certain societal outcome while not deigning to enter the field of play; the planner claims to embody a universal rationality that directs society by standing outside the “squabbles and conflicts of politics.”

    Instead of asking how corruption becomes populist, therefore, we might ask how a political desire to understand and transform a coercive system comes to be interpolated in an anti-political register? As a preliminary to an answer, we might outline certain dynamics that delimit the space within which Team Anna’s anti-politics is but one available move. There are at least two dynamics that generate a tendency for a critique of corruption to take the form that is has in India, one “micro” and one “macro.”

    At the micro level, there is a simple coordination problem: in any particular context, it is in no one person’s interest to avoid corruption because doing so sends one to the back to the line. Yet it is in everyone’s interest to remove corrupt practices altogether because this will achieve a more efficient collective outcome (a well-run passport office, say). This generates the demand for a coordination mechanism to align individual and collective interests. In the absence of such a mechanism, everyone will assume that everyone else is corrupt and therefore either engage in corruption themselves or resent the fact that they cannot. A solvent coordinating mechanism might take the form of anything from a social norm to a credible threat of surveillance and punishment or various combinations of the same. But whatever the form, the fact of pervasive graft at every level of a corporate and governmental life–itself the result of norm-breakdowns and a swamping of governance machinery by “political society” in Partha’s sense—generates a demand for a coordination mechanism as solution. In India, we have to ask why this demand for coordination takes the dominant form of petit-bourgeois morality as opposed to, say, Nilekani-style “systems analysis” that is itself a lineal descendant of cybernetic central planning?

    At the macro level, there is of course the mundane institutional demand for checks and balances between various arms of government. A radicalized imagination of these institutional modes would seek to experiment with different formulas of balance at different local, state, and central levels of government. Willy-nilly, we have such an experiment in India, but it is experimental only implicitly, by virtue of our many-headed political society, rather than explicitly, ie energized by a prevailing ethic of experimentation. Such rootless experimentation runs the risk of massive social trauma precisely because each contending party mobilizes transcendental arguments in favor of necessarily parochial arrangements. Thus Team Anna fail to make the distinction between the failure of Indian parliament as an historical fact and parliamentary rule as a governing idea, thereby allowing the government to use the language of parliamentary sovereignty to cover over the the glaring faults of venal parliamentary practice.

    The simple fact that there is no unique formula for setting the terms of concentration and dispersion of state power opens up the field to competing universalisms, but such a competition does not exempt us from having to arrive at a collective decision about such a formula. By definition, part of any solution set will have to entail a depoliticization of certain domains of governance. The demand for such a formula is not the invention of petit-bourgeois morality even though it might currently be dressed in its kitsch. The question is, how has it come to be so, and how might it change?

    The middle class understands that corruption is a pervasive practice in which they are deeply imbricated, but they take themselves to be innocents ensnared in a web of someone else’s making. They also make the accurate political judgment that they have been sidelined in parliamentary politics, so they seek to circumvent parliament by upsetting the constitutional balance. Yet shallow morality and undemocratic institutional design are merely symptoms of a deeper issue: the absence of a conceptual vocabulary in which to express a potentially progressive politics. Given this absence, the immanent dynamics of the situation amplify the gravitational pull of moralistic anti-politics because the latter bears certain attributes that speak to these dynamics. Failing to identify the political underneath the anti-political can lead an independent left to miss an opportunity to turn emotional catharsis and moralistic pledges into transformational politics.

    • August 31, 2011 4:49 PM

      Brilliant comment. A couple of cavils-
      1) ‘“Corruption” might be a placeholder for a systemic critique…’ It would be worthwhile to speculate as to the historicity of that implicit systemic critique as well as why a climacteric may now have been reached. I’d like to point out that In a rapidly growing economy, or even one where there is a bubble, as opposed to steady state economy, capitalized rents rise much faster than income thus giving rise to front-loading= i.e. the burden of the bribe falls more heavily now than over the life time of the benefit received. Secondly, if asset markets are inflated and India is facing a shake-out over the next three years, then the front-loaded bribe burden may in fact be unsustainable. Thirdly, as with the American Tea Party, demographic changes (the middle classes having attained demographic transition while the beneficiaries of NREGA, RTE etc have not) mean the haves are less willing to willing to ‘contract in’. Since bribery is institutionalized and funds Politics, it is in effect a tax but a tax from which the haves receive proportionately less benefit. Fourth, Delhi’s commercial class saw a spectacular mis-allocation of resources during the Commonwealth Games. Hoteliers and businesses had been promised a Beijing Olympics style business bonanza- instead turnover fell for a lot of people. To summarize, transactional corruption as a rationing device can be neutral for the middle class but ceases to be so if it is capitalized on the basis of inflated expectations and, moreover, it leads to such serious misallocation of resources as to reduce growth.
      2) ‘At the micro level, there is a simple coordination problem’- coordination problems don’t need a coordination mechanism, that’s what makes the concept useful. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding of what is meant in the literature by mechanism design.
      I don’t understand what this is supposed to mean ‘In India, we have to ask why this demand for coordination takes the dominant form of petit-bourgeois morality as opposed to, say, Nilekani-style “systems analysis” that is itself a lineal descendant of cybernetic central planning?’ I find it impossible to parse this sentence without revealing multiple misconceptions
      3) Perhaps in the day of the Ambassador car, when- as Naipaul pointed out- the back seat was more comfortable than the driver’s seat- it was true that Indians preferred to back seat drivers. But driving a BMW is pleasurable. The analogy is out of date.

      Well written, nonetheless.

  19. Jeebesh Bagchi permalink
    August 31, 2011 12:01 PM

    Perplexing why Partha Chatterjee (all entangled in corruption), Arjun Appadurai (fascist gathering), Arundhati Roy (came for reality show) in their argument against the stage/studio so contemptuous of the crowd. As if the connection between the crowd and stage is cemented. Is there no way to read excess, overflow, disconnect, escape in the relation of crowd to the stage? No fear of the Hydra headed crowd?

    In Manesar Maruti factory the management has decided to get a “Good Conduct” agreement signed by each worker before they enter the factory. The conduct is to not engage in slow down, sit in, tampering, spanner in the wheel, etc. It is said that few of the workers went to the Ramila Grounds and cam back saying that they will sit on an “anshan”. The management panicked and set up a 300 strong police post inside the factory. The 11 day sit in inside the factory in June is the background to this drastic move by the management.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      September 1, 2011 7:52 AM

      Thanks Jeebesh for pointing this out yet again, for all it is worth. I say this not merely because of this strange judgement expressed by Partha Chatterjee and Arjun Appadurai. That is their opinion and they are certainly entitled to it but the highly selective way in which they choose to respond to issues and simply not take cognizance of certain others. If Partha Chatterjee has responded to some of the issues raised in Anush’s very thoughtful comment, we should be grateful for that. But to have visions of ‘mass rallies of Hitler and Stalin’ in the Hazare rallies is really something else altogether. This episode has revealed to me the limit of a certain kind of scholarship and if, I may say so, social science. I know you have never placed much faith in this kind of social science ever, but for me this is really a new situation. At the very least, one should be able to make a distinction between a Ram Mandir movement or an anti-Mandal agitation on the one hand, and something like the present one, on the other (leave alone Nandigram). What I read in Partha Chatterjee’s earlier comment is a disdain of all popular and ‘spontaenous’ movements (reiterated in his reply to Anush below). That is, as Shahid Amin would say, my hasil-e-mehfil – what I take away from this virtual gathering.

  20. Partha Chatterjee permalink
    September 1, 2011 1:32 AM

    I have no quarrel at all with Anush’s central argument. Of course, there is a political layer underneath the anti-political, because this movement which claims to be against the political classes is without doubt a political mobilization. I was not making a general theoretical argument about all such political movements that might claim to be anti-political and their underlying political possibilities. My comments were based on a practical political judgment about this specific movement that has emerged around Anna Hazare.
    Yes, ordinary people who have supported the movement are indeed driven by a democratic urge for greater say in public decision making. But, as Anush correctly points out, there is one tendency in the present movement that insists on specific institutional solutions to get rid of corruption. There could be, and should be, another tendency that, instead of being misled by the absence of an adequate conceptual vocabulary, looks for a “radicalized imagination of constitutional formulae … as a prelude to a politics of transformation”. In my judgment (of course, I could be wrong), I see within the directing elements of the present movement a pervasive presence of the first tendency but none of the second.
    I might hazard a few guesses about what I think will be the immediate consequences of the Anna Hazare movement. The best thing that could happen is a Lokpal or ombudsman that works more or less in the same fashion as the Election Commission does today. It would by no means achieve the end of corruption in government, but it would be a big achievement in at least tempering the present climate of virtual impunity of people in power. But even as that result is achieved, it would, I think, certainly strengthen several-fold the tendency, already quite significant, of taking large chunks of decision-making authority away from elected representatives and putting them in the hands of independent regulators. This has happened (not even counting the role of a zealous judiciary seeking to rein in the elected executive and legislature) in the case of the monetary and financial institutions (even if somewhat imperfectly for the Reserve Bank of India), electricity generation and distribution, telephone services, several industrial townships that have no elected municipal government but are governed by corporate nominees, and – who knows, we may soon have it – special economic zones outside the jurisdiction of the normal administrative and judicial authorities. I think the success of the Anna Hazare movement will immensely strengthen this counter-democratic tendency and there will be demands for more and more government services to be placed under such independent regulatory authorities operated by people of “social standing and unquestioned integrity”. Needless to say, issues of representation of minorities, scheduled or backward castes, etc in such bodies will be brushed aside because they smack of political patronage and hence of corruption.
    This is not, I believe, an alarmist reading of the immediate consequences of the recent movement but a fairly cautious and understated prognosis. Much more alarmist signs have been noticed by other observers.
    As for turning “emotional catharsis and moralistic pledges into transformational politics”, I must confess I have not seen any signs, at least among the elements that appear to be directing the present movement. I don’t think either Anush or Aparna have given us anything more than what we would like to see but is clearly not there.
    My negative judgment on this score is admittedly influenced by our experience in West Bengal in the last four years where a popular outburst far more massive, in terms of the proportion of people mobilized, than anything that has happened in northern India in the last month, and in the face of far greater threat of violence than anything that the Anna movement has had to face, has ended up – quite predictably, I insist – in replacing one form of single-party dominance with another. All through the last four years, I have heard people say, including many wise and experienced persons who should have known better, “Let us get rid of these goons first. Later, we will have time to think about what happens next.” What we have got now is a regime intent on establishing its single-party dominance, virtually on the old model, accompanied by a shameless sycophancy and a cult of the Great Leader that would have made Indira Gandhi blush. I see no transformational politics that has emerged out of the amazing popular mobilization of the last four years.
    With all my hopes pinned on thoughtful and energetic people from Anush and Aparna’s generation, I must record my somewhat old-fashioned scepticism about the spontaneity of popular mobilizations and reiterate the importance, so insistently emphasized at one time by Antonio Gramsci, of creating and consolidating the directing element in popular struggles that can make such movements a prelude to a politics of transformation.

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