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Our Corruption, Our Selves: Arjun Appadurai

August 30, 2011

This is a guest post by ARJUN APPADURAI

Partha Chatterjee and Shuddhabrata Sengupta rightly argue that “corruption” is indeed a new Indian label for “the lives of others”. The East German Stasi also surely saw their vigilance as directed against the politics of “the enemies of the people”, except that in their case the state and the party were seen to contain all the good people, with the bad people choosing to remain in the unmobilized parts of civil society. Hence the pro-Hazare gatherings certainly have some of the disturbing echoes of mass rallies under Hitler and Stalin with the working and middle-classes adoring a mediocre and Chaplinesque figure who promises a new wave of moral cleansing.

It is worth thinking about the very category of corruption, especially since the middle of the twentieth century, when much of the Third World, including India, achieved Independence. This was the heyday of modernization theory, the great beast of American social science (never much favored in Europe) which saw the rest of the world as needing big doses of rationality, punctuality, impersonality, statisticality and other assorted virtues in order to become modern in the Western manner. This was accompanied by a huge investment in education, technology, science, engineering, fertilizers, dams, factories and other temples of the Nehru period in India. During this period, corruption by many other names, such as nepotism, clientelism, patronage, familism etc. was always the background diagnosis of what was wrong with the unmodernized classes and masses of the developing world. The original Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968) contains a marvelously revealing entry under the title of “Office, Misuse of” by the late Shri B. Venkatappiah, one time Deputy Governor of the State Bank, Chairman of the State Bank, Member of the Planning Commission, Head of Rural Electrification etc, one of the intellectual giants of the ex-ICS technocracy of independent India. I believe he was asked to write this essay by my one time nemesis at The University of Chicago, the late Prof. Edward Shils, one of the scourges of the left in Europe and the U.S.A., a disciple and evangelist of the wrong side of the Max Weber heritage, and an early visitor to independent India who wrote two influential articles on “Indian Intellectuals” which marked the highbrow end of modernization theory in the 1960’s.

I knew Shri Venkatappiah as the father of my closest childhood friend, and he was a polymath. His essay on “Office, Misuse Of…” is a classic of concise prose, moral clarity and planning optimism. It is the best single expression of the idea that corruption is about the capture of public office for private means. It offers a straightforward analysis to the effect that corruption is nothing more or less than the capture of government by all those interests which define the core values of social life in India (and in most of the world), which include our family, friends, communities, tribes and other personal ties as appropriate beneficiaries of anyone who holds public office in a modern, democratic society. Thus, in the heyday of modernization theory, was it considered feasible to construct a major political life, entirely cleansed of those ties that defined (and still define) human life for much of our history as a species.

In a largely forgotten 1969 essay the redoubtable political scientist, James Scott, argued that what was labeled corruption was in fact the main way in which those numerous groups who had no access to the legislative process had to resort to exercising influence on polity and economy by acting in the executive sphere, through techniques of direct payment and purchase which were officially seen as “corrupt”. This lovely analysis could well be applied to all the Anna supporters who flocked to the Ramlila Maidan and elsewhere to embody his message.

But Scott’s analysis did not go far enough. The reality, as Partha Chatterjee rightly points out, is that everyone living in India, and many of us who live outside, have friends, family and kinsmen on whom we depend to “get things done”, especially when we have a crisis, and therefore justify our actions in the name of our personal states of exception.  Agamben should take note: exceptions are for me, rules are for everyone else. Thus does the middle class exert its bizarre sovereignty in India today.

In fact, no one is outside the web of personalistic means and occasions to assert one’s personal interests. The low-minded do so openly in respect to public interests. The high-minded among us do this only “for ourselves” when a child is sick, a son needs a job or we ourselves need a job transfer.

It is of course absurd to expect a society of a billion people to construct a politics cleansed of the ties that bind them. This was the blindness of modernization theory. But if the theory was blind, abstract and unrealistic, why has it not been toppled? The answer is that modernity has produced two selves for most middle-class Indians (here I mean not just the wealthy middle classes but everyone from managers to bus-conductors). One of these selves is still built on the fantasy of a Western self, instilled through decades of propaganda and schooling, which imagines itself as impersonal, apolitical and civic-minded to a fault. The other is a living, local, biographic self embedded entirely in friends, family and ties of blood, marriage and caste. These two selves are at war to some extent throughout the world but especially in places like India where the middle-classes, fed on the apparent successes of democratic politics, think they can have their cake (and be modern, abstract and impersonal) and eat it too (be self-interested, family-oriented and totally localistic).

This war is what has erupted in the Anna Hazare movement. Yes, it is to some extent an effort to take politics out of the polity, a classic mass fascist fantasy, in which our parades, wars and speeches are moral, and the enemy’s similar efforts are political and demonic. But there is another twist in contemporary India. This is a battle against “politics” indeed, but it is waged in the name of the people not just against politics but also against bureaucracy. This Weberian distinction is of the utmost importance in India where only a few people have friends and family in “politics” but everybody has friends and family in bureaucracies, or is a (small or large) bureaucrat themselves.

But in that case we have a bigger puzzle. If we are all bureaucrats or related to bureaucrats by blood, what is the rage behind Anna’s movement all about? I propose that it is about a massive effort to displace the “bureaucrats” within us all in today’s India onto the “politicians” outside all of us, a smaller and more easily identifiable group. Thus as it has been in all convulsive mass movements with a hysterical edge, the “intimate enemy” (to use Ashis Nandy’s term from another context) has to be exorcised and localized outside “us the people”, and the “netas”, small and large, are now the Jews of India, responsible for all that is greedy, corrupt and evil within us.

And this is why many of us on the liberal left are confused by the Anna movement. We know the enemy inside us but we are uncomfortable with its social projection. We see that this is a war within “us” which is being re-staged as a war against “them”.  We are right to hesitate. This is not about “lives of others”. This is about the war between the babu and the neta in every middle-class Indian heart, including my own.

(Arjun Appadurai is Goddard Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University.)


22 Comments leave one →
  1. Ravi Shankar permalink
    August 30, 2011 1:13 AM

    Thanks very much, sir. Thinking with blade as always!
    This is purely Fascism. Wonder how academics could mistake it for some other thing! May be our young ones would rather have their own fascism and then when its over enact their own Sartre and Levi.
    The power of fascism to spread itself is not to be underestimated. Nazis took time. Some say 100 years. But fascism is instantaneous. Because it is about hiding our own selves and feeling good in lynching the Other. That’s why nobody asks if Bedi etc are corrupt or not. It does not matter!
    When I retired from civil services in 78 friends congratulated me for honesty and integrity in service. I said ‘morality is more evil. Kant would have killed more people than Hitler with his maxims’.

  2. August 30, 2011 2:00 AM

    Those on the left would do well to add something more substantial to the movement. I can summarise the objections raised by the left as following:

    1. It is anti democratic/parliamentary (What role does Mrs Gandhi play in our parliamentary democracy?).

    2. Anna Hazare is dictatorial/fascist/nazi/Hindu fanatic (It is not about Anna Hazare, please)

    3. This will lead to a bigger bureaucracy prone to more corruption (this is a valid point)

    4. Corruption is in all of us (true, how do you propose to change it?)

    5. Hoi polloi aka mob can’t/shouldn’t legislate (I think that day is coming, get ready)

    This is a historic moment in India. It is possible, no almost certain, that there are many things that will go wrong in this movement. It will help if the leftists use some of their thought cycles to come up with constructive ideas. If not, the tide of change will brush them aside and leave them completely irrelevant.

    • August 30, 2011 8:38 PM

      n you can do better than just give tired rhetoric in the garb of opinion…you my friend can do better than be part of the mob and add on to debate!!

  3. ravisrinivas permalink
    August 30, 2011 8:14 AM

    When compared to the population of India the size of the bureaucracy is nothing. So it is likely that millions may have no relative or friend or some one known being employed in government services. How many laborers in unorganized sector have a relative/friend in government service. Anna Hazare’s movement drew its supporters from these groups also. Hence trying to link it solely with middle class through a different set of assumptions is not convincing. Further the demand for LokPal was not raised for the first time by them.
    Perhaps Arjun Appadurai is struck in1960s in his understanding of corruption. If he had read Transparency International Report, various surveys on corruption in India and at least media reports on various reports of CAG on both state and central govt. departments and studies on how programs had been implemented his understanding would have been closer to the reality as perceived by the supporters of Anna. But then is it not too much to think that high brow theorists in ivory towers would bother to read such mundane stuff when they can come up with as many as half a dozen theoretical spins by the time one opens the mouth and says corruption.[ I am sure that sooner or later some highbrow academic will ask whether CAG reports are peer reviewed and if not why give them so much importance :).]
    They are spin doctors of a different kind as they have problem only with Anna&his team and of course with the usual suspects aka middle class.
    These spin doctors are saying that since at least a section of the middle class is corrupt how can it oppose corruption. In other words all they says is if at least some one in your circle of friends/relatives/known to you is corrupt you have no locus standi to oppose corruption.The logic is middle class as a whole has no locus standi to oppose corruption as it is party to that or is implicated in it even if a portion of the middle class has none in govt, service as a friend/relative. What a brilliant but flawed logic it is. Do trees have standing,no they dont, so no problem in destroying forests. Does the middle class has standing in opposing corruption, no as at least some of them are involved in it, I know I am stretching the logic of high brow theorists but that is to show how absurd it is.

  4. August 30, 2011 1:27 PM

    One can have a little bit direct analysis of the anti-corruption movement too although which is not very ‘fashionable’. Corruption has reached new heights in India. The political class is in complicit with the big capitalists in looting the country. The corruption of the netas not just leading to big scams. It becomes large scale displacement, land acquisition and and a growing civil war in the heart of the country. The parliament is rotten and the educated urban people are in their final push to ‘save the system’. Otherwise, they rightly fear that the majority would take over.

  5. August 30, 2011 1:55 PM

    Ravi Srinivas, it does not seem very helpful to brand your interlocutors if you are interested in a dialogue. All these “ivory tower” “high brow” labels do not make sense if you really want to engage with Arjun Appadurai and Partha Chatterjee. That said the point about corruption is not the statistical detail of how many have relatives in politics and bureaucracy or whether they have their locus standi to protest against corruption. It is only that corruption is a too diffuse and systemic phenomenon and a fight against it cannot be staged as civil society vs. political actors. Once that kind of imaginary is allowed to become popular, the present humongous political apparatus, developed with so many fault lines and congeries of energy will come under heavy pressure from fascist tendencies. How many times have I heard the “oldies” say in my childhood that India is fit for only military rule? How many of them hoped Indira becoming the dictator in 1975 would have the whole country thriving cleansed of the ills of undeserved democracy?

  6. Asmita permalink
    August 30, 2011 2:02 PM

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000887.html#A

    The encyclopaedic entry Prof Appadurai quotes is extremely useful.

  7. August 30, 2011 2:44 PM

    “I propose that it is about a massive effort to displace the “bureaucrats” within us all in today’s India onto the “politicians” outside all of us, a smaller and more easily identifiable group.”
    Even if we are to assume that all the people at Ramlila are related/connected to bureaucrats and further assume that all of them are unwilling to accept their complicity in corruption, does it mean the status quo has to be maintained in perpetuity?
    Also, according to your assumption, if all these people profited from corruption, why, according to you, are they railing against it now? Isn’t it fair to assume (since we are assuming so very much) that they do know that their benefits from the system will come to an end if the system were held more accountable?
    Could it be some kind of exasperation with the status quo and a budding idealism? I guess not, as they are all stupid and incapable of profound thought or ideals.
    Your tenuous arguments make me wonder how far up one’s own bum does one have to go before achieving zero visibility of this kind.

  8. joe permalink
    August 30, 2011 2:47 PM

    ok.everything. but one disagreement.despite understanding trotskyst criticisms of Stalin, equating Stalin simply to Hitler is not fair. there was at least some qualitative difference.

  9. joe permalink
    August 30, 2011 3:42 PM

    family ties in 3rd world.modernity and its naormativity as western product…binaries. that too constant ,without change, in its function, understanding…. The economic underpinning in all these developments should not be forgotten. Many disagreements. with Appadurai by a mortal …..A middleclass divided self ,ultimately to balme for everything! No gradations, qualitative differences in such sweeping generalisations. Corporate loot is defintley different from petty crime. Some body in the middleclass die fighting the imaginary other for RTI, though bullets not imaginary. Atleast there is gradation in types of corruption. Thus bigger loots can be opposed by the petty citizens having petty stakes in the system, with a divided self, than wallowing in self pity.Fear of fascism should not amount to fascism of inaction. Though , I have very crude and brutal reservations about the AnnaHazare movement.

  10. Meena Krishnan permalink
    August 30, 2011 8:31 PM

    The middle class self is indeed divided. But if this movement grows to embrace local, community level issues your theory stands discredited. What needs to be addressed is how this movement tries to reconcile the divided self. You seem to attempt to do that (not explicit) by going off on a different tangent which assumes that one part of this divided self is externalized as evil (ties that bind/corruption) while the other is self abrogated. Ties that bind can also be non-blood (vasudaiva kutumbakam) and that understanding is also very much part of the Indian self. The ties that bind (in the narrow sense) were already kept outside the civic self at the constitutional inception of this republic. So is the Neta or babu to blame for that. As for the movement perhaps it is the ties that bind in the broader sense that is in use.

  11. Meena Krishnan permalink
    August 30, 2011 8:46 PM

    To add to the earlier comment – a study of the movement and social networking might be key to unravelling the dynamics of this movement. Social networking has made vasudaiva kutumbakam a praxis not just an ideal. And in this sense elevates the ‘corrupt’ jobseeker who seeks to leverage blood ties to a ‘social networker’ who seeks to leverage the world a family.

  12. Sanjay Srivastava permalink
    August 30, 2011 9:12 PM

    While I agree with most of what Arjun has to say, I am uncertain about the the assertion that ‘everybody’ (ie large numbers of the middle-classes) have friends in the bureaucracy. This has a bearing on the way we think about the different motives for supporting the Hazare movement. I think that the middle-class that has friends or relatives in the bureaucracy (by which I assume Arjun means the powerful sections of the bureaucracy: IAS, Allied Services, NABARD, and such like) is actually very very small in terms of the Indian population. Most of those who identify as ‘middle-class’ — and as this is a moral claim rather than an economic category in India, those living in resettlement colonies, traders, clerks, bureaucrats frequently describe themselves as ‘middle-class’ — are quite far removed from such networks. I think the ‘war’ may also be between the India International Centre kind of middle-class and other fractions. This is not to say that many within the IIC kind of middle-class did not support Hazare, but that those who do not have the kinds of ‘connections’ the IIC middle-class has, are far more unequivocal in their support for Anna. The latter group is more likely to approach the local municipal level politician for assistance as it has no ‘approach’ to a joint secretary or a DIG. I write this while doing field-work in Kanpur, where the sense of different kinds of middle-classes is much sharper than, say, in Delhi (where everyone seems to know a joint secretary, or will say that they do). Hence, the the reasons why the Kanpur middle-classes support the Jan Lokpal Bill (or as a lawyer friend recently referred to it at a meeting at Delhi’s Constitution Club, The Ram Lila Document) might not be the same as the Delhi middle-classes, with their long history of the kind of connections the provincial middle-classes can only dream of.

  13. Ravi Shankar permalink
    August 30, 2011 10:51 PM

    Is the issue quite that of corruption? Is that the point the Prof is making? No.

    One might as well defend corruption in India. It is distribution of services which the system by itself cannot provide. If it is evil then it corresponds very much to our corrupt social order.

    Shouldn’t there be talk about this corrupt social order? Mr. Haxare it seems in favour of conserving this order as tradition. That must explain the authority of the man. In fact every nation has its own kind of corruption.

    But the issue is of morality. Should we assume the leaders of Mr. Hazare’s movement to be pure souls? Should we defend their saintliness too? Do we have to fall that low? We are already doing so by defending Mr. Bhushan and his son, instead of making enquiries of our own.
    Have they always acted in the interest of morality and the national interest?

    Ms Bedi in my opinion (I was a former civil servant who retired voluntarily just like Ms Bedi) was never a proper officer. Did she not clearly incite the crowd? She was telling them that they were effeminate for being voters. She was clearly suggesting violent action as purification. But the parliament is wrong to overlook that. This inflammatory speech must have drawn a concerned civil servant to act. One would say that was corruption by the administration.

    Should we not enquire about the academics defending Mr Haxare? Are they proper in their academic conduct? Is not there plagiarism? Are they knowledgeable enough to teach their students? Do they take classes regularly? No it seems in most cases, my grandchild who passed out from the University of Delhi told me tales.

    So please question everyone. Do not create this ‘with us against us’ culture where worst criminals thrive.

  14. August 30, 2011 11:05 PM

    To one of the comments: Fear of thinking is fascism. Make people act all the time and don’t let them think why. Obedience, loyalty, action.

  15. ravisrinivas permalink
    August 31, 2011 12:30 AM

    I am unable to understand what fascist tendencies Rajankurai Krishnan is referring to and from which sources they will arise.First of all JanLokPal is a mechanism that is well within the constitutional framework. It is just a set up and if cant stand the scrutiny of the courts in terms of its compatibility with constitution it will be held void. It cannot become a superstructure that controls everything. Has the EC become so, have the courts become so. The Lokakyutha of Karnataka gave a report that indicted politicians. Does this mean that this can result in fascist tendencies. What is fascism in the indian context. If a section of the middle class supported emergency the resistance also arose from the same middle class. To reduce this campaign as civil society vs. political actors is not correct because this campaign never asked for overthrow of political system, nor claimed that as political actors have no legitimacy today they should hold no power. Rather all it asked for was passing of the bill by parliament.
    I am neither interested in branding nor in stereotyping but when it is being done i use that as a countering strategy. The point is why they are so reluctant to find something positive in this and why they are so critical of it without even saying anything about the context in which it arose. Why all critique is just directed against Anna&his team and his campaign when there are others who are critical of Anna’s bill and are producing their drafts of Jan LokPal or whatever they call. If the idea of LokPal is so problematic then should not the critique be directed against other versions/drafts too.

  16. August 31, 2011 7:49 PM

    I think in order to clarify everyone’s position in a discussion of Anna Hazare it will be good to make a distinction between (a) the possibility of a yet another constitutional body to check/contain/eradicate corruption at all levels of the Government (b) the way in which Team Anna has created this mo(ve) ment and populist logic behind its seeming success. I think it is only because of certain alarming features of (b), i.e., Team Anna and its populist mobilization that several interlocutors including myself feel compelled to talk about it. The quintessential problem is the process in which the symbolic location of corruption has become politics. That is why Anna had clearly indicated that his next goal is electoral reforms. Why should this be alarming? It is alarming because, it allows people to suddenly forget their own complicity in making extra-legal and para-legal methods of civil conduct normative. Suddenly a bunch of politicians who due to the dynamics of electoral, representative democracy have come from various formerly subjugated sections of the society are seen as the perpetrators of the evil of corruption while the corporate tycoons who were parties to the same act of corruption remain safely outside the orchestrated anger of the people. One can go on; as someone studying popular cinema as good indicators of popular psyche I admire how the Tamil film director Shankar differentially located national maladies in each of his subsequent films. After making politicians and bureaucracy as the sources of problem he then eventually turned to the very institution of citizenship. He created a hero who suffers from a split personality disorder to speak about the impossibility of making civil norms and laws followed by all the people and the need to resort to violently punitive extra-legal methods to make them function. So the hero is a citizen against fellow citizens, a super citizen who will step outside the framework of legality to discipline fellow citizens. The film Anniyan was a big success in Andhara Pradesh and did very well in several urban centers of India. To the extent I could gather it was a failure in rural parts. The participants of Anna rally are very angry: they are angry at a systemic failure but want a fantastic remedy. Ravi Srinivas, does this not appear like a fertile ground for fascist tendencies make headway?

  17. Meena Krishnan permalink
    August 31, 2011 8:56 PM

    Question everyone and everything is great. But the answer is also already provided – everyone’s corrupt one way or another so let’s just shut up and go back to business as usual. That is a nihilism that is best confined to text books.

  18. Com Truise permalink
    September 2, 2011 3:55 AM

    I think what it really comes down to is that Prof. Appudarai’s thick and abstruse prose (in a relative comparison with the more reader-friendly outputs that we are otherwise use to on Kafila) will not really be consumed by half as many readers as a piece by Nivedita Menon. This phenomenon itself is symptomatic of the difference between the intellectual-left (who’s arguments are academic, didactic and ultimately advocating a passiveness) and the so-called middle class that wants to join a movement to express sympathy and empathy – a feeling like, “Yes, I know you’re frustrated. So am I.”
    And revolutions aren’t constructed man. They happen. And you gotta roll with the winds of change and try to find your balance in these tumultuous times. If you just wait around for your perfect revolution then you’ll probably just grow old and die. But then a revolution like this hardly affects the likes of you. So kya hota hain?

  19. Avinash Jha permalink
    September 2, 2011 4:28 PM

    The poltical class, the ‘neta’ in Prof. Appadurai’s post, is the victim of the fascist mobilization of the Jan Lokapal brigade. He compares the position of the ‘neta’ to that of Jew who was the victim of Nazi mobilization. Jan lokapal movement reminds Prof. Appadurai of Hitler’s rallies (that mediocre and chaplinesque figure). Janalokpal movement is the aggressor with another presumably mediocre and chaplinesque figure at its helm, whatever that might mean (After all, the double of ‘the great dictator’, the Jew, is equally chaplinesque).

    I want to ask this question to him and to many others: Isn’t it the same political class which maintains, with an effective consensus, laws like AFSPA in Manipur, governs Kashmir, and sits over a beaureaucracy which is oppressive for common people, forms and supports Salwa Judum, which connives with corporate players in framing policies that might be harmful to majority of people and to environment. Aren’t the same institutions like parliament, beaureaucracy, etc which are the home of this political class, and through which the country is governed. Well, all of us are responsible, the society is also responsible (it is nice to see that this proposition is getting more and more credibility on this board). But some are more responsible than others. Responsibility is commensurate with power.
    Slumdwellers at the brink of eviction are not as responsible as a builder who makes extra floors. The responsibility of the giver is usually also less, since it is the takers who are in a position of power. But this may get overturned in many cases where many powerful parties are involved. Even within the ‘netas’ and the beaureaucrats, responsibility is not the same, even among those who have been part of corrupt practices. Situations which Shudhabrata and James Scott bring to the fore indeed exist and can be sympathetically understood. But even there the power relations may not be absent in most cases and such ‘happy and humane’ state of affairs are more precarious for some than for others. If the ‘compact’ is disturbed at some point, it does not affect the cop who is transferred in the same way as the street vendor, who has to begin a new process of negotiation.
    While it is good to broaden the notion of corruption in order to get a deeper understanding, such an understanding (especially such fledgling and hands-on attempts at understanding that we are all capable of at this moment) does not render a circumscribed understanding of corruption as misuse of public authority for personal gains as untrue.
    Therefore, the question is whether it is the same political class which is also the enemy for the upholders of many burning causes which are rightly espoused by many groups of people who we find on this blog, among others. If we just look at all the movements against various kinds of injustices, don’t we find this same class, the same political parties, the same institutions, standing alongside the perpetrator, even when it is not the main one. Look at the latest actions at Maruti factory at Manesar. Even at moments of apparent fracture within this class, we see complicity (Gujarat, Babri masjid). Of course, this class has intimate links with society, with other classes, and has also been shaped by democratic forces. We will also keep encountering complex and ambiguous situations and even contradictions, for example with respect to the political parties that represent Dalit/Bahujan. We will see this section of the political class challenged in the current scenario, which is not a negative development. But still, to see the entire political class as the Jew seems astounding. I would like to see this proposition defended in absolutely any academic journal.)
    Fascist and apolitical – these have been the preferred characterisation of the lokapal movement. To me, this Jan Lokapal movement does seem to be of people who were apolitical or very passively political entering politics in an active manner. People whom we normally and routinely see as apolitical joined this movement and were its greatest strength. Those of us who have viewed ourselves as normatively political (outside the political class that we were talking of above, mostly in disagreement with it, sometimes in confrontation with it) are surprised by the apolitical hordes with mediocre leaders erupting into the political space and bending the whole political class to its will, even if temporarily, and doing so by democratic means. Let us talk of this section of the middle class – the activist, intellectual, dissenter – this ‘other political class’, which looks at the new entrant from his own class with suspicion, since it always considered them as politically illiterate and apolitical, when not positively retrograde. Any self-respecting social science student (leave alone the teachers) will consider a software engineer, or a salesman, as politically naive. Even when, those far off like adivasis, and far down like servants may be seen as equal to some extent. We should remember this class was predominantly constituted of men and men from this ‘other political class’ – intellectuals, activists, dissenters – did not accept the claims of women easily, especially when it came to their homes. (I am not claiming that current resistance may be as historically significant as the resistance to gender equality. I am merely saying that the political subjectivity of this class was problematised by the feminist movement then. It has to be problematised again in a different context.). I am also not saying that close down all critical faculties or that we are not entitled to be critical of middle class since we belong to it (‘all of us are equally corrupt’).
    Of course, the movement was not only middle class, surely not only the metropolitan middle class. This has been the observation of many. Moreover, the movement and the mobilization was progressively joined by various organised sections of people also fighting other causes, like some unions, organisation of Bhopal gas victims, or victims of 1984 riots, NAPM, and others.
    And instead of middle class, we can talk in terms of the youth and older people, between whom this movement seems to make connect. And there may be other ways of talking about this movement. There is no point denying that there are communal attitudes, anti-dalit attitudes also in the movement. These attitudes are widespread in society and are not restricted to RSS supporters. But everyone with these attitudes does not make an ideology out of it.
    Much more predominant are nationalistic and patriotic attitudes. This movement seemed to advance an attitude of ownership of democratic institutions or governance structures, underlined by ownership of nation. This would differ sharply with the attitude to nationalism and patriotism in the independent left, in that ‘other political class’, which has taken its own political subjectivity for granted, and is now being problematised by this anti-corruption movement. This is not to say that one must be patriotic, or one must not be patriotic. But it surely poses questions to the class which feels no ownership regarding the nation and is ambiguous regarding the ownership of democratic institutions.
    One can be sure that at the moment of launch of this movement, none from this class would have given it a chance. Intellectuals, social scientists, activists, none of them had a clue. It is those mediocre and chaplinesque and apolitical characters who seized the corruption issue and were confident enough to keep going ahead with the movement which used only democratic means, without waiting to have a perfect lokapal bill to begin with. One can also be sure that none would have forgone the chance to lead a movement against corruption, if they could foresee the results.
    If you lose sight of the question of power, and responsibility, you cannot see the question of corruption as a political question and cannot identity the political class. I think Jan Lokapal movement is the only one to recognise the question of power in the question of corruption. The very fact that ‘andolan’, or movement was chosen as a means to Jan Lokapal shows that. Not by education, not by conspiracy, not by advocacy, but protest by democratic means, by publicity, by negotiation, by fast, by the support of people. Stretched to the maximum point where a tentative success was achieved. It is the politically enlightened commentators who want to see corruption merely as a moral question.
    I do not want to assert that everyone should merge with this movement and further enquiry into corruption curtailed. I am just saying that the ‘enemy’ identified as the ruling political class is ground for solidarity and not for suspicion. And that there are a few questions this movement throws up regarding that ‘other political class’ of activists, dissenters, intellectuals who seem only too eager to consider this movement itself as an ‘enemy’.

  20. ravisrinivas permalink
    September 4, 2011 9:11 PM

    Response to RajanKurai Krishnan:
    Anna has just indicated next item in his agenda.How can anyone prejudge that it will turn out to be this now.Electoral reforms were brought in not because political parties as a whole wanted them but because of the action by civil society and the supreme court judgments.
    Election process now is more transparent now as we know the assets of candidates, their background etc.
    The film Anniyan is irrelevant here because Anna&team are talking in terms of laws and structures and not about Superhuman individuals.The hair splitting argument on political corruption vs corporate corruption is not of much help because often they are both sides of the same coin. Has anyone in Anna&team have given clean chit to corporations. It is
    surprising that now there are so many who are willing to defend the political class and are worried about the ‘fascism’ of the protests.It is true that many of these espouse Periayrist/Ambedkarist politics have been critical of Anna &his team. As far as I know Periyarists and sympathizers of Dravidian movement like Rajan are critical of Anna Hazare and are supporting the political class. This is something worth exploring because it shows the real face of Periyarist politics as expounded and understood by them.

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  1. The Sublime Object of Anti-Corruption « Kafila

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