Beyond ‘Middle Class’ and ‘Corruption’: Jeebesh Bagchi
Guest post by JEEBESH BAGCHI
I have been thinking that If we drop “corruption” and “middle class” we may find some other way to understand what we sense unfolding from Ramila grounds and television studios.
The term middle class has bloated so much that it now holds within it Narayan Murthy to Shekhar Gupta via Nandan Nilekani to a student in Sonepat to all people in this list and on facebook. And on the other hand corruption seem to have bloated much further in which commissions from infrastructure deals (in lakhs of crores), commissions for arms deals, someone delaying papers, to admission costs, to a hawker buying some uninterrupted time in the street (20 rupees) is all melted down.
Could one start from some other point?
In the many assertions around UID’s efficacy, it was stated that the State needs to know its “poor” through a population registry. Here poor and population replaced people and the idea that State is not-knowledgable about its population was put forward by State and its various crusaders. The feeble argument against it through ideas of “citizens right to privacy” somehow did not look meaningful to these crusaders. It was clear to them that “poor” and “population” accounts for an adequate language to speak to the governed and is without consequence.
What is this lack of knowledge about the “poor” on which the whole edifice of the spectacle of UID was launched?
The question could be maybe asked in another way:
What did the “poor” or the “population” hold back from the State over the last century that needed to be brought into visibility and legibility?
This stages an enormous battle over ways of life and its tacit knowledge in our times. Much more substantial than what was encountered from the mid 19th century to the end of the last century.
Now lets look at another plane. The question of land assembly for industry. Capital needs substantial territory to produce and accumulate. It cannot rest with rent-based assembly. It needs a coverage that is long term and all plots are contiguously available to it. This can only be achieved by the State apparatus through its legal curative and punitive modalities. This has not been easy as we all have seen in the last decade. The Special Economic Zone law was passed by parliament without a parliamentary standing committee going through it. And we are told now that the standing committee is at the heart of parliamentary form as it receives petitions, recommendations, and makes amendments to the bill keeping in mind plurality of interest and the long view.
Land Acquisition, Special Economic Zones and UID all open up a space where we can start examining the vexed relation between sovereign and the people and capital and its accumulative drives.
The division of labour that the State and Capital had performed was based on an idea of moral authority of the state and its knowledge of its subject. Capital on the other hand performed meritocracy, growth and innovation. This was sought to be best mediated by a form of democracy as it consolidated after world war 2. Through elections and welfare this seemed to have stabilized into a legible system, a well oiled machine to some, who thought this would be eternal.
The last two decades witnessed the fusion of Capital and State displayed with impunity. No fear, no danger, no restraints, only frenzied ambition. As if both have risen above life and its uncertainty.
Everywhere in the world, there is a clear dissipation of the “moral authority” of the state, its claim about knowing its subjects, and its ability to protect plurality of interests. This dissipation will only accelerate as the “state/soveriegn debts” increase and consumes more and more of the global surplus. (Now it is 41 trillion, a 69% of global GDP, added 19 trillion in the last 10 years). Within its own territory “harsh measures” will be launched along with “stimulus packages” to some in hope of an eventual balancing point in some future date. And externally sword fighting, scramble and occasional gobbling of resources or states will be in view.
From 16th August onwards the events in Delhi ambushed the state functionaries and the political dispensation at the helm of affairs. This has opened up the question of moral authority in a substantial way. The reduction of the idea or practice of democracy to the events of elections exposed itself. Who can rule, how will it rule, why at all rule and who decides on the future? These questions usually get asked in the name of the people. The fracture deep inside the contradiction – of the people and for the people – keeps reasserting and agitates. This is how the space called in by democracy asserts and extends.
But we do know it never gets asked directly. It is a question that occurs through events, dispersions, reversals, leakages, inchoateness, seepage, invasions, ploys, disguises. It travels through sentiments, conscience, instincts. Once forces have been released they will search options, flows, and gradients.
My guess is we are in a moment that will be confusing about the meaning and purpose of rule. Sediments of consensus stand cracked, leaky and eroded. The event horizon of this looks fuzzy. It definitely has exhausted the established formulas. It was funny to see Shekhar Gupta do a walk the talk with Aruna Roy. He has been for the last 7 years doing a shrill campaign against her and all civil society usurpers of power. So we know these are intersecting and colliding times.
Things will move with clamor, reversals, failures, mistakes. It may be worthwhile to take time to undertake a fresh rethinking of all that is at stake.