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Against Corruption = Against Politics: Partha Chatterjee

August 28, 2011


Shuddhabrata Sengupta has done a great service by opening up the question of corruption which lies at the heart of the Anna Hazare movement but which has been, surprisingly, accepted quite uncritically as a universally known and universally condemned evil. It is actually quite puzzling how this effect has been achieved. It is a question which, I think, touches the core of the populist mobilization brought about by the Anna Hazare movement.

Think of it. Who are the beneficiaries of corruption? The entire middle class in India (lower, upper, aspirant lower to upper, whatever category one wants to use) seems to think that it is the victim of corruption. “It touches the lives of everybody”, as Nivedita Menon said in her recent piece in Kafila. But then who are the engineers, the accountants, the babus in the offices, the touts who surround the courts and the hospitals and the railway ticket counters? Aren’t they our uncles and nephews and sisters-in-law? The corrupt people of India are blood relations of those who are flocking Ramlila Maidan. But, needless to say, no one you meet there will accept that.

If one did an investigation into how the parents of the idealist software engineer or business accountant financed his/her education, it would very likely turn out to be a story of what is called corruption. There can be absolutely no doubt that the middle class, from top to bottom, is the biggest beneficiary of corruption in government because it is the middle class which populates the government, inhabits it, runs it on a daily basis.

And yet, ask anyone and see if that incontrovertible fact is corroborated by middle-class public opinion. No. Corruption is always what someone else does. I think what needs to be thought very seriously is the conflation of corruption (in its currently popular sense) with politics. That, I think, is at the heart of all the Anna madness (or the madness with Anna). If you asked anyone in Ramlila Maidan to explain the phenomenon of corruption, I am sure they would have spoken either of politicians who have made fortunes (always, it seems, stashed away in secret vaults in Switzerland) by misusing their power or of petty government functionaries who refuse to carry out their assigned duties unless they are paid a bribe. That is a convenient way of condemning what is undoubtedly a rotten practice without acknowledging any proximity to it. If pressed, someone might say that he/she had been forced to pay, or even receive, a bribe because that was how the system worked.

I have myself had the experience of speaking to an IIM graduate who admitted to negotiating a kickback deal with a minister on behalf of a major corporate house saying “that’s the only way one can do business in India”. I have also spoken to petty officials who have said that if they did not ask for the conventional bribe, their colleagues in the office would make life hell for them.

It is also important to note that before the 1990s, the middle class would have owned up to their identification with the government machinery. (Is that why there was no anti-corruption movement among the middle class, even though there were many more Gandhians around?) The most sought after jobs were in government or the public sector. After 1991, that sentiment has radically changed. Now no self-respecting young person from the middle classes wants a job in government. The private sector, they believe, rewards merit and performance. Government is the place of political patronage and corruption. In fact, government now is the same as the domain of politics, and politics breeds and protects corruption.

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. Of course, this is an utterly abstract notion of the corrupt. I am sure that nobody seriously believes that Manmohan Singh or Kapil Sibal or Salman Khurshid is personally corrupt. If one was asked to concretize, one would very likely say that the DMK ministers or Lalu Yadav or Mayavati or Amar Singh was corrupt. Nor would anyone accept that the corrupt railway clerk or food department babu is one’s aunt or nephew. In fact, one would be particularly incensed by the peon or chaprasi who might refuse to hand out a form or move a file from one table to another without a ten-rupee note for chai-pani. Such government employees had been appointed, one would say, not because of their educational qualifications or technical skills but – what else? – their political connections.

The categorization of corruption as something that belongs to the domain of “the political” (in the popular sense, i.e., ministers, MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats) ensures that corruption can never touch “the people”. It is something that only characterizes the enemy.

The heart of the current anti-corruption movement, its principal moral and emotional force, is that it is anti-political. Politics here, needless to say, only means parliament, ministers, government offices, etc. Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi are not political. Hence they are pure, with the people. (Note that when allegations were made about RSS links and Hindutva symbols, they were carefully removed from sight.) Manmohan Singh etc (irrespective of whether they are personally corrupt or not) are corrupt because they are political and hence are compelled, for political reasons, to protect the corrupt.

Shuddhabrata’s thoughtful observations point to the overlap between the anti-corruption sentiment and the anti-political imperative. That is also what is dangerous in the current movement. I do think that Shuddhabrata is right in being suspicious of it. Whether the Left should have its own take on the corruption question is, of course, another matter. I think it should. But that is a different topic for discussion that Shuddhabrata has also initiated. Yes, the owner of the Mehrauli farmhouse who flaunts his ability to get around municipal laws and the squatter on a garbage dump alongside a railway track are not both guilty of “corruption”. The word creates an illusion – a fundamentally false image – of equivalence between two very different practices. But it is this illusion of equivalence that has been achieved, for the moment at least, by the rhetorical and performative adroitness of the Anna campaign and the spectacular bungling of the Congress leadership.

The Independent Left, of course, is on the sidelines, watching. It had its populist moment sometime ago – over Nandigram – but like all populist moments, that moment has passed.

50 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2011 11:18 AM

    The best essay so far on Anna Hazare movement or rather moment. Partha’s underscoring of the populist nature of the movement also should address Nivedita Menon’s concern as to why some of the “not-quite-organized” actors of the left of the political spectrum are not able to gain from the “energy” generated by the movement. However, what is disturbing about Anna’s movement is that it is populist without being “political”. It does not integrate the demands and aspirations of any particular constituency of the society, like peasants, workers of the unorganized sector or Dalits. Mere populism without some substantial blocks with grievances and demands can only lead to fascism. We should thank Kiran Bedi for admitting it with the slogan “Anna is India, India is Anna”. There is no more political content.

  2. Vinay K S permalink
    August 28, 2011 11:36 AM

    The word “politics” ought to be understoood differently. The biggest problem that we are facing is the fact that a large majority of, both voting and non-voting, public has not been politicized in an ‘ideological’ way. There should first be an understanding of the whole process of elections and people ought to know where they are situated; in what kind of a political system we are living; what is it that happens when an individual votes; what is this thing called ‘constitutional rights’ and from where do both people and the state derive their authority and power. Unless that happens, as Partha Chatterjee has pointed out, we will never become conscious of our own complicity with “corruption” and “corrupt politicians”.

  3. Raman permalink
    August 28, 2011 12:56 PM

    It is all very well to say that middle class is complicit in the corruption. Of course they are because they do not have a choice (most of the time). Have you read Kaushik Basu’s paper on what he calls harassment bribes? Why do I have to pay a bribe to some government official to get a passport or a driving licence if my papers are in place? Do you know the bewildering number of licences (most of them ridiculous) that a company has to get before it can even start operating? Do you know that there are inspectors who go around inspecting factories etc and do not give clearances without bribes? If the idea is to stifle entrepreneurship, then that is the best method to do so. However, as has been amply clear, the government cannot generate jobs. You need private enterprise to generate employment as well as bring growth in the country. Unless you push for simplifying rules, removing top-down inspector raj, making rules transparent so that government officials have minimal discretion to tweek procedures or delay, corruption will never go away.

    If you look at the education sector, it is because we still insist that only non-profit organisations can operate as a university, that we have so much fraudulent and sub-standard institutions. No private sector body is going to open a university out of the goodness of his heart (to expect someone to do so, in my opinion, is ridiculous because it goes against basic nature of private sector). It will do so if there is some profit to be made. However, since it cannot do so legitimately in the sector, it tries to make profit through means which are not above board. Also, the chances of fraud/shady private bodies starting a university/institution becomes much higher because they are willing to do shady deals. Other better private bodies may not want to get into the business because they do not want to do anything illegal to make money.

    Of course, if you are ideologically against private sector and profit making then it is best to ban all private sector. However, if you want to get the private sector on board you have to think of incentives, of having laws which are sensible and do not see the private sector making a profit as the enemy number 1. Do not confuse accountability with statism. More government control does not bring accountability. It makes it worse and breeds corruption.

    • August 28, 2011 1:51 PM

      I agree. It looks as though Kaushik Basu will get his way- remove the penalty on paying a bribe so as get whistle-blowers galore. Aam aadmi seems to be keen on getting a stick to beat the lower bureaucracy. Govt. is aware that the Tunisian rebellion started when a vegetable vendor was harassed and slapped by a female market inspector. Since harassment bribes are capitalized as a rent- so many lakhs to be appointed SHO in such and such locality etc.- this does affect revenues for the politico-admin nexus. However, higher ups are shielded by bag men, so don’t face prison. It is in their interests to ‘jail bharao’- fill the jails with small fry. Will this result in less red-tape and ‘inspector raj’?No, because populism demands more and more of the sort of silly and impractical rules and regulations which makes one man’s harassment the other man’s facilitation. What is the upshot? Well, corruption will become more diffuse and be mediated by politico/casteist entities which have a sort of virtual memory. What I mean is something like this. The inspector who has come to check the school I’m running has enough play-ground space or its quota of poor kids or whatever and, instead of demanding money immediately, issues a verbal warning and fixes a date for the next visit. He then reports my violations to his gang. I, meanwhile, ask around for the number of a go-to guy. Then, as happened with the Bihar kindnapping industry, negotiations go forward, money changes hand and there is no paper trail or Tehelka style spy camera evidence.
      The constraint on this sort of thing is the countervailing power of violence. To keep harrasment bribes down, from time to time officers must be killed. If they are honest, so much the better. The system will work the more smoothly for it.
      The good news is nobody is talking about bringing back a constitutional right to private property, so the real money can continue to be made. However, it is only when Income and Wealth taxes go back to their punitive pre-reform levels that the fundamental problem- viz. the Govt’s unearned increase in income which has enabled direct transfer spending for things like NREGA, which in turn has brought the nightmare of UID in its wake- can be tackled. Only if the Govt’s real income falls and debt servicing ratio rises can the nightmare of Social Security be combated. It is here that the thinking Left can really serve the Nation. This is because productivity, at all costs, must be kept down. One can not rely solely on the Govt. to do this. Even if the highly inefficient and expensive risk-pooling they currently provide the poor becomes yet more punitive in transferring money from workers to bond holders, still the fact is, if productivity goes up, the market will enable workers to risk-pool. Thus productivity must be kept down. The Left owes it to Bharat Mata to perform this service. India is only an optimal currency area if preferences are homogenized. The only way to homogenize preferences is to keep down productivity. Anything else will lead to the break up of the country or, worse yet, that worst sort of Fascism which forgets that it only arose as a response to the Bolshevik Revolution and disguises itself so thoroughly as welfarist democracy as to fool even a Zizek or Agamben

  4. E. Pinto permalink
    August 28, 2011 12:57 PM

    Very good analysis and shorn of the cliches. In fact a very good argument and piece of journalism. Kalanand Mani a real Gandhian , unlike the self professed and diktat-issuig ones we have failed to see through, says we look for benefits from the state rather than being participants in it. mani heads Peaceful Society, a NGO in Goa

  5. August 28, 2011 1:01 PM

    Firstly I find highly suspect the bald allegation – that the middle class are the ‘biggest’ beneficiaries – if we are to measure benefit in dollar figures. Kalmadi earned more than me off the 2G scam surely.

    If you refer then, to ubiquity, and posit that the middle class does a lot of hand greasing – you might indeed be right – but when corruption replaces efficiency as the dominant work ethic, ones bribes do not buy one favors, rather they constitute a surplus fee, simply to buy one the bare minimum procedure.
    For every farmhouse in mehrauli, I believe, there are ten farms simply forced to bribe to simply earn an honest rupee. Even the corporate class, if we are to speak of all entrepreneurs and business interests as one – suffers far more from elaborate obfuscated procedures and necessary bribes simply to function. The few, few contractors that gain lucrative government contracts.
    While the average middle class fellow might be glad to be able to bribe a cop when he’s caught speeding – he’s far more scared of being even marginally involved in any affair that the police look into, in case they decide to shake him down for everything he’s got
    Yes – while I do believe you are right in that anti-political sentiment is foremost in this protest, corruption in every form is also a widely felt frustration – one that can simply never be easily fought – since one comes up against it’s ubiquity and the inevitable political connections as one travels up the ladder.

  6. Aparna permalink
    August 28, 2011 1:45 PM

    The parents of the idealist software engineer, might have funded his education using money extorted by bribe. Or they would have refused bribe and saved money wisely by cutting back on other luxuries and send their son to college and resigned themselves to the unchangeability of corruption in India. The second kind of parents are likely to pass on an idealistic urge to their son, an indignation and exasperation about dishonesty, hypocrisy and corruption. If the first kind of parents were complicit in corruption and their sons now are idealists wanting to rid corruption, it would be like an intergenerational faultline within a family, whether it becomes recognized and becomes a confrontation is another case. In either case, can you say that the idealism of the software engineer is hollow, hypocritical, wrong, unnecessary? If indeed some people have found a new idealism, is it not preferable to the old cynicism? Is a newly awakened idealism perhaps not the best hope for actual transformation in the habits of uncles and nephews and sisters-in-law?

    Within a family, does a young person get to say, “Uncle don’t take bribe”? Up until now, no. Post-Anna, yes. There is a potential, a possibility, a hope of that yes.

    “The present Anna moment is an exact populist moment where the people have identified an enemy of the people in the entire political class, including the government bureaucracy. Of course, this is an utterly abstract notion of the corrupt.” How do you explain then the widespread repeated pledges, affirmations, reminders of the need to stop giving and taking bribe? Are only thinkers and academics so superior in intellect to realize that everyone is contributing to corruption in small and big ways, directly and indirectly? I say that almost everyone participating in the “moment” as you reduce it to, everyone knows the complexity of corruption, even the most marginalized, deprived of them, whether they be illiterate or educated. People have uncles and nephews and sisters-in-law. We all know the Gandhi’s talisman argument. People know, if you give them a situation, irrespective of the legality of it, which of two parties involved in a day-to-day scenario is the harasser and who is the harassed–an intelligence that a strictly narrow legal dissection sometimes totally misses. We know who is a desperate bribe-payer and who is a desperate bribe-demander; and who is arrogant and insensitive and inefficient and deliberately malicious; what demands and delays and holdups are genuine, and which are not.

    That does not mean that small everyday things are the only things we are competent enough to judge and the only stuff we must be allowed to talk about. Given a short moment to air their views to a journalist, an ordinary person may not sound so impressive or deeply aware as a learned person, and may appear to be taking the whole thing very simplistically. Only because of that a learned person should not think less of our ability to critically analyse a complex reality in our mind. We may see “an enemy of the people in the entire political class, including the government bureaucracy” and at the same time we have a deep understanding of the habits of uncles and nephews and sisters-in-law.

    If the problem is that we see “the entire political class, including the government bureaucracy” as a single entity and you want to say “not the entire”.. that too we see. We don’t see this entity as a uniformly corrupt thing. We see the bad individuals and we see the good individuals, and most importantly we see this mammoth entity as something that can be reformed eventually. We idealists have not given up hope of systematic reform, slow and laboured though it might be, maybe it will take long. Today we think it is Possible. Something we were taught was Impossible, so impossible that working on trying to fix it or even thinking about it is a waste of time.

    • jai malhar permalink
      August 28, 2011 5:08 PM

      well said, Aparna. our neighbour was a cop on the take. we’re not fools you know. hamain akal nahin kya kya? saari akal aap intellectuals ko dii hai bhagwaan ne? oops i said ‘bhagwan’, thus immediately undermining my credibility. :(

  7. Vinay K S permalink
    August 28, 2011 2:10 PM

    Concepts need to be rethought. We are forgetting history. There has never been any kind of a level playing field either before or after independence for capitalism to work in a neutral way. People are speaking about ‘bribes’, but what about ‘influence’. Here the issue is not just about class but a class-caste structure which thrives not just through the brute force of money but by something called as ‘influence’.

    An analogy better explains the situation: consider a running race happening in which there are only two participants. Just 10 seconds before the whistle is blown one of the participant is strangulated, he/she is unable to breath and the eyes are blinded. When the whistle is blown how can you expect him/her to compete with the other participant who is well prepared to run the race?

    This analogy might seem a very simplistic explanation for the exploitation that some groups have undergone throught our history. But atleast it tell us that any kind of ‘competition’ does not happen in a level playing field.

    What Partha Chatterjee is pointing out is the dubious claim that the ‘middle class’ is making about not having a choice when it comes to bribe giving. There is a deep contradiction within the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement itself. The ‘middle class’ is simply not sure as to why “corruption” should end. Should it end because they are having trouble getting their driving licences? should it end because the image of “India” is getting hurt? Or, should people not take or give bribes because it is not moral or unethical? Nothing is clear.

    It would be laughable if the middle class says that it cannot give bribes because it is short of money. The middle class is well placed and is least concerned about the well being of the nation’s economy. For example, no one is speaking about the corruption in PDS. Lokpal Bill is thought as an anti-dote for all forms of corruption. A few states have done well in PDS sector without the regulation of any anti corruption unit. Why is that not acknoweldged?

    Both ‘middle class’ (upper and lower) and the upper class will have to make it clear as to why they want an end to corruption. If they come out with a response then they will be making explicit their ideology. This is what I meant by politicizing people in an ideological way.

  8. Mathew John permalink
    August 28, 2011 2:15 PM

    Thoughts on Chatterjee’s claims on the complicity of the middle classes with the corruption problem:

    First, what is unsaid in the complicity charge is the expectation that they be more reflective about their routine participation in corrupt practice. This claim could be challenged a factual level because it could be argued that some form of self reflection was a part of the Ram Lila spectacle with various notables including the often disoriented Kiran Bedi exhorting the gathering to refrain from corrupt practices themselves. However, could it not be argued that a more reflexive approach can also be thought of anti political it would suggests that the problem of corruption is a personal problem whose resolution lies locked within ourselves?

    Second, another way to understand the complicity argument would be to say that ‘this is just way things work’ like Chatterjee’s IIM graduate friend told him. We are all part of the ‘way things work’ but then surely we could tire of it and perhaps Hazare and co. have just managed to tap into some of our collected exasperation.

    Third, my second point leads me to the manner in which Chatterjee identifies the problem of the agitators. As he says:

    “If you asked anyone in Ramlila Maidan to explain the phenomenon of corruption, I am sure they would have spoken either of politicians who have made fortunes (always, it seems, stashed away in secret vaults in Switzerland) by misusing their power or of petty government functionaries who refuse to carry out their assigned duties unless they are paid a bribe. That is a convenient way of condemning what is undoubtedly a rotten practice without acknowledging any proximity to it.”

    However, I think it is next to impossible to ascertain what the crowds are actually against when they say they are against corruption. Since it is quite apparent that the crowds are very diverse I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say they could have very different experiences of the problems corruption poses. In other words I suspect that the word is just a holding category that might include very contradictory experiences of the event that is called corruption. Thinking through these differences is perhaps one way to get out of the problem of equivalence which Shuddha raised and I presume Chatterjee himself is concerned with.

  9. ravi srinivas permalink
    August 28, 2011 3:13 PM

    Against corruption = against politics
    remove against it becomes corruption = politics
    Is that what Partha Chatterjee wants to convey, if so it makes sense :)

    “Now no self-respecting young person from the middle classes wants a job in government. The private sector, they believe, rewards merit and performance. ”

    Utter nonsense because year after year many engineers, doctors opt for civil services and many join government/public sector undertakings at different levels. In fact the number of applicants for government jobs has not come down.

    “However, what is disturbing about Anna’s movement is that it is populist without being “political”. It does not integrate the demands and aspirations of any particular constituency of the society, like peasants, workers of the unorganized sector or Dalits. Mere populism without some substantial blocks with grievances and demands can only lead to fascism.”

    Anna’s movement is able to link different sections under a common platform and agenda.
    It reflects the aspirations and demands of millions who realize that scams and corruption are becoming major menaces in the society. It is more political than what it appears to be.The bogey of fascism is laughable. It is high time some other bogey is invented as it has become too much of a cliche to be of any use.

    I think the Anna phenomenon is not what the many experts, social scientists expected to happen in India. Had it happened elsewhere they would have happily theorized about it invoking all their pet theories and lauded it as a subaltern supported political experiment.

  10. Rahul permalink
    August 28, 2011 3:14 PM

    Aparna, that’s a great reply to this “straw man” of an article.

  11. August 28, 2011 3:25 PM

    You wrote,
    “The corrupt people of India are blood relations of those who are flocking Ramlila Maidan. But, needless to say, no one you meet there will accept that”

    Have you actually tried to ask that question? Or is it an answer that came to your conditioned mind? If I was in Ramlila [I view the movement like Aditya Nigam and Niveditia did in one of their posts} and was asked that question I would have accepted the fact that not only my relations and friends but even myself has done corrupt practices.My feeling is atleast 50% of people there would have accepted that except the very poor who is never in a position to be bribed.
    To insist that only people coming from pure un corrupt families should flock to Ramlila is absurd.

  12. August 28, 2011 3:53 PM

    True, there was a lot of hype involved. At the same time , there was definitlely a shared feeling of enough is enough. Even if we admit that the entire middle class are complicit in the corruption phenomenon, this outburst could also be a yearning to get back to a more ethical society. May be something like this was necessary to jolt the populace out of their “chalta haii” attitude . May be everybody was indeed looking for a hero to rally around. .It is a sad reality that the youth of today cannot find such a figure around them to make a role model. Things can change and I would definitely want to quote the work ethics set in place by Shri Sreedharan in the Delhi Metro. Somebody needs to raise the bar.

  13. Aparna permalink
    August 28, 2011 6:52 PM

    “Petty officials who have said that if they did not ask for the conventional bribe, their colleagues in the office would make life hell for them.” This is similar to several officials at various levels of bureaucracy and some few politicians scattered among various parties. These are those struggling to remain honest in a situation where dishonesty is rewarded and honesty punished. One of the ways this happens is the connection between political parties/unions affiliated to political parties and the decision making processes as regards government departments. A “transfers and postings”-corruption, for want of better words to describe. What is the reason that police officers will not take action that in any way displeases an influential politician? The political parties, unions, politicians, all become, irrespective of whether they are in power or out of power, they all together have become in the eyes of a large section, equivalent to an oppressive superior caste of rulers. There exists no sharply defined boundaries between political parties, any one leaving one party over some silly matter will join the opposing party the next day. All this reduces parties and ideologies to empty nametags and meaningless colours, nobody reads election manifestos and public proclamations of parties because everyone knows the hypocrisy. “Government is the place of political patronage and corruption. In fact, government now is the same as the domain of politics, and politics breeds and protects corruption. In fact, government now is the same as the domain of politics, and politics breeds and protects corruption,” as Partha says. It is in this context that anti-corruption becomes anti-(party politics as it exists today). The same reason why a party in power will go on defensive if you say the word corruption, and the party in opposition will rejoice. And even if their places are exchanged, the same reactions will happen. In power, all parties will say or do the same thing, and out of power all parties will say the exact opposite. That is why all political parties will be uniformly mistrusted. That is the cause of why apolitical becomes a good word and political a bad word. If anyone was worried about apoliticism, they should treat the causes and not the symptoms. The affliction that has overwhelmed every party that at one time or another tasted power at any level from panchayat to centre, has I think become incurable. Apoliticism is anti-(every party). And this apoliticism is represented by the Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi.

    “Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi are not political. Hence they are pure, with the people.” These people find resonance with those middle classes inside the government machinery which got caught in the hostile environment where to be honest is bad and to be dishonest is good. An overabused example is that of Manmohan(presented as an exemplar of personal honesty in a dirty world of politics). Such are those who would not ordinarily have come to a leadership role in the national scene. The Anna-gang have indeed forced their way into a leadership role in the national scene, by trickery or whatever you may call the means adopted. Some unpopular-with-colleagues honest bureaucrat types are peeved at this achievement; others of the same mould are happy to join the movement.

    If one could define the word political, it may mean anything associated with a group of individuals who voluntarily come together and swear allegience to a set of unshakeable principles(principles generally held to have a noble quality) or goals and use their collective efforts to capture power or a slice of it, (power being defined the discretion to make decisions in government and exercise of control over government machinery and thus indirectly over the entire governed population and over the government’s wealth and nation’s resources) and use their principles mentioned above solely as a stick to beat up other ideologies (of other similar groups that threaten their attempt to capture power) and in reality themselves never care about their sworn principles. If that were to be the definition of political, it is something I’d gleefully and unapologetically oppose. That is sadly what parties have become, unless I am grossly mistaken. Parties or similar associations that match my definition should seriously look inward and mend their own “corruption”. Ideas of utopias have been obsolete for long, so the principles and nametags and manifestos, do they really matter? The individuals that form an ideological grouping, should your intellect be at all times subjugated to the stated (or unstated but understood) ideology of a group at any cost even if nobody really cares about it?

    What may baffle political-minded people about the Anna-gang is that they are not power-hungry. They don’t want to govern. They don’t want to stand for elections and come to power that way. They don’t want an armed rebellion and come to power that way. They don’t want to be legislators, they only want legislators to listen to them. Someone I talked to could not believe when I said that this bunch is not power hungry. I really believe that they don’t want to become legislators and government themselves. I hope they don’t, because there is a danger of them becoming exactly the kind they oppose: they already know the tricks of the trade, got their crowd of happy followers, and becoming a political party is a way they could either lose their way or change the definition of politics. I think they do a much better job by consciously staying outside what is defined to be the domain of politics. Maybe they would like to be in charge of Lokpal, but even if that is the case, it is not just a silly desire to occupy a powerful office as an end in itself, I believe. To some they may be naive, to some they may be sly schemers. To these sceptics, I ask if it is so difficult to trust them this once and take their word for what they say they are. This tendency of mistrust toward anyone who comes leading a big crowd is also a legacy of party politics.

    A hostility towards NGO/Media/Corporates stood out in the pronouncements of the “political”s in parliament on the matter. NGO/Media/Corporates is a reality. It cannot be wished away or portrayed as wholly evil by a political class under attack. There is no need to bring NGOs under a law that seeks to control governmental corruption. If needed let there be another law or whatever. This inclusion in the govt draft was probably intended as a threat to the NGO groups at the head of the agitation. Some NGOs have made a meaningful difference which is not to say they should never be regulated. Perhaps the efficiency and flexibility of successful NGO/Media/Corporates is related to their not being so set in stone as government mechanisms.

    Maybe I rambled much, apologies. Only started to write: If apoliticism is anti-(every party) it is time every party looked inward. The “rhetorical and performative adroitness of the Anna campaign” is only one side. Why it was received so is the other side. Their apoliticism has given them credibility. They did not sprout one day. They rose up through real “Gandhian constructive work” of quiet social activism that preceded their hour in limelight.

    • August 29, 2011 3:57 PM

      Dear Aparna,

      You said,

      ‘What may baffle political-minded people about the Anna-gang is that they are not power-hungry. They don’t want to govern. They don’t want to stand for elections and come to power that way. They don’t want an armed rebellion and come to power that way. They don’t want to be legislators, they only want legislators to listen to them.’

      I was struck by this formulation, and it is possible that I am taking you out of context, but isn’t this exactly the way Brahmanism works? Don’t give me power to govern (i.e. responsibility), do push me for elections (and make me accountable for my actions or speech), just keep listening to me, so that I control the scene from backstage, without my being accountable or responsible, and so that you are eternally responsible for what I have dictated to you!

      • Aparna permalink
        August 29, 2011 4:56 PM

        I explained the reason why I don’t want them to become politicians in the future. So yes, you have taken it out of context. Power to govern, and standing for election–this has not made bureaucrats/politicians responsible and accountable till now. Partly, yes; but largely no–This you may disagree with, please do. Controlling the scene from backstage–Sonia Gandhi is accused routinely of this evil, but all other party bosses also do the same thing. From party bosses to mothers-in-law they all do the same thing ;). Kejriwal etc being unaccountable and irresponsible–a luxury they have because they have no bosses–a luxury all startup entrepreneurs have. Constitution and Laws can be amended later if need be, so there is no real threat of carrying an eternal burden.

        Two important characteristics of Brahminism–untouchability towards deemed inferiors, membership by virtue of birth–imo they are missing.

        The online commentary on Anna has become a competition of analogies–maybe it is fun and a game that can be extended indefinitely, but no, I don’t want to play with analogies anymore.

  14. aditi permalink
    August 28, 2011 7:20 PM

    Agree…the best essay so far. You say “But it is this illusion of equivalence that has been achieved, for the moment at least, by the rhetorical and performative adroitness of the Anna campaign and the spectacular bungling of the Congress leadership.”…Wish you had said something about the role of 24×7 news channels….

  15. Ganguly permalink
    August 28, 2011 9:09 PM

    There are some problematic assumptions presented in the write-up here. Allow me to explain.

    1. It is said: “The corrupt people of India are blood relations of those who are flocking Ramlila Maidan. But, needless to say, no one you meet there will accept that.”

    I challenge that. Please go and ask the people and they will be the first to admit that they have taken/given bribes and know others who have done the same. Being related by blood or social order does not preclude one from being frustrated by the corrupt systems. That is precisely why people have gathered at the Ramlila Grounds (and elsewhere) – because corruption has become systemic and it affects everybody (one way and then the other) in everyday life. A nephew may have become a babu and has the power to push files around but it is no fun having to ask the sister to ask the nephew to do the favor of moving a particular file and then return the favor in some other way on some other day. Point it, there is always a plus (take) and a minus (give) and people are tired of having to constantly calculate their lives in between.

    2. Again, there is a claim: “There can be absolutely no doubt that the middle class, from top to bottom, is the biggest beneficiary of corruption in government because it is the middle class which populates the government, inhabits it, runs it on a daily basis.”

    I beg to differ. We need to define the “middle class” if we are going to make such sweeping aggregations of “top to bottom”. Is the middle class babu in Jor Bagh or South Extension in New Delhi the same as the middle class babu in Kishan Nagar in Bhopal in terms of what they “benefit” from their positions in government offices? Is the beat constable who gets a cut of Rs.200 benefiting the same as the SHO who gets 2 lakhs or the higher ups who may get 2 crores out of the same deal? No. There is a hierarchy of benefits and except for the very few in the top echelons of “middle class” (who have been very concerned about parliamentary democracy being undermined by this movement) for the vast majority of people corruption is higher on the cost side than on the benefits, if we are going to do a cost-benefit analysis. For the beat constable, the Rs. 200 is a matter of survival, not benefit anymore. Further, the systemic corruption can also put the babu and the chottu in the same spot, even if its in different moments or contexts. For instance, babu’ji may take a bribe at his job and then pay the same to get his kids admitted to the private school, while the man from Jharkand selling bhuttah on the footpath has to pay Rs 500 to the local cops for the privilege of doing so, without the possibility of taking a bribe or sending his kids to private schools (as part of his class condition). But both the bhuttahwala and the babu’ji realize that the difference between them is relative. Both can be, and are, at the mercy of a corrupt system. The middle class babu and the bhuttahwala are both standing at Ramlila grounds today.

    3. There is a sense that: “… “the people” have identified an “enemy of the people” in the entire political class, including the government bureaucracy. Of course, this is an utterly abstract notion of the corrupt. I am sure that nobody seriously believes that Manmohan Singh or Kapil Sibal or Salman Khurshid is personally corrupt.”

    Really? Why? Why would you doubt that Manmohan Singh or Kapil Sibal or Salman Khurshid would not be perceived as personally corrupt? Because they’re genteel; have urbane dispositions and clipped English dictions that cast a different glow that the Yadavs and Mayawatis of the land cannot muster?

    Ask the people, again. You may be surprised to find that many consider ‘Manmohan Singh and company’ as corrupt for allowing corruption on their watch; for creating systemic possibilities for enduring corruption; or for indulging in corruption in ways that escape strictly legal definitions but undoubtedly fall in the same moral fiber. You may be surprised to find them talking of mining licenses, (farm) land acquisitions in the name of national development. You may find young people talk of university scholarships and jobs disappearing in the name of merit based contractual work (doled out as favors). You may find homemakers talk of onion prices and Sharad Pawar in the same breath.

    4. It is said: “Now no self-respecting young person from the middle classes wants a job in government. The private sector, they believe, rewards merit and performance. Government is the place of political patronage and corruption.”

    Again, I suggest we ask the young people. Not only the South Delhi, South Mumbai or South Kolkata kids (where many of the upper middle class resides) but the ones in the “interiors” of the country and different class groups. They may know the government as the place of political patronage and corruption but nobody suffers from the illusion that private sector works on merit alone. If anything most realize that private sector jobs are fine for the IIM graduates who go directly to CEO positions or the other upper middle class young people who have their own uncles and aunts in such positions to ensure fast career growth but for them private sector jobs are here today and gone tomorrow; and what they want, first and foremost, is job security. Give the vast majority of young people in India a choice between a government and private sector job and the overwhelming response will be for a government job.

    5. There is the argument: “The heart of the current anti-corruption movement, its principal moral and emotional force, is that it is anti-political.”

    That is a sense that has been noted time and again to create a dichotomy of parliament versus people, Lok Sabha versus Jan Sabha; and invoked by the politicians themselves when they say that if one is talking about legislation one should first contest and win elections. That is a bizarre reading of political engagement. If anything, for the first time, in my lifetime at least (!) I find people around me directly engaged with the political domain. I find a new sense that politics matters – that, it is important for us to be directly engaged with the ideologies, institutions and policies of the state; that we need to think and fight for power to shape our society. Is that not politics? There may be disillusionment with the specific political parties and the particular political leaders but to say that it defines the movement as anti-political equates politics with political parties and politicians and reduces the political space, doesn’t it? Surely, we don’t want to do that? In fact, that is your argument against the movement itself, isn’t it – that its anti-corruption thrust is anti-political? But it is an argument that is based on an assumption you are imposing on the movement – it is not reflected by the empirical reality, I would argue.

  16. kamal nayan choubey permalink
    August 29, 2011 12:15 AM

    I just want to mention two big misunderstandings about Middle Class in Chatterjee’s article. First, he has written that, ‘After 1991, that sentiment has radically changed. Now no self-respecting young person from the middle classes wants a job in government. The private sector, they believe, rewards merit and performance.’ This understanding is wrong because large part of middle class is still struggling for government jobs. Chatterjee should visit the areas near Delhi University where lakhs of young and fresh graduates are preparing for UPSC, State PCS and other government jobs. Indeed, in states like Bihar and U.P parents give their sons and daughters a single mantra ‘get a government job’. Most of the time in Police or army selection exams the numbers of candidates are so high that its leads to accidents or stampede.
    Second, Chatterjee’s this claim is also wrong that ‘I am sure that nobody seriously believes that Manmohan Singh or Kapil Sibal or Salman Khurshid is personally corrupt. If one was asked to concretize, one would very likely say that the DMK ministers or Lalu Yadav or Mayavati or Amar Singh was corrupt.’ The fact is that for people Chidambarm and Sibal are two most corrupt and arrogant leaders and not only the participant of movement but others also know them for their corrupt and pro-corporate behavior.
    The most important thing is that Chatterjee have full faith in ‘people’, and he knows that no one will accept that his or her father or uncle is corrupt and for them only politicians are corrupt !!!! This kind of ‘faith’ or ‘knowledge is dangerous for a social scientist like Chatterjee!!!

  17. Amused permalink
    August 29, 2011 8:49 AM

    I studied in one of the top five B-schools of the country- the non-IIM one in DU, after a masters in literature. And it never fails to amuse me that my very unabashedly capitalist batch mates and seniors- staunch believers in the power of “jugaad”, people who have reacted viciously to any questions raised about their own abuses of power and funds within the student body- are so vociferous, self-righteous and even self-congratulatory in declaring themselves pro-Anna on social networking sites.

    Main karoon toh jugaad, tum karo toh bhrashtaachaar.

    But no, we mustn’t doubt them, we mustn’t deny them their moment of political awakening. After all it has been a while since Rang de Basanti and Youth for Equality, hasn’t it?

  18. rajphys permalink
    August 29, 2011 9:23 AM

    The view of corruption that has come to the forefront through the Anna campaign is a process oriented rather than outcome oriented view. The general idea is that there is a law of the land and people who are not following it are corrupt and should be punished. Whether the law is justified, whether it makes sense, is of no consequence. That is why the solution has fallen exclusively to a big agency to punish the corrupt and not towards any structural changes in the governing compact.

    To take the example of touts at ticket counters, if the railways were run by a private entity, which raised the price of tickets during festive seasons, you would be “paying a premium for a scarce resource”. If you are paying a tout/clerk it is corruption. The outcome, from the user’s point of view, is the same …. paying a higher price for the tickets. This exemplifies the process oriented rather than outcome oriented approach to corruption, especially small scale corruption.

    This is also the reason why the left, which is thinking in terms of outcomes, and especially their effect on the poor and marginalized, has failed to gain traction from this campaign. The participants in this campaign would be happy with the same outcome as long as the process is transparent to them, whatever the process may be.

  19. sangeeta permalink
    August 29, 2011 12:14 PM

    The best part of the movement which i love is that this has forced us to look within….for me this movement is awakening a self realization,if we want a corruption free society the best way to start is from within……BE THE CHANGE is the mantra… the 5 things anna has told to follow,selfless service is the way to go in this new age….love and light

    • r.k.manocha permalink
      August 29, 2011 7:41 PM

      @sangeetaji . .yes i are right

  20. August 29, 2011 2:15 PM

    Ravi Srinivas, it is possible to use “fascism” in an informed way; if all words used loosely are to be put out of use it would indeed be hard to speak. Let me say that in my understanding fascism is tying up or bringing people together through a superficial set of marks and symbols that become increasingly disconnected from their actual empowerment or the redressal of their grievances; it functions through an “empty signifier” that would not even remotely signify anything except its own perpetuation. For Laclau, the signifier can only be empty to the extent it can have multiple valences for different sections of the society like “equality” or “justice”. But once the possibility of filling up the emptiness of the signifier goes, it really becomes empty and an instrument of fascism. In other words its idealism ends as embodied in a leader since no actual contradictions in the polity can actually be addressed. Anna movement can only increasingly depend on his person to keep the flock together since their demand “eradication of corruption” does not relate to any particular constituency and is supremely vague in the specificity of the process of implementation.

    • Meditating Monster permalink
      August 29, 2011 5:00 PM

      Dear Rajan,

      Perhaps it is possible to use “fascist,”in an informed way. But jargon-speak is best confined to those intellectual spheres that are conversant with its correct usage it. No point, for instance, if a quantum physicist talks about his subject using technical jargon, in a forum consisting mostly of literature students (they may recognise terms like – Quarks, Higgs Boson, Psi-Star, Tachyon etc., but what will it actually mean to them?) Furthermore, cliches and labels cover clarity of thought with emotion. In this particular instance, the term “fascist,” is a pejorative. Why use it? Will the recipient of a pejorative respond rationally or emotionally?

      Btw, I understand the point that you are trying to convey. My request is not to use words that are bound to result in emotional reactions. Because that moves us away from reason.


  21. Meditating Monster permalink
    August 29, 2011 4:05 PM

    Dear Partho,

    So… By extension of your argument.

    If I am a smoker, I shouldn’t be advising other people not to smoke.
    If I am an alcoholic, I shouldn’t be advising other people not to drink.
    If I am a chronic gambler, I shouldn’t be advising other people not to gamble.


    Further, is it your opinion then, that a drug addict is just as responsible as the cartel who manufactured and pushed the drugs on him. (Do read up on this subject before leaping to an answer. Cigarettes are a good place to start.)

    Perhaps you need to rethink your position.


    Meditating Monster
    Ps: Is it very difficult for you to avoid using pejorative cliches, like for instance – populist?

  22. Nirmalangshu permalink
    August 29, 2011 4:35 PM

    When the urgent issue of form of participation in a mass movement, as raised by Nivedita in her wonderfully caring piece, reaches this level of empty verbosity, one is compelled to cite as follows:

    “People may pretend that there is [technical knowledge on matters of human concern] and they may make it look complicated; that’s the job of intellectuals. The idea that deep scientific analysis tells you something about problems of human beings and our lives and our interrelations with one another and so on is mostly pretence in my opinion—self-serving pretence which is itself a technique of domination and exploitation” (Noam Chomsky, 2000).

    Chomsky himself has analysed dozens of mass movements across the world, from Vietcong, Sandinista, Hezbolla to peasant movements in Latin America and shipyard-workers in England without ever getting drawn and drowned in this sort of “self-serving pretence.” The basic issues are straight and simple as they always are.

    Is there massive corruption affecting the lives of broad sections of the people, especially the poor?

    If yes, what can be done about it NOW instead of waiting for the “system” to change, especially in the face of what we know about “changed systems”?

    Is the Lokpal Bill capable of addressing this massive issue at least in part to bring some relief to people at large?

    If not, what options does the left has in mind apart from letting the corruption to continue while the left is thinking about how to satisfy the favourite “subaltern” conditions? Why didn’t the left submit a Fifth draft bill consistent with the thoughts of Marx, Foucault, Laclau, and the like?

    Instead of looking at the mirror, the comfortable left has now found the gem of a diagnosis to explain its inaction: Yeh Janta Chor Hai. Hopefully, the new evidence for the old theory will generate writing contracts and related stuff.

    The only reassuring thing is that this “technique of domination and exploitation” has no consequences since its vested interests are restricted to the unspeakers. The “middle class” speaks. That’s the problem.

    • Meditating Monster permalink
      August 29, 2011 7:56 PM

      Bravo! Spot on.

  23. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    August 29, 2011 5:32 PM

    I do not seem to agree with Prof. Chatterjee.
    The Anna Movement does cut across various classes , communities , religions and castes. However, it is strange for a subalternist to insist that every movement has to necessarily follow one of the above .
    Corruption hits the poor the most becasue they are not in a position to receive bribes but suffer at every step – for example the hawker paying his weekly hafta or the landless labourer trying for his BPL card – not to speak of the crores rightfully blonging to the people siphoned away by the Rajas and Kalmadis.
    Sometime back, Arundhati Roy justified the activity of paying and receiving a hafta as both belong to the underprivileged. What she forgot is that the hawker is even more starved and the resultant earning of the constable falls under “unearned income”.One may still justify accepting a bribe from a Mercedes owner violating traffic rules – though this is also subject to debate.
    Corruption is therefore mostly venal and anti-poor. By bringing the issue centre-stage, Anna has taken up cudgels on behalf of the exploited classes – though it may not qualify as a “progressive” movement under the strictly Marxian criterion.
    But then I thought that Prof. Chatterjee was not a classical Marxist.


  24. Nandan Dasgupta permalink
    August 29, 2011 6:03 PM

    One does hope that it is being recognized that ‘corruption’ does not merely mean bribes qua government servants. It is a phenomenon that must have existed ever since the begining of acquisition of wealth and all human beings are ‘corrupt’ in some way or the other. When functionaries come from a corrupt society, they are axiomatically going to be corrupt. Thus not only the government functionaries but also private ones (telling examples being lawyers, doctors and businessmen) will be corrupt. Most of us hate corruption mostly because the corruption practiced by us did not give us as much dividend as our neighbour. Not that we hate corruption per se but that we hate those who were able to turn it to their advantage better than we could. So we hate the ‘successful’ politician and hold up the less successful ones as examples. But who is there amongst us that has not tried to gain some non-pecuniary advantage by using a contact? And it may be something as simple as getting ahead in the queue at a langar. We are a democracy in name but not at heart – Indians just don’t respect the rights of others and will at least in the foreseeable future not be able to become truly democratic. Till then we will remain feudal and will love it when a ‘king’ comes along and tells the other ‘king’ how to behave. So long live Hazare the ‘king’ till a bigger ‘king’ comes along.

  25. r.k.manocha permalink
    August 29, 2011 8:24 PM

    in my locallity our M.L.A. before he came in politics he was a poor person ,he is the son of a school teacher…now after becoming M.L.A.twice he has big banglow.,big sr.sec.public school,many plots and wise we can see almost all politicians have made politics business..whereas at the time of indipendance it was the field of corruption is born and started from politicians..People are fedup with this they were waiting for some way to react or cry..Anna sahib has given that oportunity and people came on the streets..all the M.P.s are like slaves of their party bosses and they have only one option of doing chamchagiri otherwise they will be no more in biz…after elected they do not need janta..they need to become yes man of their party boss or bosses..this must be changed ..i am a small i do not understand big words..i can share only the things which i see in practise…

    • gaurav permalink
      August 31, 2011 10:51 PM

      your point is absolutely correct manochaji. however, my only worry about the movement is that it has till now focussed on the ones who take the bribes. not the one’s who gave them. we need to ask who is paying such huge bribes that our ministers can get a big bungalow? this bungalow is not made out of bribes that common people like you and me give. it comes from the big bribes taht only private companies can give in order to get contracts, etc. but in this movement, and the bill draft, there is only punishment for the one who accepts bribes, and strict punishmnet. that is why i think many big pricvate companies have been more than happy to support the movement – thye can continue making money without having to pay birbes. but none of this will come to us – prices of things will still keep rising. the common man will be the one who suffers. also, this gives a chance to companies to misuse the law – let’s say a minister is refusing to give clearance for a mining project because of environmental issues. now, the company will file a corruption case on him – we all know evidence is not hard to create for such things. then, who is the real corrupt person and who is innocent in such situations? at least we have control over our politicians – do we have any control over the company chiefs?

  26. naveen jankar permalink
    August 29, 2011 8:50 PM

    the split persona of the movement is quite amazing – i witnessed a respected doctor full of enthusiasm for the movement and how the entire country would now be rid of corruption then showing off his new mansion where he had lavishly spent his black money.

  27. Padmanabhan permalink
    August 29, 2011 11:22 PM

    Actually ,the real victims of corruptions as 2G spectrum are the corporate forces who were willing to take part in the auction. Political society is the main hindrance in their way to the take over of the supremacy in Govt. So they are the main supporters of the Hazare movement.

  28. August 30, 2011 4:40 AM

    My comment is in addition to comments of Raman,Ganguli,Nirmalangshu and Upal Chakraborty.

    this article is over assumptive. Partha shud know that there are only 40 lakhs government employees in India and among them only 1 % are of class 1. if we believe partha, all the participants of this movement must be relatives of these 40 lakhs people !

    Partha assumes that this movement is against Politician only. it is true that people participating in this movement did not allow politician to high jack this issue. but this wrong to say that this was only against ‘Politician’. it was against all public office bearer. it is true that recent mega scams triggered the mass but it is also true that public was all filled up against corruption in their day to day life.

    Partha forgot to notice that this generation of Indian youth is more exposed to rest of the world. Professionalism and fair competitiveness attracts young more than anything else. they want ot make money thorough market rather than making money through ‘bribe’.

    it is not necessary that if someone father has payed his fees with bribe money then he will be a corrupt man. it may be possible he never told his father to not to take bribe bt altogether it may also be true that he might be ashamed of his father for his corrupt practices.


    • Raman permalink
      August 30, 2011 10:03 PM

      In addition, it is important to delve into the reason why that father took the bribe in the first place (if he ever did, it is the assumption of this author that he must have done so to put his son through collge). It is very easy to take a moralistic stand and call the guy corrupt, morally bankrupt etc. However, if you have a situation where the salary of a Group ‘A’ officer is barely higher than that of a peon in the same government office (in India government salaries are totally irrational…lower level bureaucracy gets paid far higher than the market rate but higher level guys get paid far lower than the market rate). Coupled with low salary, you have security of tenure i.e. it is almost impossible to sack any govt employee because you need the previous sanction of the higher authority. So given that the guy is in a job with low salary compared to what his equivalent in the pvt sector earns and without any fear of reprisal, it is inevitable that he would end up taking bribes to ensure the best for his family. He is not a saint. The remedy actually is not a lokpal but rationalising salaries, making removal of govt servants easier and lowering discretionary powers in the hand of these officers. Such actions would lower corruption and not a supe cop like body of lokpal!

  29. August 30, 2011 1:14 PM

    Mediating Monster, I accept you caution about using “fascism”. But “populist” cannot be avoided since both Partha Chatterjee and Aditya Nigam have referred to Laclau’s “Populist Reason.” If it sounds pejorative for some they may have to note that it is used in a different sense here and may do well to do a web search on Laclau or similar literature.

  30. Rajarshi Roy permalink
    August 30, 2011 10:27 PM

    Most of the issues (factual or otherwise) with this long-winded, poorly argued article have already been pointed out by the numerous commentators above. The key flaw I found in this article is the gross-generalization and over-simplification of what is Indian Middle Class and its so-called sociological behaviour. The author, very conveniently, glosses over the fact that the so-called Indian Middle Class is as heterogenous as India itself.

    While Mr. Sengupta’s well-argued article was thought-provoking, this one just indulges in verbal obfuscations to raise the favourite left-liberal bogey of fascism. The underlying argument of ‘Corruption is something that characterizes the enemy’ doesn’t hold water simply because Mr. Chatterjee’s assertion itself is untrue. As pointed out by some commentators, middle class (I use the term for the people of my own socio-economic circle) has never claimed that they are holier-than-thou.

    Finally, for every idealist software engineer whose education may have been funded by bribe money there will be atleast 5 whose education was not.

  31. September 3, 2011 10:17 AM

    ” In mirrored hues, we have our life and being ! ” Goethe, Faust

  32. Rajeev Malhotra permalink
    September 4, 2011 12:00 PM

    This is a defeatist argument. Most murderers are men and of course people who commit murders come from our own families as well. Does that mean all prosecutions against murders are anti-men? Just because you might defend a murderer from your family, are all families pro-murder? Corruption is a result of a system that protects those with the agency (in this context all the connected and the powerful) against the other. We are sometimes the other and sometimes we are the ones benefiting. But it is the system that makes it possible. If we take the seizing of the assets seriously and if we punish the crooks to the fullest extent of the law, corruption will stop. The minute we accept a fall in quality as a result of individual/corporate considerations,

    Having said that, the idea that this movement does not represent a block is fallacious. It represents the tax-paying law-abiding (in stricto-senso, not in the passive flexible sense we use the word) citizens who normally do not truck themselves to a political rally for 200 rupees and a bottle of rum. It represents those who actually suffer from lack of quality in infrastructure, bad airports and highways, slums and tenements, lack of parking and bad air quality. They have been silenced largely by being called elitist. But it is not elitism that until the whole country climbs out of the mess it is in, all will have to suffer equally. On the other hand, living “legends” that represent the “legitimate” blocks hire security forces to protect their statues and grab public land to erect monuments to their massive egos.

    Anna and his cast of supporters are not perfect. But they stand for a block that has been silenced by all others. It is easier to slap labels such as fascism on anyone who does not toy the line of a weak India but the left has done nothing to generate a concrete idea that is actually workable. Congress supports inaction because it suits their interests and the independent left supports inaction because it suits their warped sense of ideological alignment with constituents that they do not even understand. The casteist politicians who represent the “disaffected” make money in all this confusion by exploiting both. The left throws out vague terms like Brahminism and RSS to scare each other into silence. Perhaps you would like to explain why none of the most corrupt names in Indian polity in your own admission belong to any of the scary labels.

    This is the new “absurdistan”. And for accepting this, you are an apologist of its values.


  1. In the Ruins of Political Society – A Response to Partha Chatterjee « Kafila
  2. Our Corruption, Our Selves: Arjun Appadurai « Kafila
  3. In the Ruins of Political Society – A Response to Partha Chatterjee – Aditya Nigam | LSR Political Science
  4. Corruption, the Parliament, the Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare: A Reading List | Entelechus
  5. The Sublime Object of Anti-Corruption « Kafila
  6. Is governmentality a dirty word? | Pop Theory
  7. FocaalBlog: Luisa Steur: Trajectories of the Common Man’s Party | FocaalBlog
  8. The Indian Example | Conquest of the Useless
  9. In Praise of Corruption | Conquest of the Useless

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