Ramleela maidan eventually turned out to be the hot spot of dissent in recent past. Thousands of people poured in everyday it crossed even lakhs in some weekends. Protests reached out beyond the central place of Delhi breaking the silence of the muhallah. The docile citizens suddenly got activated by the temper of the movement shouting slogans in support of Annaji and further reaching out even to other metropolis in the country. Much of the space in the discussions these days in buses, offices and of course in universities and colleges has been occupied by the concern about the anti-corruption movement; people expressed disgust against the government and the political class at large and at the same time sympathized the fast of the old Gandhian, believed in his perseverance and passion for the cause of the common man, he epitomized the collective will at a specific moment within the larger passage of historical time.
The relation between the movement and the media had been quite organic, mutually constituting each other in a way that news and voice coalesced. Electronic media, print media, facebook and twitters were busy propagating, conditioning and advocating the movement and surprisingly this time not bothering much about the traffic jams and hullah-gullah created by the ‘common man’ on the streets. One reason might be, which some observers have already pointed out, and that is, this ‘common man’ is not as common as the ‘aam admi’, as the agricultural labourers, construction workers, the bottom of the rural and urban poor who hardly could be their clients, but an amorphous mass which includes predominantly urban ‘middle class’ who constitute the biggest clientele of the electronic media. The category ‘middle’ in this case of course is more appropriate in a sociological sense rather than defined by strict definitions of income classes and occupations. The interviews of English speaking housewives, doctors and students often televised in the English channels do not fully characterize the participating crowd; it spans from small shopkeepers and low-paid employees to software engineers, doctors, businessmen and of course a large section of young people from across classes.
Undoubtedly the movement had a limited aim of pressurizing the government in introducing an effective lokpal bill that could be an effective weapon to curb corruption. Although in the beginning the demand was sectarian in the sense it talked about only Jan-lokpal and the heightened euphoria created by the media tried to silence all other proposals in the context of effective lokpal. Anyway the popularity of the movement was nowhere linked to the nitty-gritty of the bill and the informed debates related to alternative proposals rather driven by a sense of distrust upon the government that is trying to introduce a bill of little or no value and secondly by a faith on the man Anna Hazare who with all his simplicity was assumed to be the ‘crusader’ against this attempted misdeed. There were various strategies on the part of the government, after being identified non-serious and undemocratic on the issue and the movement itself, in posing the battle as that between the people on the streets and the parliament as a whole. On the other hand there were over-enthusiastic advocates in the Anna team who were caught in the trap by not recognizing the responsible role elected representatives use to play in legislating an effective institution. However in balance one can surely recognize the fact that the movement could finally pressurize the government to decide upon a minimalist resolution that could of course pave the way towards an effective lokpal if not subverted by forces who take positions on the basis of narrow calculations on retaining or attaining power. But surely this movement throws up elements of thought for larger political praxis, especially, to those who do not see the problem of corruption from a limited perspective.
Why it is so that the ‘middle class’ predominantly constitutes the movement? Much of the answer to this question is contingent upon the concrete and remotely ideological. Corruption has several dimensions. At the aggregate level the magnitude of corruption increased in the post-liberalised regime, it is perhaps more concentrated than that during the license-permit raj, and swells as a result of sharing of the corporate loot that took place in the course of privatization spree. It is something like a subsumed class payment to the political establishment in the process of primitive accumulation. But this political economy of rising corruption which many from the Left quarters had already pointed out is conspicuously absent in the discourse and this is primarily because of the limited perspective that characterizes the movement itself. This suits the media as well and the representatives of the India inc. who frequently appeared in the channels and were cautious enough to restrict their support to the limited cause of introducing a bill and not extending further to unveil the roots of corruption.
To the common man this larger perspective of corruption is largely absent. The notion of corruption in their mind is individualized, largely evolving from real experiences in their day to day life. In this sense, corruption is the price of ‘favour’ or at least the price to preempt ‘dis-favour’. To an individual it is an asymmetric exchange either willingly or forcefully. One paying bribe to underrate the tax liabilities or avoiding fine for jumping traffic lights and so on is an exchange of favour against the bribe. On the other hand it could be preempting a ‘disfavor’ in the context of limited resource, say for instance paying money to get a hospital bed, admission in schools and colleges, bribe to get a job or a loan and so on. Undoubtedly there is at least some willingness to pay in some cases depending upon the deal (e.g. in the case of breaking traffic rules) while in many others, which mostly relates to the relatively more vulnerable, is like ‘holding a gun on the head’; for instance, a relative of a patient is forced to pay bribe to get the patient admitted. This is the gun which frequently pops up in front of the common man through the nodes of power. It is not the person who takes the bribe becomes the enemy of the people but the ‘system’, of course system in a very limited administrative sense, that bestows power on that person, appears to be the demon. Hence the political system is conceived as the cause of all evil, the system which people has created by their own efforts confronts the creator itself. Anna’s movement in the first instance, carries a sense of reclaiming the individual citizen’s might: at least for once the old man made the whole political class sit and think.
Engagement with the ‘system’ and feeling the heat of administrative power in country like ours is limited to a certain segment of the society. A large part of the population is invisible, have no legal existence or no legal claim for any entitlement. To them right to livelihood is a ‘favour’ in itself, which they have to buy everyday by paying a bribe. And there is nothing to complain about because they can’t claim a fair deal on the basis of any legal right. To be more precise, this movement against corruption is essentially a citizens movement; citizens who have certain rights, who engages with an interface with the authority and largely embedded in civic life, are the major constituents of the movement. There is no doubt that the person who is giving and the one who is taking the bribe both might be shouting slogans against corruption. This is not something abnormal because of two reasons: one, people do not aspire for ‘heaven’ and also don’t think themselves as ‘angels’ but wants to keep corruption within a certain tolerance limit which the Raja-Kanimozi and Kalmadi phenomenon has crossed. Secondly, assuming the neoclassical world with human beings either maximizing profit or individual utility does not capture all the facets of human behavior, a collective wisdom prevails over individual gains beyond a point.
One can easily conceive the amorphous nature of the mass involved, the slogans, demands and symbols which cannot always be captured in traditional class lines. The identity of the citizen dominates over individual class positions and the collective association hardly matches to any narratives linked to production relations. But why it should be so always? Capitalism brings into the fore many contradictions that are broader than those defined at the levels of production process, it opens up multiple conflict zones and consequently different subject positions. The exploitative relations of capitalism are hidden by the opacity of production relations and there is no iota of doubt that without the scientific understanding of the class process within and how it is mediated in various contesting terrains, true liberation against repression remains incomplete. But that of course need not restrain us in recognizing different subject positions that at specific moments might represent the will of the people. Capitalism is not only exploitative, it is sexist, patriarchal, predatory and ecologically disastrous and contestations may be manifested in various moments by various subjects, women, students, workers, peasants or the citizens.
In the whole discourse on the movement going on for the last few weeks there were tensions between two contesting perspectives. One, mostly propounded from the official circles that any effort to pressurize the parliament by the people on the streets is methodologically undemocratic and goes against the established institutions of democracy; two, the other extreme view that in fighting corruption the political system is not at all reliable and no political party could in the final analysis could really represent the cause of the people because some way or the other they are linked to the corridors of power. Both these positions are untenable because the first one actually denies the role of civil society in democracy and the second denies the institutions that historically evolved as a result of movements from the civil society itself. In this context I want to clarify one point. The civil society referred to here is Gramsci’s ‘civil society’ or Polanyi’s ‘active society’, that is the space between ‘state’ and the ‘economy’. In the former case it is counterpoised against the state and in the latter it is a terrain of continuing confrontation between society and market. In today’s media parlance ‘civil society’ means the associations or combinations that are not linked to any political combination, party or institutions and the political parties are in that way ‘un-civil’. Some political parties however think that they are the only democratic agencies to represent the people since they are elected while the other groups do not believe in democracy because they do not mediate through existing institutions of representation. Gramsci’s ‘civil society’ in any case includes political parties, interest groups, education systems, trade unions, media, social associations and so on. The terrain of civil society in this analysis is the extension of the state, a contesting terrain through which the rulers contain the class struggle through the dual mechanisms of consent and force. It is the ‘war of position’ by which hegemony is exercised and maintained and this is also the terrain of class struggle, a sustained and protracted war through which in repeated occasions the counter-hegemon expresses its arrival. But again this space is contested by competiting forces claiming hegemony over others by the act of representation. If political parties fail to represent the people at large in the context of a specific battle and if it could be taken up by someone like Anna Hazare and if this force somehow could push for legal reforms, whatsoever little it might be in its essence, political forces that are ultimately committed to establish authentic democracy could not be cynical to such social energy. No denying the fact that there remains the danger that social energies created in a definite context, and that produced positive results in terms of making the political system more sensitive to democratic rights in a specific moment, might be hijacked or co-opted by right-wing forces if the origins of corruption and their dynamics with policies are deliberately kept out of notice.
Politics is all about representing people be it within the boundaries of parliament or beyond and the issue of course is not numbers but the potentials that a movement is pregnant with. Radical politics need to represent the liberating energies of the masses and articulate to various instances in which diverse subjects emerge. It is by the art of representing as well as negotiating with emerging subjects and moves that a true radical force can carry forward the struggle for emancipation. There is no inherent tendency of bourgeois democracy to become radical democracy and the contesting ‘terrain’ of civil society, in its broader sense, should be kept active in pursuing the cause of the toiling masses instead of getting engrossed in the sterile ‘purity’ of the parliament. The battle in essence is to retain the institutions that have been established by past movements, but instead of being satisfied with what has been achieved, successive pushes are required to extend it further to make it more accountable to the people. And in this context the revolutionary force without assuming hegemony over other groups a priori, must coexist and act in concert with a multitude of movements which are potent with radically anti-capitalist and democratic collective will. The real challenge in political praxis of course lies in contextualising the limited interests of the people in a broader perspective where people would be courageous enough to look beyond the administrative image of the ‘system’ and be capable of identifying the cardinal link between coercion and exploitation.