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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 44, October 22, 2011

Super Radicals and Anna Hazare

Tuesday 25 October 2011, by D.R. Chaudhry


This refers to an article “The Neoliberal Revolution” by Anand Teltumbde (Mainstream, September 17, 2011) in which he has lampooned the Hazare movement against corruption as a well-crafted stratagem in counter-revolution. The article gives the impression that the Indian revolution was on march and about to knock at the portals of Red Fort when a naïve and befuddled Gandhian put a halt to it and thus played a treacherous role for the toiling masses of India. The Anna team’s movement against corruption and its overarching Jan Lokpal Bill can be faulted on several grounds. However, the movement has some positive content also. This, unfortunately, is not seen by some fire-and-limestone-breathing radicals.

Teltumbde floats a conspiracy theory behind Anna’s arrest, his subsequent release and offering of the Ramlila Ground to stage his jamboree to serve a “definite purpose of the government in building a strong opinion in the country against the government and the political class dabbling in matters of economy, and therefore, in corollary, in favour of free-market reforms”. The Central Government has been pursuing free-market reforms since the early nineties of the last century, irrespective of the different coalition regimes. Then, how does building a strong opinion against the government serve the purpose of free-market reforms? His theory of the government’s game-plan of kid-glove handling of the Anna movement defies all logic. Now it is no secret that the government’s game-plan of releasing Anna was to fly him off to Pune and then dump him in his village—an Air Force plane was kept ready at the airport for this purpose. The apple-cart was upset when Anna refused to leave Tihar Jail unless assured of providing him space to continue his fast and the siege of the jail laid by his supporters which blocked the supply of ration to prison inmates.

TELTUMBDE treats the slogans of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki jai as indicative of the Sangh Parivar’s influence. There was a third slogan also, conveniently ignored by him—Inquilab Zindabad. This, at least, should have elated him. Radicals, if they had joined the movement, were free to raise their slogans. Many staged street-corner plays and regaled the audience with songs at the Ramlila Ground. Radicals were free to do the same as per their programme. If they decide to sulk in the street-corners to watch the show, they would always remain street-watchers when others steal the show. If they think that Anna should adopt their slogans and their programme in toto, they should launch such a movement on their own.

Teltumbde is partly correct when he states that the upper-caste, English and technical educated youth of cities and towns—the rising middle class—lent their huge support to the campaign. Autorickshaw drivers and tiffinwallas in Bombay and such other hard-pressed people too were a part of the campaign in different parts of the country. Some middle class employees in the crowd were, undoubtedly, bribe-takers. However, such a person has to shell out several lakhs of rupees as capitation fee while getting his/her child admitted in a privately run professional institution. Bribe, in many cases, is a double-edged weapon. It afflicts the giver as well as the taker, and brutalises both in the process.

The major cause of Anna’s mass appeal lies in his simple and austere life dedicated to public causes. He lives in a temple, with a bedding and a few utensils to partake of his food. He has no worldly possessions. The people are sick of those who amass huge wealth in the garb of public life. Anna shines in contrast. Renunciation has always been valued high in the Indian ethos. One cause of appeal of Gautama the Budha and Mahavira was that both were princes and renounced the luxuries of the palace for the hardships of the forest in search of truth.

Teltumbde is right when he states that the crowd in the Ramlila Ground was not there for the thorough overhaul of the system a la revolution that the Maoists want to bring about. Maoists, it should be noted, have been busy in staging revolution since the mid-sixties of the last century but they have not been successful in spreading out of the thick forests populated by tribals who are being subjected to dire exploitation by the power-wielders in our system and thus compelled to pick up guns to defend their rights. The system has unlimited resources to withstand insurgency in isolated places as has been the case with the North-East and J&K and would continue to do so as long as it enjoys legitimacy among the bulk of the population. The Anna movement has gone a long way to erode it and this provides a great opportunity for the radicals to advance their cause if they correctly understand the mechanics of large-scale social transformation.

THE notion that the ruling classes rule with the help of force has been a popular belief with the Marxists and, force being a midwife of history, a favourite dictum. Antonio Gramsci has made a seminal contribution in this field. Ruling classes, according to him, rule by establishing hegemony in society, not through force but by means of political and ideological leadership. This is how they organise consent and acquire legitimacy. Gramsci’s originality, observes Giuseppe Fiori, lies in stressing that “….the system’s real strength does not lie in the violence of the ruling class or the coercive power of the state apparatus, but in the acceptance by the ruled of a ‘conception of the world’ which belongs to the rulers”.

According to Gramsci, it was not possible to repeat the experience of the Russian revolution elsewhere in the West as the Czarist state lacked legitimacy since it was not founded on the consensus of its subjects while the state in the West enjoyed legitimacy through its liberal form. He observes: “In Russia the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state trembled a study structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks.” Without demolishing fortresses, earthworks and pillboxes —the ideological baggage pf the state—it is not possible to touch it. Without under-mining the legitimacy of those who run the state, it is not possible to make it undergo a qualitative change. The Indian state’s legitimacy was greatly under-mined when its putrefying underbelly was laid bare as one scam after another tumbled out of its closet. It was further given a powerful blow by the Anna Hazare movement against corruption. Here lies Anna’s signal contribution to the historical process.

Teltumbde’s fear of the BJP being the net gainer in this movement is well grounded. The BJP President has lent full support to it. L.K. Advani, the eternal charioteer of the BJP, announced another yatra against corruption as he saw the Prime Minister’s chair dangling before his eyes. However, the BJP’s record in matters of corruption is not lily-white—its two Chief Ministers had to quit on charges of corruption and two mining magnates, blessed by a top BJP leader, are cooling their heels in prison on charges of looting the national resources. Still, the BJP, being the only alternative at the national level, may be the gainer if the ruling combine gets decimated. For this, the blame would lie at the door of the radicals who stand aloof and not Anna Hazare who has cautioned his countrymen to be wary of Advani’s designs to reap the electoral harvest by starting his rath yatra.

The major weakness of the Anna Hazare movement is at two levels:

ideological and organisational. At the ideological plane, the Anna team lacks clarity on the roots of corruption in our system. Earlier, it was thought that the quota-permit raj bred corruption. If the system was changed, so it was thought, and the economy was left to the market forces, everything would be fine and glorious. The reverse has happened after the government embraced the neoliberal regimen which has opened the floodgates of corruption and widened the gap between the rich and the poor. This is logical as can be seen in opened the case of America, the Mecca of neoliberalism. The USA is, among the high-income countries, the third most unequal, behind Singapore and Hongkong—more unequal than any European country. The richest one per cent American households now have a higher net worth than the bottom 90 per cent. The annual income of the richest 12,000 households is greater than that of the poorest 24 million households. The richest one per cent now control 40 per cent of the US economy.

What is true of the USA is true in our context also. India has the largest number of dollar billionaires in Asia. India has had the highest rate of economic growth after China. India has bulging foreign exchange reserves. Such like figures are touted as a mark of success of the neoliberal policies being pursued. However, there is another side of the picture. As per the findings of the Commission on Unorganised Enterprises under the chairmanship of the late Arjun Sen Gupta, appointed by the Central Government, 77 per cent of the Indian population lives on less than twenty rupees a day. During the last two decades or so, about two lakh farmers in India have committed suicide—the largest suicide wave in history.

The social effects of globalised “development” have been stark. Inequalities among different classes are rising. One estimate suggests that the wealthiest 10 per cent Indians now own 53 per cent of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 10 per cent own only 0.02 per cent. If the abysmally low indicator to determine the poverty line is corrected, between half to 80 per cent of the population would be considered too poor to have adequate food, shelter, and clothing. In the 20 years of reforms, employment in the formal sector (which gets most of the investment) has remained virtually stagnant (from 26.7 million in 1981 to 27 million in 2006), a phenomenon called “jobless growth”.

NEOLIBERALISM is not only an economic construct; it has powerful dimensions in the realm of culture as well. It promotes the capitalist ethics of “every one for oneself” with vengeance. It pits man and against man in the endless search of worldly possessions. It pushes iron into the soul and denudes one of compassion which distinguishes man from the animal world, making one totally oblivious of the suffering and misery all around. Development under its aegis is completely inhuman. One example would suffice. One industrial magnate in Mumbai has constructed a 27-storied mansion for his residence costing about 8000 crore of rupees while almost half of the population in the city lives in jhoparpattis or on footpaths. Corruption is an essential fuel to drive the engine of this kind of development. Corruption cannot be eradicated unless this model of development is given a burial. Yet, an effective Lokpal is necessary to provide some relief in the existing system. When the BJP could not remove its tainted Chief Minister of Karnatka, it was the State Lokayukt who axed him. The RTI Act has proved quite handy in exposing several scandals, big and small, all over the country. Thus, Anna Hazare’s struggle for the Jan Lokpal Bill should not be belittled.

The organisational weakness in the Anna Hazare movement is more worrisome. It has no organisational structure at any level in the country and no comprehensive plan of social transformation. The movement was spontaneous and history is witness that spontaneity, which creates upheavals, at some stage eventually peters out leaving behind no tangible results. France saw such a powerful student movement in 1968. Students occupied universities and workers factories while peasants thronged highways. This had ramifications all over Europe. In Italy, students seized the Turin University. There were demonstrations and pitched battles in the streets. In Spain, students demonstrated to demand changes in the trade-union laws, sealing student-worker unity that led to a prolonged struggle. In West Germany, the student movement grew in force and a big march was organised against the Vietnam war. In Britain, the London School of Economics was occupied. The movement was so powerful in France that the then government was shaken. Sixty thousand students fought in the streets of Paris and demonstrations of students, workers and peasants took place throughout France. Alain Geismar, an ideologue of the movement, proclaimed: “We want to make the university into a bastion from which we can pursue the struggle against capitalism.” However, nothing came out of this struggle and capitalism marched on.

The JP movement in India is another instance of a spontaneous movement. In 1974, students in Gujarat formed the Navnirnam Samiti and launched a powerful campaign against the then Congress Chief Minister, Chimanbhai Patel. This led to imposition of President’s Rule in the State. This students’ outfit had a repeat performance in Bihar and several legislators were made to resign. Jayaprakash Narain, popularly known as JP, a highly respected figure in the country, jumped into the fray. Several political parties, including the then Jan Sangh, climbed his bandwagon under the umbrella of the Janata Party which came to power after a spell of Emergency. What was the net outcome?

JP gave the slogan of ‘Total Revolution’. His writings over a long period of time have been compiled in a four-volume tom. In its foreword, JP writes: “I have been pursuing a single goal, seeking answer to several ideologies and political paths until I have arrived at the conclusion that Gandhiji holds the answer…Whether it is the political edifice raised on the foundation of Gramswaraj or the economic structure raised on small-scale industries and intermediate (or appropriate) technology, or whether it is the development of a rural-urban agro-industrial civilisation, the inspiration has to be drawn from Gandhiji, reinforced with the most modern thinking and experiences of the West.” His search for the Gandhian utopia ended in futility and he died a dejected man. The net gainers have been the BJP, which emerged as a strong force from its version of Jan Sangh, and Laloo in Bihar and Mulayam in UP. There is every danger of the Anna Hazare movement meeting a similar kind of fate.

ANNA’S latest clarion call is to defeat the Congress party in the five election-bound States next year if the Centre fails to pass Jan Lokpal Bill in the winter session of Parliament. He exhorted the voters to defeat the Congress in the Hisar Lok Sabha by-election held on October 13 as the party was not bringing the Jan Lokpal Bill. He did not ask the voters whom they should vote for. It created an embarrassing quandary for a voter if he took his call seriously.

Besides the Congress party which was ruled out, the other two contenders were the Indian Lok Dal (INLD), and Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) founded by Bhajan Lal with the BJP as its ally—others being too insignificant for the reckoning. Both have given written undertakings to the Anna team that they would support the Jan Lokpal Bill.

INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala and his son, who was a candidate, have been charged with graft. Charges have been framed against both in the case of possessing assets dispropor-tionate to their known sources of income in a CBI court in Delhi. Chautala’s regime in Haryana was notorious for corruption. Bhajan Lal, whose son was the candidate, is known as a progenitor of corruption in Haryana. Though barely a literate man, he called himself Ph.D in politics as he excelled in the game of buying legislators. He was the Janata Party Chief Minister in Haryana in 1980. After Indira Gandhi came into power at the Centre, he defected to the Congress party along with forty legislators of his party a la Ali Baba and forty thieves. He was instrumental in saving the Narasimha Rao Government by allegedly buying the support of the JMM MPs. It is another matter that he escaped any legal action after the Apex Court ruled that the actions of the MPs inside the House were not open to judicial scrutiny. Whom would Anna’s call, if it matures in the coming Assembly poll in UP next year, for instance, help? Either Mayawati or Mulayam or the BJP, the major contenders against the Congress. How are they the paragons of virtue in the matter of corruption?

The Hazare movement had struck an emotional chord with a large number of people all over the country. The Anna team, instead of indulging in electoral politics, should get busy in bringing such people into its organisational network by floating State level units with a plan to take the process down to the gram sabha. Anna Hazare and his team-mates may not contest elections but people’s candidates can be fielded against the ones of the mainstream political parties through this network. This experiment is worth making. Criminals, money-bags, land speculators and swindlers of all kinds are entrenching themselves into the Indian polity in a big way and in such a scenario Anna’s search for clean and honest candidates is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

The Anna Hazare movement has struck a powerful blow to the ideological hegemony of the present ruling combine in the country and its major adversary too has a low credibility quotient. This has created a vacuum. It is incumbent on the part of the Left and liberal forces in the country to seize the opportunity to advance. If the gains of the spontaneous movement of Anna Hazare are allowed to fritter away, the Left would again commit a historic blunder. Here Gramsci’s caution is highly relevant: “Neglecting, or worse still despising, so-called ‘spontaneous’ movements, i.e. failing to give them a conscious leadership or raise them to a higher plane by inserting them into politics, may often have extremely serious consequences.….. An economic crisis, for instance, engenders on the one hand discontent among the subaltern classes and spontaneous mass movements, and on the other conspiracies among the reactionary groups, who take advantage of the objective weakening of the government in order to attempt coups d’etat.”

The author is a former Reader (now retired), Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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