Beyond The Bill....Lay The Goods.

Manohar Seetharam

Aug 27, 2011, 09:35 PM | Updated May 02, 2016, 04:11 PM IST

[ It would be a mistake to judge the achievements of the ongoing struggle against corruption solely on the merit of their draft Lokpal bill. The movement has accomplished a lot and exposed much more to the public eye. Where academics, learned columnists failed to popularly establish the holes in the leftist narrative, the agitation has succeeded to an extent. If one can manage to briefly tune out of the Ramlila noise and receive the signal, it would appear that the core aspirations of the movement could be located in the wider reform agenda.]

The nationwide protests we are witnessing today is something which cannot be grasped very easily. Firstly, the movement is being led by a front called the IAC (India Against Corruption) which is not linked to any of the mainstream political parties. Secondly, the one point agenda of the agitations is to get the Jan-Lokpal bill passed through the Parliament and nothing else. Thirdly, and most importantly, the movement seems to be in a constant state of flux and lacking a coherent direction. There has clearly been a struggle between the many players and leaders who have competed to lend and become the voice of the movement. While some of the past and the likely future of the movement is still shrouded in mystery what is beyond speculation is that the movement has acquired a hugely popular character and some form of a mass base. In this post I would like to take a closer look at the “base” of the movement and what drives them. However apolitical the movement might pretend to be, the fact remains that a burning issue like corruption cannot and should not remain apolitical. It needs to be forced within the political framework and discourse. Those well meaning people who are uncomfortable with the nature of the demands made, the anti-politician tone of the movement are indeed on firm ground. But, I would like to remind them that to be fair, the movement provided ample scope for our politicians and our institutions to function. Sadly, so unresponsive have our institutions been rendered that they chose to collapse rather than reach out. The popular perception of a politician has not been good for quiet some time now. For eg : Popular portrayal of politicians in movies. Hence the blame for the anti-politician tone cannot be squarely blamed on the movement.

Epic pwnage of the Left ideology and framework

In my limited understanding of the post-independent history of India, this is only the third occasion when the whole nation has united as one to demand and oppose something as universal as Lokpal and corruption. The earlier two occasion’s that come to mind are the JP movement of the 1970’s and the Ayodhya movement of the early 1990’s. There must be some reason why the left leaning component of the central administration – represented by the NAC and a few political leaders, leftist personalities like Miss Arundhati Roy and even other pygmies sympathetic to the causes championed by the above are all uniformly enraged by the movement. The answer to that in my opinion is – absence of conflict among the populace. The ideology that thrives on manufacturing conflict and exploiting conflicts to further itself is finding itself sidelined and rendered irrelevant. The fact that the debate and the dynamics that followed couldn’t be cast into their defined templates of – Bourgeois Vs Proletariat, Upper Caste Vs Lower Castes or Corporates Vs Tribals might explain this outcome. The co-opted groups of sarkari NGO’s and technocrats who were touted to be independent voices were forced to openly shed their garb and defend the establishment in various ways. The Delhi framework, or the Delhi consensus which was trying to engineer a scheme to occupy both the pro and anti govt spaces – like an organism with two faces, has received a body blow. This is my opinion is most heartening outcome of this movement. The movement also establishes that an effective way to counter the Leftist narrative would be capture the imagination of the people on universal issues and build effective institutions.

Demanding reform not revolution

Here again I would like the readers not to be carried away by the occasional shrill noises coming from well meaning individuals at Ramlila. Even thought the movement didn’t openly use the word reform ( sudhaar in Indian Languages) , which we would have loved to hear, it did form a significant component of their demand. For eg :

  1. The demand for striking down provisions that mandate govt’s permission to prosecute high level bureaucrats and ministers.
  2. The demand for a citizen’s charter and with fixed accountability and a time limit for various tasks
Surely these are demands that can be located within the realm of reforms, which our country needs urgently and I would add much more comprehensively. A few zealous leaders of the movement made baseless comparisons with the Egypt uprisings and tried to give it the colour of a revolution. But it would be more accurate to call it just a movement, an aandolan not a kranti. This aspect of the demand is still needs much deliberation and it remains to be seen to what extent the Lokpal would be allowed to interfere with the decision making ability of the govt’s. That’s where I would draw the line.

Politicisation of the masses :

It is quiet clear that the ruling establishment is not perturbed in any big way about the electoral fallout of this movement. That doesn’t mean that any savvy political party or organisation should be blind to these impulses. The movement – like a wave, has definitely politicised one more chunk of Indian population – most of them presumably young voters. The movement certainly began as an agitation spearheaded by the urban middle classes. The definition, size, composition and the electoral effectiveness of the Indian middle classes need to be more clearly understood and demonstrated. But middle classes have shown that they retain the capacity and the cheek to stand up for issues. This class however still needs a more robust platform and a credible leadership to galvanize around. That space is still wide open. This wire of middle class emotion, however did succeed in latching onto the prevailing discontentment among the larger population and hence we have this movement. Another interesting observation one can make is that the middle classes due to their location in the hierarchy are perhaps a good indicator of the prevailing sentiments in the masses. This class might have a stake in stability of governance, may not support revolutions – but it is also not for status quo on all issues.

In conclusion I would again like to stress on the need to look beyond the Jan-Lokpal bill to completely understand and take lessons from this movement.

Author is an under-graduate from IIT Madras with more than a decade of experience in Indian R&D centres of Global MNCs.

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