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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 37, September 3, 2011

Three Components of Jan Lokpal Campaign

Tuesday 6 September 2011, by Nirmalangshu Mukherji

[The following is a piece the author wrote as a response to an article by Gail Omvedt. Since that article is not being carried here, we have omitted references to it in the first few lines. Otherwise the article has been used in full. —Editor]

I think the older generation of Left activists are by and large failing to come to terms with an unfamiliar form of protest in the IT-age. For them perhaps, Tahrir Square looks full of promise at a distance from where all the finer dark spots get blurred; not so when it is happening in the neighbourhood.

The Jan Lokpal campaign has three broad components: The core group with Anna in front, the Bill itself, and the people. The Maoist campaign also has these components. There are serious problems with the first component in either campaign insofar as the condition of “democratic elections” are concerned. In the Maoist case, it is just an upper caste and largely upper class coterie of people thrust on the adivasis. The programme of proctracted war to establish “new democracy”, that is, the second component, is also deeply flawed. Yet, the Maoist campaign is routinely advertised as a just campaign because it is supposed to be a people’s campaign driven by a People’s Army. The current terminology is “bottom-up”. The reality of this proclamation is not the issue here, the structure of justification is. The Maoist campaign with its flawed first two components is justified because “people” have accepted and wanted them, contrary to the fact as indicated. But the same commentators are terrified when the same structure is offered for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Or is it because Dandakaranya, like Tahrir Square, is safely remote while these “middle-class people” are dangerously close?

The first component of the Jan Lokpal campaign is even more deeply flawed because, apart from its (inevitable) “top-down” character, it also lacks any history. It is purely a product of covert grouping almost conspiratorially formed and then announced to the world. (It quickly reminds us of the formation of the original CPI-ML under another “messiah” Charu Mazumdar, as participants in that conspiracy themselves report.) But the “undemocratic” IAC group is fairly benign since its members have little popular penetration and have no major connections with real power, especially imperial power. Kejriwal, for example, can only hope to be a member of one of the missions of the Planning Commission. Even Gladson is one such, deservedly.

As a matter of fact, is the Indian Parliament democratically elected, with over 300 crorepatis and other forms of mafia clamouring to be the elected representatives of the people? Do we expect them to articulate and contribute significantly and fairly to the intricate deliberations required to legislate a Lokpal Bill?

The second component is also relatively benign since it prescribes a law aimed at preventing daily harrassment to vast sections of the population. It has to take the form of policing in any version and, thus, will have some authoritarian consequences. Even the domestic violence act, RTI, etc. have these consequences. But it is certainly not “draconian” and “anti-democratic”. Many countries have various forms of such a law without any perceptible change in the system, massive attacks on civil and privacy rights, etc. Most importantly, if the receiver-end can be effectively blocked, the giver-end is likely to dry up, as Prashant explained in one of his speeches. The MNCs would be at a loss about how to bribe. (I am dreaming of course; what’s life without etc.)

The third component of the Jan Lokpal campaign is something the Maoists can only dream of and the “classical” Left, such as Prabhat Patnaik, is finding difficult to come to terms with. The middle-classes have by now bloated and stratified beyond classical conception, and its effects have penetrated below. The unequal distribution of priviledges has endowed this vast structure with a certain political aggression that can veer between fascism and limited egalitarianism depending on how the aggression is channelled. This structure is also immediately receptive to incoming information as it is less tied down to traditional authoritarian control. The IT, skillfully used by the IAC, has raised this reception exponentially to achieve massive mobilisation. This structure is not likely to submit itself to patient “study classes” under candle-light. Right now it is geared towards some degree of social justice as most members of this structure are victims (givers).

IN any case this picture is incomplete. As reports are pouring in, sections of peasants, adivasis, organised workers, and the like are also attracted to the campaign from a variety of directions. Some of them are already there in Ramlila. Perhaps this is the most “dangerous” development though classically reassuring. It seems that much of this new-found energy is directed against the organised polity of the Parliament. Just to cite one anecdote, on the 23rd evening, a young man from Lucknow got on to the podium to declare that he had quit his job to join the campaign as his boss wouldn’t grant him seven days leave. He then announced that he used to be associated with the BJP, but when the party failed to directly take up the Jan Lokpal issue, he quit the party. The seventy thousand odd people roared in approval. I am sure “quitters” from the Congress, CPM, RJD, BSP, DMK, etc. will also command similar approval. But the crowd also roared in approval when another person appealed to the Naxalbhais to give up hatya and join the campaign. He pointed at the crowd to signal what an unarmed campaign of the people can achieve. No wonder Maoists are deeply worried.

Clearly, the movement, still in its infancy, has an immense potential to churn Indian political order thoroughly. The huge task is to see how and whether this churning can actually get the Parliament back to the people without (much) violence to reclaim the absolute significance of the single vote. Anna & Co will be long gone by the time that happens. By focusing mostly on the first two largely benign components, sections of the Left may be sitting on its historical responsibility. 

(Courtesy: kafila)

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