[Reader-list] More on the Lokpal Bill

A. Mani a.mani.cms at gmail.com
Sat Apr 9 06:38:23 IST 2011

Civil Society - Effective but Limited and Contextual
Fri, 2011-04-08 17:19 | Roshan Kishore

 The ongoing fast unto death by respected social activist Anna Hazare
has evoked popular support and wide spread coverage in the media. It
is clear that the popular support especially from the urban middle
classes is built more on the outrage over corruption than a deeper
understanding of the issues involved in Anna’s campaign for the Jan
Lokpal Bill. While there is a broad consensus, including the Left
Parties (http://cpim.org/content/bring-effective-lokpal-bill) that the
present draft made by the government is inadequate to serve its
purpose, genuine concerns have been raised over the civil society’s
demand for bypassing the role of elected representatives and
operational parts of the bill
It is not clear as to which way will a final resolution materialize,
with the government feeling the pressure of the momentum which has
gathered around Anna’s campaign. However, it is worth reflecting on
some of the issues around this hyped campaign against corruption.

 To begin with, let us take the role of the civil society itself. In a
well functioning democracy the civil society plays an extremely
important role. In India as well there are umpteen examples of this.
The role played by civil society groups and activists in the fight
against communalism, in drafting and legislating of pro-people laws
like the Right to Information, National Rural Employment Guarantee
etc. are some such instances. Very often, civil society groups fill
the void which is created by the absence of progressive political
forces. The work done by groups after the 2002 Gujarat riots and
Kandhmal riots in Orissa is one such example. Lessons can also be
learnt from the experience of Latin America, where various groups in
cooperation with political parties have helped bring popular regime

But to think of the civil society as some entity which would lead a
country towards salvation, even politely speaking is far-fetched and
detached from reality. To my mind, the biggest reason is not
incompetence, lack of revolutionary zeal, being unable to lead the
people but lack of any accountability towards the people. This works
in two ways. First, no matter what position the civil society takes
(not to generalise it as some homogenous entity), it is not held
accountable in any manner. Let us take an example: Swami Agnivesh, one
of the key persons with Anna Hazare’s agitation has been campaigning
for the present Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal,
having addressed joint rallies with her. But he can easily jump over
to this bandwagon which is expressing deep hatred for politicians of
all hues without having to offer any kind of explanation. For a
political party such a volte-face would definitely require some
explanation if not serious loss of credibility. Second, the civil
society always has a luxury of choosing what issues it would pick up
for agitations and what it would not. To make a demand that Mr. Hazare
includes price rise as one of the issues in his agitation can be
viewed as a perfectly legitimate yet sectarian demand, depending on
which way one wants it to see. Or, to say that why Teesta Seetalvad is
only fighting against communalism and why not against exploitation of
tribals can also be seen as a holistic or self-righteous statement.
Indeed these questions or parameters do not undermine the great
contribution which people like Teesta or Anna have made to our
society, nor should one jump to any conclusions passing judgements on
their integrity.

What then is the point? Is this an argument for argument’s sake? If
not what is the moot point? A struggle to free the society of its
vices can only succeed if it takes a holistic view. In common parlance
unless the “system” is overhauled there is not much hope in the long
run. The fight against corruption cannot be confined to the realm of a
Lokpal Bill. Corruption in today’s India has an organic link with the
neo-liberal economic policies, with big business making the most of
the loot. The 2G spectrum is one of the biggest examples of corruption
and neo-liberalism being entrenched, where a liberalization of the
telecom sector was designed to facilitate the biggest loot of national
resources in the history of our country. Unless these practices are
checked and the money recovered the government will continue to fall
short of resources to provide even essential services to the common
people. If the money lost in the 2G spectrum scam were to be
recovered, the government could easily implement a universal public
distribution system, taking care of the problem of price rise to a
large extent. Forget 2G, even the total revenue forgone in this year’s
budget would be more than sufficient for many such pro-people
measures. But definitely this is out of question. For it would upset
the apple cart of investment friendly climate.

Now, one can legitimately argue that to allow big corporations to
evade taxes in a country where millions go to bed without even two
square meals a day is definitely the hallmark of a corrupt government,
if not legally then politically and morally. But these issues shall
not be raised, for there are stakes involved.  The media would
definitely not cover such demands. Media and News Making is itself
big-business in India today. News Anchors are helping to fix deals
between corporates and political parties. Those who are tweeting from
their state of the art phones sitting in plush corporate offices or
swanky cars would not like this. Their incomes net of taxes might
fall, or company’s balance sheets might not be as rosy as they used to

Of course, it would be absurd to say that Anna’s agitation is designed
to appease these sections. One must give the respect and legitimacy to
the present agitation it deserves. The point I’m arguing for is a
different one. To reduce the fight against corruption or the debate
around it to only the demand for a particular piece of legislation is
not doing justice to the cause. To project the middle classes, many of
them politically naive or illiterate, and some time reactionary as
revolutionaries who’ll bring about change, to allow characters like
Chetan Bhagat to ridicule the entire democratic set up in our country
by a cheap imitation of Deewar’s Amitabh Bachhan, who had to bear the
indignation of having to spend his life with “mera baap chor hai”
inscribed on his hands by the fellow workers of his trade unionist
father, to project the ongoing agitation like a revolution while
mobilizations much bigger in scale and with wider demands are blacked
out (http://pragoti.org/node/4300), to measure the success of a
campaign by who tweets in solidarity are reflections of the
superficiality of the movement.   If left without critical questions
they have the potential of making the very political process shallow
and farcical, excluding the concerns and aspirations of the toiling
masses. Efforts must be made to utilize such occasions to raise and
popularize legitimate and real questions which plague our country. And
success in my view can only be achieved by popularizing partisanship
in the favour of the sufferers and calling for and enforcing more
democratic accountability, not the lack of it. Class assertion is a
necessary condition for these ideas to materialize, but definitely not
a sufficient one. Those of us, who want to transcend this class ridden
society must think deeper and evolve ways to connect to the masses and
build popular agitations and defeat the bourgeoisie in its game of
creating flashpoints like these to confer radicalism upon itself,
which can very well be used as a safety valve at times.

Karl Marx had said, “To be radical is to grasp the root of the
matter”. Whether it is corruption or anything else not engaging with
the roots beneath can be anything but radicalism, and caution must be
observed not to lower the guard.



A. Mani

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