The current confrontation on the Lok Pal Bill has eroded the middle ground between a corrupt UPA Government and the high decibel “Team Anna”.
Even those who would not like to identify with either side are being forced into positions that they may not want – do you support the constitution or do you want to fight corruption? Critical voices are subsumed into this mindless pro or anti camps -- either critical of Anna while supporting his campaign or critical of the Government while opposing Team Anna's methods and demands on the Parliament.
This polarisation has effected various sections of opinion including the left. While the Left parties by and large have supported the anti-corruption campaign while voicing their differences with the Team Anna's Bill, other left voices have articulated their deep discomfort with the Anna phenomenon and the threat it may portend for the future. The kind of demands emanating from some in the Anna camp – accept us as the people and do all that we are saying along with rejection of all political parties does indeed pose serious issues. Nevertheless, we cannot look at all this without addressing the much deeper crisis that the Anna phenomenon has shown – the crisis of liberal democracy.
Prabhat Patnaik, in his article in The Hindu (Messianism Versus Democracy), has identified Anna with messianic politics and contrasted this with liberal democracy. His characterisation of Anna and his analysis of messianic politics is not only important but also matches many of the characteristics that we see in the Anna movement. The problem is he contrasts this with democracy in the abstract and his location of messianism with pre-modernity.
Unfortunately, this removes the focus from the current crisis of liberal democracy, which has given rise to the current anti-corruption movement. And if we delve deeper into 20th century history, messianic figures arose out of the crisis of liberal democracy. Hitler and Mussolini were not based any pre modern structures but were the result of a crisis of capitalism – and therefore very much part of “modernity”.
I am not suggesting that Anna is a figure remotely similar to Hitler or Mussolini – just pointing out that messianic figures arise not out of the remnants of pre modernity but out of the crisis of institutions of capitalism. That people have turned to Anna as a saviour is due to the weakness of conventional resistance coupled with a Government which is not only seen to be corrupt but also has lost its legitimacy.
The middle classes had thought that Manmohan Singh was honest and “apolitical” – both of which are virtues in their book. It is the same Manmohan Singh who has presided over the regime in which we have wholesale loot of natural resources and mafia capitalism. This mafia capitalism has enveloped not only the ruling Congress and its allies but also the BJP. Today, mafia capital – land and mining mafia – run various states and have support at the highest levels of the Government. Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Karnatka, Andhra are captive to mining mafias. The real estate boom – around Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad – has created a new set of capitalists in which a set of politician are fully involved. It is no longer just crony capitalism – it is a fusion of capital with political parties and political “dynasties” operating various land scams.
The Left has brought out clearly the link between neo-liberalism and corruption. The scale of corruption changed from what was a small per centage of the total project cost to converting state assets and natural resources into capital. If urban land, a gas field or a coal mine can be given away to capitalists and their companies, the “babus” and the politicians now want a share of their companies as well. From this to crafting policies, which allow loot of resources is a short step. Remember Sibal saying that there was no loss in giving away spectrum at 1/20th of the market value – the only crime was violation of “procedures”?
With the suborning of various state and now the central Government, the internal democracy of the political parties has also being eroded. A Badal or a Karunanidhi have total power inside their parties not only because they are mass leaders but also because they command immense wealth. The rise of dynasties within parties has as much to do with money power as they have to old fashioned feudal values.
Manmohan Singh was seen to be an outsider and therefore not initially identified with corruption. The turning point came with his famous V for victory sign which he exhibited with such glee on the saddest day in the history of Indian Parliament, a day where a majority was “bought” by the UPA. While he may have saved his government, he gave a clear signal to everybody that now corruption had the sanction of Manmohan Singh – had he not himself ensured his survival by sanctioning buying of votes in the Parliament?
For this Government now to argue about the sanctity of the Parliament and the Parliamentary process sounds hollow. Are parliamentary processes so hallowed only when challenged by the others? A government which has wilfully shortened the monsoon session by a month is now talking about giving the parliamentary processes more time. For a government which has tried to bend every parliamentary process to its interest, hiding behind parliament today has very little credibility.
If all this was not enough, the Manmohan Singh and his ministers have also perfected the art of shooting themselves in the foot, while simultaneously suffering from foot-in-the-mouth disease. We had the spectacle of a Manish Tewari talking about corruption of Anna, then the Delhi Government setting up impossible conditions for protest, further compounding all this by putting Anna in Tihar jail in the good company of Raja and Kalmadi.
Obviously, the Congress has no feel for the pulse of the people. Not surprising, if we see the leading lights of the Congress. Their major virtue is that they are rootless politicians,surviving only because they pose no threat to the dynasty. Where servility is the key to survival, is it surprising that inner party democracy is a casualty?
There is no doubt that the messianic mode of politics that we are currently seeing could become a threat to our institutions. What would prevent a majority from coming up and saying change reservation policy right now or else? Democracy is not just rule of the majority but the will of the majority tempered by constitutional safeguards of the minority. Unfortunately, much of the language we are hearing in the TV studios, which seem to have become the new arena of democracy, articulate only absolutes – only we and our views are the will of the people; any deviation from our stand-point is supporting corruption.
The casualty in all this is the actual provisions of the Bill. After initial sound and fury, the UPA is now completely on the back-foot. The chances are that instead of a really thorough debate and examination of its provisions, we are going to see it hurriedly passed in the Parliament. Such a Lok Pal Act can create a new bureaucracy, destroy the checks and balances between the executive, judiciary and Lok Pal, bring into being a new centre of power without being being accountable to the people. The cure can indeed become worse than the disease.
Hopefully better senses would prevail and the country can go into a reasoned debate on what kind of Lok Pal we need. Hopefully, the Congress and the UPA will listen to the people and their call for a strong Lok Pal. Hopefully, we can step back from the brink and re-start the democratic process again. Only then can the lost middle ground between a corrupt UPA and a messianic Anna emerge.