The not-so-discreet burdens of Indian communism
Weighed down by various forms of orthodoxy, Indian Communism exhibits an indifference to many of the expanded critiques of power and domination, as well as to the viable institutional alternatives, that have emerged since the second-half of the twentieth century. Reconstructing a meaningfully ethical and democratic left may require a fresh start.
Election installation, Democratic Youth Federation of India,
THE recent article by Sumanta Banerjee (SB hereafter) in the November 2010 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly1 raises important issues about the state of actually existing Indian communism or what should rather be called Indian Collectivist Bureaucratism (ICB hereafter). It represents a significant initiative in initiating conversations around reconstituting and reconstructing a transparently democratic left in India, with the accompanying themes, institutions and practices that this would entail. This note is meant to be suggestive, a contribution to the conversations that have been unfolding in various forums.
With all its limitations, established Indian communism or ICB has managed (in Kerala and West Bengal), however unevenly, some tangible social gains in the arenas of land reform, literacy and health care, the latter especially for women and children.
To avoid any confusion or misinterpretation, deliberate or otherwise, it is important to clarify what this comment is not about. It is emphatically not, even by default, an apology for formations like the BJP, the Congress and others, whose politics draws on gradations of caste, region, communalism and on serving the interests of corporate capital.
Situated in a society which is overdetermined by feudal authoritarianism, brutality and hierarchy, all derived from the multiple interlocking viciousness of patriarchy, caste, class and other forms of exclusion, ICB cannot but help reproduce these features in its institutional discourses and practices.2 Indian society with its multiple overlapping oppressions, old and new, is a Pandora’s box, a bottomless dungeon of power, domination, antagonism and violence. Rather than be limited only to the key notion of alienated and exploited labour that has been the dominant discourse of ICB and orthodox Marxism in general, Indian society is the template par excellence for discovering, understanding and dismantling the expanded categories of the myriad categories of nested dominations and vectors of power that haunt everyday experience.3
Caste continues to undermine the assumption of and the hope for working class solidarity, given that it (caste) functions to fracture society into splinters, and inserts hierarchy and domination even into the interstices of subaltern groups. B.R. Ambedkar, paraphrased by Omvedt observed: ‘To build the strength of the working class, the mental hold of religious slavery would have to be destroyed; the precondition of a united working class is the eradication of caste and untouchability.’4
The dynamic of caste denies the assumption of fundamental human equality enshrined in the Indian and other modern democratic and republican constitutions. Lohia’s concept of the intersectionality of caste, class, gender and language is of crucial importance in this sense, and points the way towards a necessary but insufficient political programme.5 For a German educated Indian socialist to champion language exclusiveness is intriguing, given that language has frequently functioned and continues to function in enabling contexts as a powerful medium for the continuous reproduction of hierarchy, exclusion and oppression.
The variously traumatized and brutalized Indian psyche, both within the confines of the family and in larger Indian society and culture, constitutes a hopelessly inadequate and non-existent basis for reconstructing even the rudimentary elements of a humane, democratic and ethical, socialistic practice that is congruent with the best traditions of a self-critical modernity.
Worse yet, these traumatized psyches in their discourses and practices within ICB were and continue to be thoroughly fixated and mesmerized by the equally if not more retrogressive mindsets, texts and practices of Soviet and Chinese peasant societies, wartime collectivist juntas and gulags, inflected through the Indian cauldron. Themes such as the oxymoronic ‘democratic centralism’ are just so much more grist for the unapologetically authoritarian and congenitally male-supremacist world of ICB.
Convinced of the inevitable installation of dogmatic and positivist versions of Marxist and/or Maoist dystopias, and drunk on industrial era scientism and gigantism as in the former Soviet Union, or rural labour camps a la the Khmer Rouge, the need for critical, historicist and normative caution was thrown to the winds. The despotic figure of the Indian father, husband, religious authority, teacher, landlord, employer, bureaucrat, party apparatchik, etc., dovetails seamlessly with the all too familiar personality structures of an absolute god, policeman and tyrant, most often rolled into one. Indian collectivist atavisms may closely resemble many of the traits highlighted in The Authoritarian Personality, published in the mid-20th century, by members of the critical theory tradition.6
ICB in its discourses and behaviour seeks to substitute its version of an anti-humanistic moonscape for the institutionalized multiple viciousness of the Indian status quo. SB succinctly summarizes the experience of various collectivist junta regimes: ‘We find a continuity in the use of terror as a means of creating a "socialist order" in the praxis of communists – from Stalin, through Mao to Pol Pot, and the present CPI(M) leaders and Maoists in India.’7
The everyday experiences of life even under the parliamentary segment of ICB, the CPI(M), leave a lot to be desired. Historian Mukul Kesavan observes that because he is an outsider, he ‘hasn’t had to suffer the countless (and seemingly endless) little tyrannies of Left rule in Bengal, the hubris of its leaders and the thuggery of its cadres.’8
Ironically, ICB reflects in reality (not just in a mirror) the pathologies of larger Indian society, disguised as they may be through manipulative populisms, opaque ideological formulas and inscrutable inner-party dynamics.
ICB seems oblivious to the enormous corpus of humane and ethically informed socialist theory and practice that has been accumulated in other parts of the world. Even while the Soviets, their Eastern European satellite juntas and the Chinese peasant communists were setting up their doleful, collectivist, flat earth/scorched earth deserts, parts of northwestern Europe, were concurrently establishing working models of what are still enviably decent societies (albeit within the ecologically problematic accumulationist-productivist-militarist paradigm).9
ICB has not, does not and will not want to understand the complex themes and processes that go towards constituting individual and social subjectivity, the womanist-feminist critiques of pervasive, aggressive and far-reaching patriarchy, physical, verbal and psychological violence and the complexities, limits and fragility of the ecosystem. It is almost deliberately innocent of and (possibly) dismissive of the critiques of personality and social-psychological structures on the one hand, and on the other, the substantive democratic themes/practices advanced by the civil rights, women’s, ecological, peace, indigenous people’s10 and subjectivity (lesbian, gay and transgender) movements that captured the imagination and principled commitment of significant civil society sectors in Europe, the Americas, and parts of Oceania, in the second half of the 20th century.
The various sections of ICB have failed to address, even in theory, the deification of the political and ideological state, the apparatuses of the administrative bureaucracy and its machinery of repression. On this issue, ICB competes with other bankrupt political formations in their zeal for meanness, or worse. Most significantly, many of the themes and practices of ICB converge with the predatory bureaucratic state which has been grafted onto the familiar pre-existing socio-cultural power structures outlined above.
In the Indian context the inability, incompetence, and failure of the congenitally rent seeking and archaic paper pushing, rubber stamping, public administrative systemto deliver even the most elementary levels of hygiene, sanitation, safety and ordering of public spaces and amenities should count as rank dereliction.11 The utter disregard for the dismal condition of public amenities is to be seen everywhere – be it state transport buses; a lack of interest in the upkeep of public assets shown by both management and employees; the shabby and dilapidated public and private buildings and spaces; the pervasive pollution of air, water and land; the spectacular absence of sanitation and hygiene – and the list goes on. It is the mass production of such spaces of misery and the programmed helplessness of society as a whole in adequately addressing this misery, that is an ubiquitous experience of Indian realities, past, present and future.
Even in the arena that ICB claims a monopoly on, i.e. on building alternative economic institutions, it appears like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. While it has been obsessed with the social and economic dead-end models of the former Soviet Union, Maoist China, etc., it has spectacularly missed the boat on a range of substantive alternatives in India and in other parts of the world. It is by systematically deconstructing and destroying the idea, promise and potential of a modern, successful and ethically responsible public administrative and enterprise system that ICB and all other political formations have opened the door to the frenzy of neoliberal fantasies about a minimal or non-existent public sector, except as a wholly owned subsidiary and enabler of the corporate sector.
Rotating a few faces out of the edifices of actually existing ICB will at best be a symbolic exercise and at worst, a sure recipe for more of the usual. What is needed is a definite break with the assumptions, institutional legacy and the one-dimensionality of Indian Collectivist Bureaucratism.
In his closing remarks, SB alludes to various social movements in India as providing a broader canvas for the process of left reconstruction. One can only agree with this suggestion, but what is left untheorized are the essential themes that these movements here and elsewhere have contributed towards transforming and expanding the ambit of left critique and practice.
The multiple axes of social domination in this society have been referred to in earlier parts of this article to indicate the social and cultural field that ICB operates in and by which it is significantly influenced. Here, I would like to very briefly and indicatively touch upon two specific universes about which ICB has been particularly remiss – the domination and invisibility of women and ecology.
The women’s movement has clearly shown how women contribute massively to social reproduction (without which there would be no production), as well as to production conventionally understood (one phrase from the movement that expresses this well is ‘Women hold up more than half of the sky’). Women’s bodies, work, emotions, time, dignity, nurturing, imagination, intelligence are all relentlessly consumed on the altar of patriarchal society and in fact make the very existence of that society possible. Yet, women are condemned to social and cultural invisibility, segregation, overwork and low or no wages, to sexual exploitation inside and outside marriage and so on.
The women’s movement has also shown that while male politicians are exclusively focused on the public arena, a range of women’s oppressions are experienced in the private sphere of the family and extended kin networks. Dismantling the pillars of patriarchal society demands that mechanisms of power, domination and violence that operate in the private sphere also become the objects of inquiry, critique and transformation.
Reflecting its contemporaneity with the first wave of industrialization, orthodox Marxism and its offshoots like Indian Collectivist Bureaucratism were, and continue to be, wedded to the Promethean paradigm of massive industrial production and the open-ended and instrumentalist use of ecological endowments, even after the projected dismantling of the capitalist order. As Rudolf Bahro, one of the theorists of the German green movement who coined the need for both military and ‘industrial disarmament’, observed: ‘Even… a thinker as profound as Antonio Gramsci was still able to view technique, industrialization, Americanism, the Ford system in its existing form as by and large an inescapable necessity, and thus depict socialism as the genuine executor of human adaptation to modern machinery and technology. Marxists have so far rarely considered that humanity has not only to transform its relations of production, but must also fundamentally transform the entire character of its mode of production, i.e. the productive forces, the so-called technostructure.’12
Both the hidebound cliques of the various sections of ICB and perhaps even some of the emergent social movements have yet to consciously break with the archaic deep structures of grassroots communities in our society and the very real tendency for their apparent ‘leaders’ to continue to work implicitly or explicitly within those deeply problematic frameworks.
The institutionalization of archaic, puritanical mindsets and practices within ICB and its resolute resilience to modernist social and cultural sensibilities is highlighted in one of ICB’s bastions, Kerala. Despite the fact that women have access to relatively high levels of literacy and health outcomes, there is scant evidence, even in the 21st century, of any meaningful expressions of autonomous social, cultural and (for the most part), economic agency for women.
Even a cursory glance at the grim, dour-faced, agit-propagandist displays and unimaginative conclaves of ICB’s top brass, reveals monotonously male characteristics (the token female presence being the exception that proves the rule). Further, these conclaves are marked by the scant representation of the young and in that sense reflect the patriarchal ethos of the Indian family where the reigning motto is ‘father and only father knows best.’
The challenge for grassroots social movements that seek to become the kernels of a reconstructed left is to articulate in clear and unequivocal terms, multidimensional critiques of the Indian wasteland in combination with an emphatically modernist,13 ethical, democratic left vision, and meaningful practices of personal integrity, social reconstruction and creative institution building.
Indian Collectivist Bureaucratism, saddled as it is with multiple and irreparable craters such as authoritarianism and patriarchy, its ambivalences about militarism14 and rank ecological blindness, is an inadequate vehicle for social and cultural reconstruction. Nobody can accuse ICB of enthusiasm, dynamism and/or creativity in ideas and practice, a curious fate for political formations that claim to be the inheritors of a form of analysis once associated with the cutting edge in social, cultural, economic and political modernity. Yet the possibility of a minimally sane society is dependent on a fresh start that imaginatively draws and builds on themes articulated by transparently democratic, ethical and non-communalist social movements, including those of workers in this society, as well by the global democratic left.
1. ‘End of a Phase: Time for Reinventing the Left’, Economic and Political Weekly XLV(46). The present article references Banerjee’s article as a point of departure. Since the state assembly elections in April and May of 2011, a number of articles on the theme have appeared: Badri Raina, ‘The State of the Left’, http://www.zcommunications.org/the-state-of-the-left-by-badri-raina, 24 May 2011. Sukumaran Banaji, et al., ‘End of the Left in India?’; Sumanta Banerjee, ‘West Bengal’s Next Quinquennium, and the Future of the Indian Left’, both in Economic and Political Weekly XLVI(23) and Pranab Bardhan, ‘The Avoidable Tragedy of the Left in India-II’, Economic and Political Weekly XLVI(24).
2. ‘Indian society is... composed of hierarchical systems within families and communities. These hierarchies can be broken down into age, sex, ordinal position, kinship relationships (within families), and caste, lineage, wealth, occupations, and relationship to ruling power (within the community). When hierarchies emerge within the family based on social convention and economic need, girls in poorer families suffer twice the impact of vulnerability and stability. From birth, girls are automatically entitled to less; from playtime, to food, to education, girls can expect to always be entitled to less than their brothers.’ Ela R. Bhatt, We Are Poor But So Many: The Story of Self-Employed Women in India. Oxford University Press, New York, 2005.
3. ‘...Necessary to broaden Marx’s critique of the alienation of labour to include all aspects of domination, class, race, gender, nature’, Ben Agger, The Discourse of Domination: From the Frankfurt School to Postmodernism. Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 1992, p. 8.
4. Gail Omvedt, ‘"Ambedkarism", The Theory of Dalit Libera- tion-1’, http://www.ambedkar.org/D-Mag/D-MagAmb.pdf, 14 April 2001, viewed on 9 July 2011.
5. Anand Kumar, ‘Understanding Lohia’s Political Sociology: Intersectionality of Caste, Class, Gender and Language’, Economic and Political Weekly XLV(40).
6. Theodor Adorno, et al., The Authoritarian Personality: Studies in Prejudice. Harper, New York, 1950.
7. ‘End of a Phase: Time for Reinventing the Left’, see fn 1, above.
8. ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, http://www.hindustantimes.com/Turn-turn-turn/Article1-697197.aspx, viewed on 17 May 2011.
9. Even though the erstwhile social-democracies of north- western Europe constructed their welfare societies on conventional industrial models, there is growing evidence that they are actively cultivating the transition to a ‘green’ economy.
10. A number of indigenous people’s movements raised extremely salient questions about human survival and quality of life issues, against economic, industrial and technological hubris and one-dimensionality, and were some of the earliest and most eloquent advocates for ecological sanity. See for example, Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. Crown Books, New York, 1988.
11. For a fictionalized but provocative narrative of the system by a former insider, see Upamanyu Chatterjee, The Mammaries of the Welfare State. Viking, New Delhi; New York, 2000.
12. R. Bahro, Socialism and Survival. Heretic, London, 1982, p. 27, quoted in Kate Soper, ‘Greening Prometheus’ in Ted Benton (ed.), The Greening of Marxism. Guillford Press, London, 1996, p. 84. This section relies on Benton’s useful compilation of key debates between various strands of Marxism and left informed Ecology.
13. By ‘modernist’ one means to suggest the historic liberating themes signified by democracy, and the phrase ‘liberty, equality, solidarity’, converging with universal human rights, multi-dimensional justice, anti-authoritarianism, anti-patriarchy and ecological integrity.
14. As Tariq Ali, the British commentator, has observed (paraphrase): India and Pakistan spend millions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction while ordinary people (in these societies) ‘eat dirt’.
‘India’ against corruption
THE recently concluded large scale protest triggered by Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast on the Jan Lokpal Bill issue arguably had a distinctive urban middle class support base. The protest showed the resolve of the urban middle classes (upper/lower) to undertake a cleansing act emanating from their moral concern for growing corruption in the existing state and political institutions. It also revealed their distinctive lack of confidence in the political class across party divides. The capitulation of an otherwise recalcitrant government and opposition in the Parliament, as it finally agreed to accept the core demands of the campaign, duly exhibited the growing clout of the middle classes in India’s democracy. As with ‘corruption in high places’ at the moment, the political drive to ‘cleanse’ the system in the coming months as proposed by ‘civil society’ (read Anna team) is likely to compel the political regime to focus with greater alacrity on issues that are of utmost concern to the largely discontented middle classes in a rapidly urbanizing India.
The protest raised two pertinent questions that need to be explored. First, how does one make sense of the growing trust deficit among the urban middle classes in the entire political class and, more importantly, in the formal democratic institutions and the procedures which enjoy constitutional sanction and have endured all these years despite grave challenges? Second, how does one make sense of the keenness of the political class as a whole or more specifically the two polity-wide coalition making parties, the Congress and BJP, to not alienate the middle classes, come what may. The question assumes significance given the middle classes’ relative lack of ‘presence’ in numerical terms, a distinct disadvantage in a single plurality electoral system in India.
The urban middle classes’ growing disenchantment with electoral democracy, evident in terms of its relatively lower level of electoral participation even as India witnesses a ‘democratic upsurge’, may be attributed to the following two factors: the first is the urban middle classes’ wariness with the emergent identity based electoral politics that encourages populism and patronage along the lines of ethnic cleavages. Political apathy can thus be viewed as a ‘backlash’ of the upper caste urban middle classes, a progeny of the Nehruvian middle class, against emergent political processes that veer around regionalism and lower caste resurgence. Being both ‘secular’ and a votary of ‘meritocracy’, the urban middle classes, along with the Indian diaspora, tend to look at the emergent sectarian political culture as antithetical to its avowed dream of a harmonious ‘great nation state’. Second, the apathy may also be attributed to the urban middle classes’ overwhelming concern with economic, rather than political, issues. There is a growing realization among the ‘new’ metropolitan middle classes that the rampant corruption prevalent in the state institutions and services, constitutes a serious impediment to the ongoing process of neoliberal market-oriented growth that is propelled by infusion of global capital and arrival of the corporate sector and with which its class interests are crucially linked.
As to why the political class, cutting across party lines (including the mainstream left), can ill-afford to alienate the middle classes, one can refer to the following factors: First, in terms of numerical ‘presence’, the middle classes form the fastest growing segment of India’s population. While the exact number varies, depending on the criteria used for enumeration, the middle classes in India are widely estimated to be between 250 to 350 million, making it the second largest middle class in the world after China. So whether 20 or 30 per cent of India’s population, the Indian middle class in terms of sheer numbers is bigger than the entire population of most countries of Europe and is almost as big as the US population in size.
Second, the middle classes, in a somewhat muted way, continue to retain their inherited caste/community based privileges and loyalties, even as they also seeks to delegitimize the language of caste in the realm of politics. As such the middle classes, more often than not, reflect the interests of and influence the ways their ‘own’ communities would operate in the democratic system.1 Third, the middle classes are equipped with ‘cultural capital’ that give them access, not only to the higher echelons of state institutions involved in policymaking but also to print and visual media and global audiences in a web-connected world of Facebook, SMS and Twitter.
Fourth, the ‘metropolitan’ middle classes’ tactical alliance with the entrepreneurial class (due to shared spatial and sociological origins, uncritical support for economic reforms and adherence to consumerist culture) contributes to its political influence.2 After all, with campaigns increasingly becoming costlier, it is only the entrepreneurial class that is in a position to make serious money available to political parties (and also to ‘civil society’ campaigns like the present one).
At a more general level, there are several other questions raised in the aftermath of the campaign that at the moment remain unanswered. Would the increasing proclivity of the ascendant elitist middle classes, with the ordinary citizens as foot soldiers in toe, to ‘dictate’ to state institutions and circumvent democratic procedures, as evidenced during the recent campaign, pose a threat to the ongoing ‘silent revolution’ in the form of political power being steadily transferred to the lower castes/class through the electoral route? Would India’s present and future democratic regimes, in facing the onslaught of the now confident, pro-market middle classes, be able to accommodate lower caste/class based claims by continuing with anti-reform affirmative policies and actions that enable direct and indirect transfer of public resources in the form of subsidies and protective discrimination to the lower castes/class with the same zeal?
Would the urban middle classes, having experimented and tasted success with the non-electoral technology driven ‘civil society’ route (referendum/recall/consultation) for exerting political power and influence, finally succeed in hegemonizing the national agenda (recall the ‘India Shining’ campaign)? And what about the distinct economic and political choices and concerns of the ‘plebeian’ middle class of lower caste/rural origin who are dissimilar in terms of its sociological as well as spatial origins? As the ‘metropolitan’ middle classes push hard for promoting a non-party ‘new politics’ based on legal activism/theatrical media powered campaigns like the recent one that was built around the support of local associations in civil society (NGOs funded by global capital) and the new middle class icons like a ‘saintly’ Anna Hazare and Medha Patkar or even spiritual/yoga ‘feel good’ gurus/swamis like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, the question remains whether all of this will further deepen the crisis of democratic governance.
1. Andre Beteille, ‘Classes and Communities’, Economic and Political Weekly, 17 March 2007; also D.L. Sheth, ‘Secularisation of Caste and the Making of New Middle Class’, Economic and Political Weekly, 21 August 1999.
2. Leela Fernandes, India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reforms. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007.
State response to movements
THE Seminar issue of September 2011 is devoted to the problematic of ‘Combating Corruption’ and contributors, a majority of them from civil society, have offered rich analysis focused on the Anna Hazare movement of August 2011. There is, however, need for broadening the discussion on the role of social movements in a democracy. Politics is the driving force in every society and it is no one’s case that the activity of politics can be caged within the rules of the game as defined by the constitutional system of a democratic politics. The pillar of politics in democracy is the ‘freedoms’ that are available to citizens to exercise their right of dissent against the legally constituted institutions of the state. And dissenters and nonconformists define their own boundaries without caring for the limits imposed by the legal-institutional apparatuses of the state. The question is: How does the state respond to social movements launched by public spirited dissenters and diverse kinds of opposition groups?
The Indian state, during the sixty four years of its post-independence journey, has dealt with a large variety of movements which have emerged on the basis of felt-grievances of different segments and regions of society in a variety of ways. It used its organized and well-equipped armed forces in dealing with the Communist party-led Telangana movement from 1947 to 1950, despite the fact that it was an ‘armed’ struggle of the peasantry against feudal oppression and exploitation. The state did not address the genuine demands of an oppressed peasantry because it always uses its coercive forces against angry social groups, particularly if they launch an armed struggle against an unresponsive state which is protecting the interests of the exploiting classes.
The policy of bullet versus bullet has been consistently followed by the Indian state against armed groups which sought to opt out of India’s territorially defined boundaries or against peasants and tribals who took to arms because the state was seen as protecting the oppressor landlords and mafias who have exploited the poor tribals and their natural resources.
It is not without reason that the managers of the Indian state have publicly observed that ‘the Maoist insurgency is the greatest threat to the security of the state’ and have sought to crush it. The above narrative clearly shows that our ‘democratic’ state has little concern for people’s struggles if solutions are demanded by launching armed movements, either by suffering peasants or tribals or groups which claim to have the right to opt out of the Indian Union. A democratic state on the basis of its claim of moral superiority and democratic sanctions has legitimized its use of coercive power against anti-state armed struggles of groups who are fighting for their ‘rights’.
While this is one facet of the relationship between state and movements, the other is that the functionaries of the state also negotiate with and accommodate the demands made by social movements which are described as ‘normal activity of dissident groups in a competitive electoral democratic political system.’ The Jayaprakash Narayan or Anna Hazare-led movements may rhetorically be described as extra-constitutional, but the functionaries of the state go out of their way to negotiate, bargain and accommodate the demands of these so-called social movements of civil society. Every such movement is concerned with the reform of the political system and while the state may resist some demands, it always keeps its doors open for settlement with the leadership of such intra-state reformist movements because they are spearheaded by leaders and social groups who are not ‘outsiders’ as far as the state system is concerned.
The JP movement was launched in 1974-75 to ‘purify’ a corrupted electoral system with a view to cleansing the democratic institutions by limiting the entry of MLAs and MPs accused of electoral malpractices. Jayaprakash Narayan launched his struggle against ‘polluted’ governmental institutions because those holding the reins had adopted ‘foul’ means to come to power. He wanted to restore the majesty and legitimacy of democratic institutions through his proposals for electoral reforms. Reforming democracy was the main agenda of the JP movement. Similarly, numerous other movements for the reorganization of state boundaries too have received a ‘royal treatment’ from negotiators and interlocutors of the government-in-power, by the opposition parties and media, both print and audiovisual. Anna’s movement too was for a ‘negotiated settlement’ on the issue of an appropriate mechanism to check corruption in public life and public institutions. Anna led a popular struggle for a Jan Lokpal bill and like many other democratic struggles in post-independence India, this movement too achieved its goal on the basis of ‘democratic accommodation’ by the powers-that-be.
Clearly the state itself decides to adopt different yardsticks while dealing with different movements in a democracy. Depending upon the basic social issues raised by the movement and the methods chosen for achieving its goal, the state decides either to ruthlessly crush the movement or negotiate with its leaders. If on the one hand, the demands of a surplus generating peasantry or rural oligarchy, as articulated by the late Mahendra Singh Tikait’s Bharatiya Kisan Union, are negotiated and conceded, struggles launched by landless agricultural labourers, share croppers, marginal farmers and tribals receive a cavalier response, often pushing them into taking up arms against the state.
The Anna Hazare movement too needs to be examined on the basis of its demands, and the support it garnered from the emerging middle classes who used modern means of communication to spread their message across the country. Is the emergence of the phenomenon of movements, actively supported by upwardly mobile technocratic, professional middle classes, any surprise? Instead of berating a social movement, which may have a broad social base among the rising Indian middle classes, the focus should be on analyzing the ideological driving force of this segment of our society, since middle class activism is here to stay.
By and large this ‘moneyed class’ is insecure and socially conservative, even status quoist. It is not sympathetically oriented towards movements for the rights of the ‘real’ poor, the basic classes, and usually supports every state action which, in its judgement, is needed to maintain and protect the existing social order. The mainstream of this ‘new class’, a product of fast-changing material forces of production, is status’-quoist’, right-wing conservative and, in the specific Indian situation, a believer in and practitioner of ritualized religion.
Hence, the upshot is that the rapid, ongoing social change is creating a new strata of society and movements articulating demands which cannot be dismissed in a contemptuous manner. Social movements should be properly analysed. Further, historical evidence also testifies to the fact that even the essentially ‘socially conservative middle class’ can become an ‘agency’ for basic social transformations in society. The Indian middle class, old and new, has revealed its ‘two faces’ or two tendencies during the different struggles of the 20th century. At one level, every tall leader of the Indian national struggle against British colonial rule, despite different ideological persuasions, came from the middle classes and made every kind of personal sacrifice for the liberation of the country. The Indian middle class has been actively involved both in right of centre or left-of-centre or even full- fledged Communist party-led struggles. It is this complex and contradictory character of the emerging middle classes which influences both the goals and directions of the social movement, as also the response of the state.