Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Fight to the Finish: Political Elites versus the Civil Society

Modern India has a new caste system. Today’s Brahmins are the officialdom, the bureaucrats, the civil administrators who interpret not the Vedas or Shastras but our laws and regulations. They determine what the ritual is.  The 40 years of socialistic pattern of society have turned what was a clean and good administration at independence into commissars and controllers. They do not serve, they administer.

Today’s Kshatriyas are the politicians. Their concern is with enhancing their power, their wealth, and their control over means of production and over the populace. They look upon themselves not as elected representatives, leave alone as servants of people but as feudal rulers.

Today’s Vaisyas are the businessmen, the professionals, the traders. They have tasted the elixir of free economy, of globalized culture of business and professionals, but are not averse also to take advantage of the inherent limitations and contradictions in our society and in our economy.

Finally, today’s Shudras are the public at large. And like always, the new Brahmins, Kshatriyas or Vaisyas do not give a damn for the new Shudras. This new caste system is wholly different from the earlier one. But it is equally vicious.

The ethic of public service, the inspiration for the betterment of society, the commitment to give more than one receives is increasingly seen to be absent among the power elites. We are said to be a democracy. Nanaji Deshmukh had observed that we do not actually have a democracy, we only have elections. Elections are not to be mistaken for democracy. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people. We have government of the powerful, by the powerful, for the powerful.

Anna’s struggle for Lokpal should be seen on this background. It is not simply a fight to choose either the Jan Lokpal or the government draft for Lokpal. It is a fight for civil society demanding unprecedented accountability from the power elites of India who are refusing to accept this accountability. A full change in the governance culture is actually what is demanded by the activists (and now by the people on the streets), and is being side-tracked by the power elites. What should be a constructive and trustful dialogue has degenerated into a suicidal conflict.

It is hard not to draw parallels with the Arab revolution or with the events in Europe in 1848. In 1848, revolutionary fervor broke across continental Europe. The waves of revolution were set in motion in France and, like a domino effect, countries after country were hit by revolts. The bases of European revolts were the same as those in the modern-day Arab world. Economic disparity, abuse of power, and a lack of political equality were all causes for the wave of revolutions in 1848 Europe. Industrialization and economic and technological leaps were causing major socio-economic changes in European societies before and up to 1848. While in a very different historical context, this has also been occurring in today’s Arab world. In 19th century Europe, fundamental economic changes, characterized by the consolidation of wealth, caused massive unemployment as well as the outbreak of famines. This has also occurred in recent years in the Arab world, largely as a result of the brunt of neoliberal reforms and rising food prices. Anger over lack of employment, lack of opportunities, corrupt government practices and rising food prices were the core reasons behind the Arab revolution.

Some say that India is no Egypt, but the similarities are difficult to miss. The demographic dividend that all are gung ho about could be the source of disgruntled youth if the country fails to provide them with requisite opportunities. The “policy paralysis” in government, animosity in the polity, decelerating economy, rampant corruption in all walks of life are all signals that the worst fears could become true sooner than later. Amidst all this, Anna’s movement is providing an outlet for the common people to vent their frustrations.

It is absurd when some politicians ask who has given Anna the mandate to ask for a Lokpal. Is it not obvious from the following he had during the August agitation? Who had given him the mandate to turn his village of Ralegaon Siddhi? He did what is expected of an elected government. One only has to follow the mandate of one’s conscience. People’s approval shall follow. Then there are those who say that the Parliament is supreme. Yes, the Parliament is supreme, Parliamentarians are not. Government is supreme; the people who govern are not. Those in Parliament cannot legislate for their own protection or aggrandizement, nor can those in government act in their own interest as they hold office in a fiduciary capacity. Legislation is the sole prerogative of the Parliament but if the Parliamentarians cannot deliver what the people demand, they better make way for others who can. The argument that nobody can dictate to the Parliament is a fallacious argument.

The British left India and the Maharajas gave up their kingdoms not because they suddenly became kind hearted but because the system, the culture, the society in which they flourished changed to make them irrelevant. Today’s India has changed beyond recognition. The aware and empowered people cannot be taken for granted. Today people want day to democracy, not a once in five years occurrence. It is about time the political class saw the writing on the wall and understood people’s aspirations.

‘We the people’ have given our country the Constitution. The Parliament, the President, the Judiciary, the Prime Minister, indeed the full Government are mere creatures of the Constitution. The people are supreme.

The dictate of the people, as articulated by Anna, is an earnest message to the parliamentarians – “Expose yourself to the demand for accountability, or else….” Everything else is mere detail.


Anon said...

Absolutely riveting. Interesting to trace your journey as a person from the company-cocooned employee to an aware, thoughtful, well read citizen

Chandan said...

@Anon: Well, thank you. I am glad you liked it.