Anna and the pseudo-democRats

A thought provoking blogpost by G Sampath at DNA:

In our lives as empowered citizens of the world’s largest democracy, how many times have we whined about corruption? Five times? 15 times? As long as we can remember? And how many times have we done anything about it? Not too many, on the evidence of the cascading scams of the past year, and all the years before that.

And yet, when a 73-year-old man decides to do something about it, you have these amazing rodent-like creatures coming out of the woodwork, expressing deep concerns about ‘subversion of democracy’.There is a name for such creatures: pseudo-democRats. They also have another name: status quoists. These creatures are so comfortable with things as they are — no matter how rotten, or perhaps because they are so rotten — that they don’t want change. They are the ‘democRatic’ avatars of Mubarak and Gaddafi who wouldn’t want to exchange the joy of whining about corruption for a chance to fight corruption, in however limited a manner. Such as through an ombudsman as envisaged by the Jan Lokpal Bill.

It should be obvious even to a first standard kid that you cannot ask a robber to draft a law against robbery. But today, we have these worthies arguing that the only way to address corruption is through elected ‘least tainted’ representatives — all else is undemocratic.

The only kind of democracy they recognize is one that is exercised once in five years, through the formal, controllable channel of the ballot box. Grassroots democracy that brings people’s issues to the government — such as the Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan or the people’s movement against the nuclear plant in Jaitapur — are sought to be discredited as not representing the will of the people. So who are these protesters? Well, they need to be given a suitable label in order to be discredited and disposed of. Let’s see.

Can you call them terrorists? Not really — terrorists don’t do fast-unto-death (one eminent pseudo-democRat did suggest that Anna’s fast-unto-death was suicide bombing in slow motion). Can you call them Maoists? No, they were armed only with candles.

So how about calling them ‘activists’? They are obviously not people, and since they haven’t won an election, they’re not qualified to speak for the people — whatever that means. Is it possible for any ‘member’ of the people to speak at all — as one of the people — without seeming to ‘speak for’ the people? No.

So who can speak for the people? Well, according to the pseudo-democRat, that is a privilege reserved solely for elected representatives such as Sharad Pawar, Suresh Kalmadi, A Raja and BS Yeddyurappa. It doesn’t matter whether two thousand people join a protest movement or two hundred thousand, protesters will always be ‘activists’ and therefore non-people. Even if a billion Indians speak with one united voice, unless they’re expressing their preference for one crook over another inside a polling booth, they will be deemed as speaking for the remaining 0.21 billion people and therefore subverting democracy.

In their scheme of things, ‘the people’ (who nobody but the elected representative can legitimately represent) come into existence when there is an election, and once the elections are over, conveniently melt away into nothingness. If they make the mistake of materialising anytime, anywhere other than during an election — say, to tell their elected representatives that they don’t want this steel plant in Orissa, or plead against an SEZ on their farmland, or a mine in their mountain — they are immediately relieved oftheir status as people. In short, they become a threat to democracy. Reflecting faithfully the concerns of the state, the pseudo-democRat has taken to heart Brecht’s sarcastic suggestion on what to do when people lose faith in their elected government: dissolve the people and elect another.

In fact, the primary purpose achieved by elections in India is to lend an aura of legitimacy to the oligarchy that has our elected representatives in its pocket. This voter-generated legitimacy is what enables the government to pass anti-people legislations in the name of the people — subversion of democracy in the non-laughable sense of the term.

Whatthe pseudo-democRat is anxious to cover up is the plain fact that elected representatives can consistently act against the interests of those they represent — and there is NOTHING that a citizen, acting only as a voter, can do to stop them. It is this belated realisation that drove the less cynical sections of the middle class to rally around Anna.

An election is only one of many kinds of democratic processes. But the pseudo-democRat loves it to the exclusion of every other democratic mechanism Why? Because an election is a process that the state can control from start to finish. True democracy — something those who accuse Anna of blackmail really fear — is about sharing power, sharing control, and holding the powerful accountable for their power, and not only through means that have the prior approval of the state.

For all its flaws, and the flaws of its leaders, the Lokpal movement is an encouraging example of participatory democracy — a process that is open to anyone who cares enough about an issue to want to join in — as many middle class Indians did.

Democracy is a lived reality — not some codified entity that will be interpreted (for the people?) by self-appointed constitutional experts and newspaper columnists. If the Lokpal turns out to be a ‘Frankenstein monster’ (am I to believe that no ‘monster’ has ever won an election?), then it will not survive. The very people who supported Anna Hazare will fight it and throw it out.

To be sure, the Lokpal Bill, in whatever form, is unlikely to eradicate corruption, for the simple reason that corruption is only a symptom of a structural rot in our casteist society and fractured polity where, even as lip service is paid to political equality, almost every aspect of policy is geared to increase economic inequality. Unless there are many political mass movements — as opposed to one ‘civil society initiative’ — for policies and laws aimed at a more equitable society, corruption won’t go away, no matter how powerful the Lokpal is.

But does this mean that we’d rather not have had the Hazare-inspired campaign? No. The value of the candle-wallas rallying around Anna is to prove — to ourselves — that it is possible for the apathetic, solipsistic Indian middle class to shake off its cynicism and mobilise for a cause. This would be an invaluable lesson, and much-needed inspiration, as things get worse in the future.


Excellent Suggestions!

Tanmoy has some real good suggestions for us. Terror attack in Mumbai has left us all dazed and shaken. But this time it will be good if we don’t move on and pretend if nothing has happened.

What is community service? What to my mind we can do instantaneously?

First, ask ourselves do we know how to fight an emergency / crisis situations ourselves? If the answer is no, let’s ask ourselves what can the emergency situations be. Fire in our apartment, may be! If we don’t know how to fight fire, do we know, if we write a letter to the nearest fire station, they will come and teach us some of the basic things.

People in fire service and police service often tend to feel that none cares for them unless one is affected. This can be a good exercise perhaps to get them involved.

Can anyone of us amongst ourselves take the responsibility of doing that for our own colony, apartment back in India?

Get yourself trained without really relying on tacit intelligence (we are tremendously over confident, I know!) and importantly help the women and children in our family / colony to get trained.

Secondly, can we start telling our children about our savings and teach them banking operations. In West, all children after the age of 10 tend to know about such things. We seem to protect themselves till eternity.
Thirdly, can we as a community go to the “lazy” police station across the street and tell them that we are scared. I know many of you loathe such police officials but trust me the feeling is mutual. They loathe you too but we must not assume they are utterly rubbish and stop involving them. If we make police / firemen a part of our community, after sometime they would become conscious of their existence too. We have to give them confidence, that we trust them. How many of us invite these people to our community functions? We don’t but why is that so?

Fourthly, can we be aware of things like Right to Information Act, Consumer Court, Public Grievance System in Government, Directorate of Public Grievances and many such organizations.
Fifthly, have a diary at home where emergency numbers are stored. I am sure most of our mobile phones don’t have them and same is for our family members. Why is that so? How long shall be inflict wounds on our families because of our callous attitude.

Sixthly, how many us have ever planted a tree or have helped someone to plant one?


To Rizwanur From a Classmate

Tanmoy has e-mailed me this post ages ago. But I was unable to merely copy paste it at my blog. Sorry Tanmoy. I will not be THAT late in future, if you honor my mailbox with your sensitive posts again.

The death of this young man, Rizwanur, created a political storm and heads rolled in the process. The CBI still wants time to solve his mysterious “suicide.” But how his classmate Tanmoy views the whole thing? Read for yourself.

It has been a long while since I have posted something afresh on this space. Being busy with office and family serves as the easier excuse but it is more to do with my inability to find something positive to write about because not at all times I feel like writing about my personal life.

Rizwan-ur-Rahman was my classmate and a better student than I was. I still remember in class six, we participated in one quiz together where he answered one of the most difficult questions that Derek O’Brien would have ever asked in a quiz. I don’t really know what grave crime he ended up committing that he had to die in such mysterious circumstances but I know one thing such incidents show the intolerance and frustrations that our society is suffering from. His death made me feel so miserable that I can’t express in words. I keep on wondering that while both of us were playing around in our school corridors none could probably gauge what lies ahead of us?

I sincerely hope that the truth behind his death his unveiled and justice is done but whether even justice in this case would help us to help our beleaguered society to rise, I have my doubts! The cynicism is more because most amongst us have accepted the current social fabric as the way it is and I have my doubts whether we want to contribute to its change.

Every day when I open the newspaper sitting in Delhi I find numerous incidents which defy any definition of civilization. In most of these the main protagonists are affluent, staying in plush localities, have basic literacy, command respect amongst their circle of friends. What is more surprising is the fact very few in this city are bothered that such an incident has happened around them and involving one of them. People out here have taken their helplessness for granted as they don’t even try and discuss whatever has been happening around them. I don’t think they even read newspaper to be generally aware.

Truly surprising for me because here I am in a state of stupor where my helplessness on such incidents is rendering me ineffective, non-productive according to a colleague as I am feeling miserable for being unable to contribute anything to change this social state. And to top it all, I make the mistake of feeling that if not everyone but most people who think they are educated would be as affected as I am.

While living in society there is hardly anything that is personal as howsoever selfish we might be we are at some point or other impacted by the happenings around us. We may not realize it all the time because of our ignorance but the day we would be directly impacted, I wonder how we would react especially when most of us prefer to remain unaware.

Economic growth statistics show us amongst one of the emerging Nations but undoubtedly we are facing tremendous social degradation with every passing day. Day in and day out we are leading an insecure life that is superficial and one of an escapist. We prefer to be the way we are and accepting being numb and in effect our superficial human existence is turning us into schizophrenics foolishly celebrating their insignificant existence.

Time to time I harp on the same topic and I know that. I do it because this ineffective society is the biggest mystery that I have ever encountered and I honestly feel clueless how this would sustain itself. Loopholes exist in all systems but unless and until there is universal public commitment how do these loopholes get blocked, I wonder!

Take the case of Nandigram for instance. It is easy to state that the ruling Government is responsible for all these killings, but aren’t in some way or the other all of us responsible to give rise to such events repeatedly in our country. We say, what could we have done? I am in search of a way out because I myself do not know and I am ashamed of my state because of this incapacity, but then there must have been ways. Still – there must be ways in which we can possibly contribute.

Whenever I have tried to analyze the situation at Nandigram I have had biases. At times I have felt the West Bengal state government is supporting this mass genocide and at times I have felt that trusting Mamta Banerjee’s oft dwindling credentials is the worst that I can do. But in all these I have felt perhaps as individuals we have not done enough to prevent such events from happening and thus all should share the blame by taking only side which is of humanity.

But being ignorant as I have been mentioning we are nipping the smallest of chance in changing any such scenario in its bud. May be I am stupid in thinking that our awareness of the situations that we live in would probably save us from a doomsday which might be looming large but one thing is for certain the doomsday would certainly come. Any theory would tell you that a state of disequilibrium is not sustainable but then we might end up paying heavy price for the society to attain equilibrium.

These phases would probably pass. Perhaps in our lifetime we would not see any change in our mindset. The growth statistics would keep on showing promise but in reality I feel we would never be able to call ourselves civilized and progressive if our social fabric does not undergo a sea change towards humanity. And awareness and sensitivity is the first step in making a difference. In a world where apparently technology is in our command, I think we should not wait for the likes of Buddha or Vivekananda to emerge from amongst us unless we believe technology has only gifted us better weapons of mass destructions but not humanity. Whatever might be the case, we need to emerge for us to survive otherwise ignorance would someday set our own house on fire and it can be any day! But by the looks of things in the environment I am currently in I feel surrounded by people in perpetual stupid slumber.