India: The Protest Spectacle! Who gained?! Who lost?!

Defeat and climbdown by government

The recent $40 billion scandal in telecom sector in India was just a small indication of the scale of the corruption that is taking place in India. Members of all political parties, including the ruling congress party, and their allies were accused of major corruption scandals. In a country home to two thirds of the world’s poor, corruption scandals of this scale have created enormous anger among the wider population.

In April this year, Anna Hazare, a known political activist from Maharashtra state started a Gandhian style hunger strike in Delhi against corruption. This ignited the frustration that existed in the country against corruption. However, this anti corruption movement lacks direction and failed to connect the causes of corruption to the rotten ruling elite. This campaign is now regarded by many activists and working people as a ‘petit coup’ by the upper class, ignoring the huge exploitation and hunger faced by millions of working people in the country. Below we re publish a brief article written by Anand Kumar from New socialist alternative in India which gives a real insight into this campaign.

By accepting in principle, the terms and conditions set by Anna Hazare and the anti-corruption campaign for a strong Lopal Bill (Ombudsman Bill) by a voice vote in parliament on 27th August, marks a incalculable defeat and a climb down for the government. The ruling political classes have in a way signed their own death warrants. The fact that the ruling party bungled so badly in handling the protests and witch doctors of the Congress could do nothing about it speaks volumes on the sort of instability rocking the whole Indian political establishment.

Though now the scene will be shifted to the parliamentary standing committee that will examine all the options before it, it would in essence be agreeing to an unelected extra constitutional body accountable to nobody and which has been accepted by all political parties (including the left) without proper debate amongst the public into what this entails, thus marking a milestone in the history of Independent India. By succumbing to the hysteria generated by the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign and actively supported by the corporate controlled media by exploiting on the genuine angst of the people against corruption everywhere, ruling political establishment today stares at a political unknown. It would indeed be very interesting to see how the ruling political classes and the bureaucracy try to wriggle their way out in what essentially is a law directed against their interests.

More worryingly for the Congress, the victory of Anna Hazare’s fast has created a larger than life figure out of Anna Hazare who has now been elevated to the status of a Jayaprakash Narayan or a even a Mahatma Gandhi. Any big public mobilization or a public outcry from now on will figure the name of Anna Hazare as the leading oppositional figure against the government. The left parties have been reduced to mere spectators or even cheerleaders for Anna Hazare’s campaign. And the BJP and RSS despite its own reservations on the Lokpal Bill, have found their way into the campaign and will exploit this leverage in the future. It is also not excluded in the future that Anna Hazare and the leading campaigners like Arvind Kejeriwal, Kiran Bedi and others themselves enter into the political arena (despite their avowed apolitical stance) to ride the wave of public sympathy generated by this campaign.

So, what next? From the statements emanating from the campaigners like Shanti Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and even Anna Hazare himself that the next task on their agenda will focused on bringing about electoral reforms, right to recall of elected representatives and rejecting elected representatives in the ballot paper, right to hold referendums, people’s participation in law making and so on, but it remains to be seen what would be their strategy in rousing public opinion on these issues. Holding a fast may have worked on emotive issue like corruption, but fasting as a strategy will not work everytime nor will there be much public support for them. And it would be foolhardy to think that next time around the government will simply stand by and watch as things unfold before them.

If all goes as the campaigners demanded, the creation of Lokpal (Ombudsman) would open the floodgates into a system that is corrupt from head to toe, but it remains to seen how a Lokpal will be able handle something which neither has a beginning nor an end. While Lokpal may have powers to prosecute the corrupt, it is definitely not the answer to explain why the system is corrupt in the first place nor a solution against corruption. Lokpal also crucially does not touch upon the corporates or the NGO’s, who are equally corrupt and part and parcel of the system. By keeping people firmly out of the picture (excepting for support) and creating a state within a state or a parallel government filled with technocrats, sits perfectly well with the Corporate/ neo liberal agenda of less government or democracy and a technical fix to a problem which they see as a hurdle hurting their business interests.

Lokpal Bill does not hurt the interests of the ruling classes of the country, namely capitalism and landordism and so we can be safe and sure to state that nothing really would change as far as eliminating poverty, inequality and oppression of people, which is an even bigger corruption scandal than anything else. By failing to equate capitalism and landlordism means corruption and by treating it independently of each other, nothing can be explained about the phenomenon of corruption. Only a thorough overhaul of the system, by eliminating both capitalism and landlordism and only under a system based on democratic Socialism, where the day to day affairs such as administration as well as the levers of the economy are run by the people themselves would the scourge of corruption be finally eliminated.

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August 2011