The Myth of Good People

The fact is that ‘opened-up’ India is a node in the gigantic network of global capital that does not have any moral qualms about corruption. Can Arvind Kejriwal’s rhetoric arrest this monster? 

Anand Teltumbde Kharagpur (West Bengal) 

One cannot help but admire Arvind Kejriwal. The zest with which he has made the issue of corruption to eclipse all other; the strategy under which he brought in Anna Hazare’s moral authority to bear upon it for mobilising people; the discretion with which he managed the rift with Hazare and his team; the élan with which he plunged into politics; the alacrity with which he covers up his glaring contradictions, and the untiring zeal with which he has been conducting himself may not find easy parallels. It is not easy these days to bring up any issue of collective interest to appeal to discrete individuals pulverized by neoliberal ideological crushers and has sustained it for over a year now is not a mean achievement. Whether one agrees with him or not, he has already made a mark on the political horizon of this country, exposing a crucial aspect of the democracy deficit of the system.

How did he do it? Will he be able to scale up politics now that he has plunged into it? These are some of the questions that pertinently arise in this context. 

India is afflicted by many serious problems such as poverty, galloping inequality, malnutrition, undernourishment, infant mortality, disease, sanitation, drinking water, food, education, farmers’ suicides, increasing criminality, and so on, that are directly hitting four-fifths of its population. None of these, however, could have possibly clicked with Kejriwal’s people. It is indeed a strategic masterstroke to choose corruption as the problem and jan lokpal as its solution.

It is not because corruption is a pervasive problem that hits most the low income groups. It is because corruption is associated with the political class and the State structure, which are tendentiously abhorred by the market-loving middle class in the neoliberal era. If it had been left at that it would not have been as attractive. The balancing magic is done by the simplistic solution proposed in the form of the jan lokpal.

Neoliberalism, characteristically, has quick fixes to any problem. It conceives everything in discrete terms, isolating it from its systemic relations. Naturally, discrete entities will be sans their complexity. When Margaret Thatcher said that there was nothing like a society, that there were only individuals and their problems, she was basically explicating the neoliberal ideology. The problem of an isolated individual is simply reduced to his lack of competitiveness; the solution is that he could strive harder.

The solution of the jan lokpal to the problem of corruption is a similar quick fix solution within the prevailing frame. Thus, Kejriwal had both, the problem as well as solution, both directly appealing to the burgeoning neoliberal middle classes.

Another aspect of the appeal of the issue of corruption is that it is seen as a distortion of the market logic, a blot on ‘Brand India’ in the global market and a serious impediment in making India a ‘superpower’. The hike of GDP growth during the liberalisation period, beyond the humiliating Hindu rate of growth over the previous four decades, had enlivened the confidence of these people in India. They would hate to see corruption marring their prospects. After all, as a class, their own interests are entwined with its rise. It is this construal of problem and solution well within the prevailing system, threatening their own universe, that caught the fancy of the urban middle classes and impelled them to crowd around Kejriwal. They believed that once the jan lokpal was installed, the problem of corruption would largely be solved.

Foregrounding Hazare’s messianic mascot played a catalytic role in their mobilisation. Hazare had acquired enough moral stature with his courage in taking on mighty politicians in Maharashtra on issues of corruption and with his spartan living and simple-speak. Hazare is no Gandhi but reminds one of the Gandhian charisma in appealing to people. The government expected that the patience of the middle classes would wear out and had a calibrated response; initially ignoring it, then denigrating it as a B team of the BJP, and then engaging
in discussion.

The solution of the jan lokpal to corruption is a quick fix solution. Kejriwal had both, the problem as well as solution, both directly appealing to the burgeoning neoliberal middle classes, his constituency

A clash between perceptions of the neoliberal middle classes that abhorred corruption, and the neoliberal governing class that treated corruption as a lubricant for market transactions, ensued. Discussions got stalemated. The government drew a fig-leaf of parliamentary propriety to cover up its intent and challenged Team Anna to seek the peoples’ mandate. Having publicly despised the filth of politics, the option of securing the mandate through it was out of the question for Team Anna. 

After a pause, when the movement was relaunched, there were distinct signs of wear out and ennui. The fickle minded middle class was disheartened in not seeing a solution in sight. Kejriwal realised it and re-enlivened the interests of his constituency by announcing his entry into electoral politics. Hazare vacillated and sulked.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2012