There are several ways of doing politics in this country. One way is to do the politics of social justice, in which you believe that inequality is the biggest problem faced by this country. Then there is a variant of this economics/inequality theme which says that inequality is the biggest problem, indeed, but its biggest and most pernicious expression is the caste society. Then there is another strand of politics which is the politics of Hindu grievance and Muslim appeasement. Now thanks to Anna Hazare, we have yet another way of doing politics, not the Gandhian way, but a pseudo or rather an ersatz-Gandhian way, which believes that corruption is the biggest problem facing this country and that once we have eliminated corruption everything else will fall into its just place. This requires minimum intellectual investment — after all, nobody is going to say that corruption is good and should be allowed to continue. So the response sought is basically very primitive.
This movement has drawn a huge, if not a massive response from the urban middle class youth, who found the Anna topi — originally the Gandhi topi — stylish and cool and the hullaballoo at Ramlila Maidan exciting, bordering on the revolutionary. The middle class has its reason for jumping on to the Anna bandwagon. In the first place, corruption is a quasi-universal theme which affects the rich and the poor, the Muslims and the Hindus, Brahmins and Dalits alike. The middle class can once again lay claim to the universal in politics, which in turn would allow them to speak for the nation as a whole, instead of being seen to be confined to their caste or class identity straitjacket. The other reason why the middle class loves Hazare is that this unification of the nation over the struggle against corruption is to posit as its adversary the political class as a whole.
For those who follow politics closely in this country it has been apparent for quite some time that ever since liberalisation put money in the hands of the middle class they have developed somewhat exaggerated notions of their own political importance. The middle class feels that they have a legitimate club with which they can bludgeon senseless the corrupt, venal, less educated, criminalised political class as a whole. They can now go around saying that entire swathes of Parliament, especially those who represent village or small town constituencies are corrupt and unworthy of their chair.
So Arvind Kejriwal and Co are taking up their case. Politically there is no unity in diversity, culturally there may be, but culturally all categories of people are now being challenged by the West. Bharat wants to be as westernised as it thinks India is or should be. There is no such thing as the people, there are workers and capitalists, there are Brahmins and Dalits, there are Hindus and Muslims and so on. Each is catered to by a specific ideology and each draws sustenance from being a well-established social category. The truth is that it is these so-called corrupt venal politicians who are doing the job of representing the rural downtrodden, however imperfectly, with modest budgets and all sorts of social and political constraints. And they manage to give to the community they represent a tangible sense of power.
There is, for instance, no doubt in anybody’s mind that the Mayawati government effected a genuine empowerment of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh and has met the basic need of the Dalits — protection against upper caste depredations, discrimination and violence. Though Mayawati, by all accounts, has seen an increase in her assets four to five fold, she says this money has been given by the innumerable well-wishers and party members. Now the question is: why should a Dalit abandon the security and the pride that Mayawati has provided them right at the grassroots, for something as vague as an anti-corruption campaign that threatens to dislodge their principal political benefactor.
Kejriwal further says that the manifesto of his party will be framed by the people. Farmers and youth, Kiran Bedi specifies. Again the same question arises: which farmers? Which youth? How do we see the Brahmin and the Dalit coming together on a common platform led by the urban middle class who is concerned about something totally different — the international glory of India and the opportunity to make fabulous sums of money quickly.
No doubt, there are people of high ideals in the Anna camp, otherwise the movement would not have gathered the crowds that it did, last autumn. But do they have an understanding of what it takes not just to win an election, but to seize power at the Centre? The question is moot.
Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.