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Hardly a revolution

A middle-class revolution is a contradiction in terms. To be middle-class in India today is to be a creature of privilege. Soumitro Das writes.

ht view Updated: Aug 29, 2011 09:22 IST

A middle-class revolution is a contradiction in terms. To be middle-class in India today is to be a creature of privilege. To be middle-class is not to go hungry ever, not to have to pull one's children out of school so that they can help in putting food on the table, not being prey to a thousand diseases deriving from an unhygienic environment and the list could go on and on. Who could the middle-class revolt against if not itself?

However, it's a quirk of history that the class which is economically the most powerful in the country is not the most powerful politically. The legislature is dominated by downtrodden masses of the country. It is they who vote in a new Parliament every five years or so. The middle-class doesn't have the numbers to win the parliamentary game and, therefore, desists from casting its vote. Thus, its attitude towards democracy is at best ambivalent, at worst schizophrenic. It likes to flaunt the country's democratic credentials before the world community; but it is furious about not having a say in how the country should be run, especially when legislators elected by, for example, the rural masses get away with the kind of indiscipline that would shame any politician in the developed world.

The middle-class holds the political class in contempt. There are several reasons for this. One of them is the fact that most politicians would be unable to secure and hold down a job in the private sector. Another reason is the fact that our legislators are elected by the most poor and illiterate mass of people to be found anywhere on earth. Such an electorate, the middle-class thinks, is unable to produce modern leadership. Then, there is the behaviour of our politicians inside and outside the legislature. They can indulge in acts of hooliganism, but the middle-class is watching them on TV.

The complaint about criminals sitting in Parliament is partly misinformed. Registering cases against political rivals is one of the easiest things to do in India. Amar Singh may represent the worst in our politics, but he is certainly not a murderer. Yet, he has murder cases against him. One also remembers the occasion when Mayawati asked her cohorts to register cases against Mulayam Singh Yadav all over UP and overnight Yadav was faced with the prospect of fighting cases in a 100 different courts in the state. So this business of criminality needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis; no generalisations - such as Arvind Kejriwal's, "They are all thieves" - are warranted. Last, but not the least, the political class is demonised by the media. The middle-class follows the media faithfully, since it's the media that promote the fiction that the middle-class speaks for the nation and that all other points of view are mendacious, if not superfluous.

All this to say that Anna Hazare's movement, being largely driven by the middle- class, is not a revolution. For it to be revolutionary it must scare the living daylights out of the middle-class. What could be a real revolution in this country? The answer is provided by Dalit voices that were heard briefly amid the cacophony surrounding Anna's fast. Both Kancha Ilaiah and Chandrabhan Prasad said that the central issue before the country is not corruption, but the caste system. Ilaiah and Prasad are right. Dalit insurgence is the one thing that is liable to scare the living daylights out of not only our middle-class, but also out of village notables who rule through traditional bodies such as caste panchayats.

It's not just a coincidence that Kiran Bedi named Lalu Prasad, Amar Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mulayam Singh Yadav when she implied that a parliamentary standing committee composed of such people would be unlikely to do justice to a strong lokpal legislation. They are all caste politicians, protagonists of India's 'long revolution'.

The middle-class is comfortable with Hazare's movement. It's in charge. And what it wants to seek through the institution of the lokpal is a sort of a permanent moral guardianship over the political class as a whole.

Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Aug 28, 2011 23:14 IST