A theory has been put forth, and is being recycled continuously, that it is the political awakening of the new Indian middle class, a middle class often decried for its apathy towards the Indian state and democracy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is not the political engagement of the new middle class with India’s democratic system and processes. It is in fact a rejection of India’s democratic politics of 64 years. The message driven home has been: the elections and elected representatives don’t matter, the middle class votes don’t matter — because in any case, either the poor sell the vote or the rich buy out the politicians. There is no need for middle class to engage with the system. The system should instead be captured or subverted by street protests and public blackmails, with the help of the news television channels which can act as a force multiplier. When you mobilise supporters telling them that their votes don’t matter, and only street protests and blackmail do, these people are not going to stand up in queue to vote in the next elections.
It is for this precise reason that the current agitation is different from the earlier political movements in this country —- one led by Jai Prakash Narayan against the emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1975, and the other launched by Mr. V.P. Singh against corruption in 1987. Both were ‘political’ movements where the leaders were proposing an alternative political formulation in front of the electorate. By seeking votes against the ruling establishment, they were reposing their faith in India’s democratic system. In contrast, Mr. Hazare’s handlers are self-righteous activists with a disdain for politics and politicians. The basic belief arising from the nature of their work with the NGOs is that politics and government cannot deliver, and only they can do a better job. In following their beliefs, the current movement is being assiduously apolitical, where its leadership is subverting — if not overtly rejecting — the democratic institutions like the Parliament and established legislative processes.
With its implicit message of subversion in a democracy, it illustrates the paradox of the current movement. The enthusiasm and commitment of the people in coming to the streets for a non-sectarian cause in a democracy is breathtaking. Yet this is a movement without an agenda beyond pushing its own version of the Jan Lok Bill. It could bend towards a new political party the way V.P. Singh’s Jan Morcha evolved into the Janata Dal, or it could be sophisticatedly co-opted by the UPA government as a new National Advisory Council. The essential truth is that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading. The political parties are being wise in moving carefully — and avoiding the facile embrace of a movement whose trajectory is unknown.
We are in the danger of ending up with an even more disillusioned and disenchanted middle class which doesn’t believe in a social contract with the Indian State. While the existing social contract seems to have lapsed, there are no alternatives being articulated by the leaders of the current movement.A scathing comment on Anna Hazare by Pragmatic Desi. Here