Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The political revival of India

Arvind Kejriwal is attacking the center of gravity of the ruling elite. He is shaking up the system from the state of dormancy that it has been subjected to for the past two decades. He is making politics reassert itself. By taking on Robert Vadra and DLF, both Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have shown that the root cause of corruption in India is nothing but the politician-corporate nexus that regularly indulges in dubious land and money transactions. 

While Kejriwal is raising the levels of political consciousness in the country, the Congress and other political parties are dipping into a state of cognitive freeze. The economist Prime Minster is clueless about what is happening - for him governance begins and ends with “Reforms”. For the political class born and brought in Davos environs, politics is a pejorative that stands for populism. With the sudden arrival of Arvind Kejriwal on the political landscape, the so-called politicians are palpably flummoxed, clinging to the pillars of parliament as the deluge of people’s wrath begins to pick up momentum. 

The World Bank and other global financial institutions have designed Mammohan differently; therefore, he may be pardoned for being ignorant of the value inherent in political capital. But how does one absolve seasoned politicians for turning a blind eye to the continuous devaluation political capital since the 1990s?

While Manmohan believes that Indian growth can be tackled by rekindling the “animal spirit”, Arvind strongly feels that Indian political animal needs to shun its indifference to change history of poverty in India. The economic man has usurped the political space for too long and rendered the value of political capital to almost zilch. Arvind is only exposing the paucity of political capital in parliamentarian’s coffers and how this bankruptcy is making our democracy look pale. 

Sadly, many politicians are blissfully unaware of the fact that by making the global finance capital sit on the driver’s seat (hobnobbing with corporate leaders), they have distanced themselves from the people, thereby gnawing at their own roots. 

Almost the entire Indian political class including the media and many sections of the intelligentsia had come to believe that politics had died with the demise of Soviet Union. They diligently imbibed the lessons imparted to them by ‘Washington consensus’ and joined the herd and loudly communicated to their political constituency that markets would create global individuals whose innovative faculties and self-interests will thrive in the atmosphere of competition. Long queues for state subsidized rations, a relic of bygone socialism would be replaced by "queues for Mcdonald’s and Coke." 

The politicians thought that elections could be won by weaving dreams based on market solutions – chaperoning people into a global market - where trade flows unhindered and solutions to all human problems can be bought and sold - where slums will automatically get replaced by technology hubs. The inefficient and corrupt governments will bow before the diktats of the markets or else face ouster. 

Friedman confidently stated in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree Understanding Globalization (2000), “It is increasingly difficult these days to find any real difference between the ruling and the opposition parties in these countries that have put on the golden straightjacket. Once your country puts it on, its political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke”. Such trivialization of politics and its reduction to acts of buffoonery was supported by the same political class that is now oversensitive about its depiction in cartoons and books. Arvind Kejriwal is making us understand the role of opposition in a democracy. 

Markets consider organized political animal inimical to profit making. Markets and business continuity is best served by atomized individuals/consumer, who according to noted author Samir Amin, “are urged to ‘believe in the market’ which alone reveals (encapsulates) the ‘true values of hamburgers and the automobiles.” Such individuals seek salvation in malls and markets and are politically lethargic, incapable of raising the banner of protests. 

This breed is commonly referred to as middle class. A class that till very recently had been living a dream of making it to the top through liberalization. Liberalization did help this class to climb a few steps up the ladder. But on reaching a certain level, the aspiring class discovered that they had hardly ‘arrived’ - their Maruti car and 2BHK flat was just not enough to buy them the dignity in the society. One reason for this sense of betrayal resulted from the fact the so-called middle class still had to beg before the government officials to get even their small work done. The upper classes on the other hand and India's 69 dollar billionaires graduated from Maruti to Mercedes in the same time-frame and continued to garner major share of the fruit of neo-liberal economic policies. 

Political lethargy and political laterality (when it becomes difficult to distinguish between the political left and right) are the by-products of consumerist culture that has promoted desires over needs. The continuous bombardment of images democratizes the aspirations among the people, but TV has no magic wand to bring purchasing power parity among the vast sections of the society. Therefore, those who do not possess the capacity to buy and are too simple to steal and kill, resort to making illegal money by using their office. Officials who deal with the big business have ample opportunity to make money through a couple of corrupt deals. The lower level government servants try to fleece the common man almost on a regular basis. 

Since, the government is always under the media scanner the general perception is that almost all government servants are thieves. And the common man is the most corrupt element in the entire graft chain. However, nobody is ready to look at the process that makes a government servant corrupt. Look at it from a pure economic perspective and not any moralistic angle. A middle class government servant whose salary is inadequate to buy his children a good public school education, mobile phones and LCD TV is expected to clear the files that fetch billions to the business houses. All the moral pressures are exerted on the government servant to be honest, while nobody talks about the limits on the profits that a businessman can earn. 

In an environment where individual profits making taking precedence over collective good, the government servant considers it his right to demand money. Therefore, before blaming the government servants for being the biggest link in the national graft chain, it is imperative that we talk about the culture of greed and individualism. 

After disengaging from Anna Hazare, both Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have introduced greater clarity in their approach to fighting corruption. They are no longer blaming the small and medium government servants for all the ills plaguing the nation. By adopting a top down approach and hitting directly at the corporate-politics nexus, Kejriwal and party are enunciating their political line that speaks the language of the people. He is talking class war minus the Marxist maxims. 

All that Arvind is telling us that the role of politics extends beyond the realm of politicking. Politics is not about conniving, contriving and conspiring, it has role to guide the destinies of human civilization by making sure that religion and economics are kept within limits.