Posts Tagged ‘Civil society’

Anna's social fascism (Kancha Ilaiah)

In Perspective on September 7, 2011 at 9:06 am

From: Deccan Chronicle

September 7, 2011

The recent happenings in Delhi around the issue of the Lokpal Bill have been celebrated by the media as people’s victory, pinned down on Team Anna Hazare. But the majority of the “masses” of this country, living in institutional caste and class enclosures, are not yet part of the “civil society” that the victorious group was talking about.

The so-called anti-corruption movement, therefore, needs to be examined from a multi-dimensional perspective. For example, I see it as a modern Manuvaadi Leviathan’s victory. Manu’s modern disciples walked into the Ramlila Maidan to celebrate the rise of a modern Levia-than, decorated in Gandhi topi.

This 21st century “social” Leviathan walked into the maidan as the enemy of corruption, but he sought to set aside the Constitution (maybe because it was drafted under the chairmanship of a dalit) and throw overboard the supremacy of Parliament that came into existence to dismantle the fascist social structures that existed for centuries in the form of Varna Dharma. Vande Mataram was its slogan and the national flag (not its own flag) became the symbol of its street power.

Social fascism becomes the reality of a civil society that constructs a moral basis of its own. A middle class like the Indian one, which has erected strong caste enclosures around itself, looks for morality to serve its own interests. Corruption in general becomes a buzzword of condemnation within its day-to-day discourse, despite the fact that it lives with corrupt practices on a daily basis. For example, a middle-class government or NGO functionary does not hesitate to take Rs 1 lakh or more as salary, plus thousands of rupees of honorarium and sitting fees, but that same person would treat a chaprasi, who works for a Rs 5,000 monthly salary, as corrupt if he/she asks for Rs 200 for extra work.

The civil society that led the anti-corruption crusade also does not see corporate houses paying hundreds of crores of bribe money as corruption, but, a minister, an MP or a government official, who takes such bribe money is seen as corrupt because the corporate houses are still in the hands of “their people”, while the political and bureaucratic positions are slipping into the hands of people who are “corrupt by birth”.

Take, for example, A. Raja and Kanimozhi. They are treated as corrupt but the corporate houses that gave kickbacks and took huge contracts at throwaway prices are not treated as corrupt. The same corporate houses and their media boxes have been mobilising civil society of Gandhi topi into maidans to fight corruption.

In an unethical capitalist market like ours, whoever takes more space in English TV channels can portray themselves as clean. That very media can become a source of mobilisation of mobs to define corruption as they want. Any other mode of defining corruption is treated as illiterate rhetoric.

If the chant of Vande Mataram has the power to empower civil society, it also has the power to destabilise democratic institutions that gave life to the poorest of the poor and the lower castes, particularly India’s Muslims.

The high moral ground on which the Hindu middle class stands is a breeding ground for social fascism. The poor and lower castes have fought huge battles to checkmate saffron social fascists in the last 20 years. Now the same forces have come to occupy centrestage wearing the Gandhi topi.
I wish all those who came to Ramlila Maidan in Gandhi topi would also send their children to schools in Gandhi’s dress code.

But back home they prefer suits and boots for their children who go to a St. Mary or St. Peter’s, and not to a Mahatma Gandhi or a St. Hazare school. Corruption is not just economic practice; it is also cultural practice. Social fascism does not want us to see that inter-linkage, though it knows that such linkage exists.

Social fascism always lives in duplicity. It uses Sanskrit as its temple language, Hindi for maidan speeches and English as its office language. Hypo-crisy is its innate cultural being. It pretends to be simple in public life but its dining table has to have all items that the corporate market supplies with brand names.

Team Anna does not think that the Indian corporate houses are corrupt because they are supplying all the cameras that show them as crusaders out there in the new avatar of Gandhi. The social fascist ideology treats corruption as a one-way process. Any process of flow of money to the poor and lower castes in the Indian context is treated as a process of corruption or economic waste. But de-ployment of market prices by monopoly traders that acquire huge margins of profits, without subjecting themselves to state regulations, is not treated as corruption.

Take, for example, all Bollywood heroes and heroines who joined the anti-corruption bandwagon — most are people who evaded taxes. Team Anna believes that the agendas that have the potential to establish equa-lity among people or at least change the basic life of the oppressed masses need not exist in the national discourse at all. The nation is being shown in the image of Bharat Mata who controlled and manipulated the consciousness of oppressed people for decades, and that image is being shown to the others, minute by minute, 24×7, making them shiver.

Fascism now lives in pucca houses and democracy has been sent to a shed. Social fascism treats hierarchical ordering of the society as natural. Any economic redistributive mechanism put in place by the state or a civil society organisation is treated as corrupt and unethical. When corruption is seen through the glasses of this upper caste middle class, it appears to them that it has a legal solution and that legality is crafted in its own terms. It doesn’t want to understand that the dharma of the oppressor has always worked against the interest of the oppressed.

Social fascism emerges when a nation is in a deep crisis of moral confidence. It formulates itself in the layers of civil society and moves on to occupy the portals of political power. This happened in many countries — Germany, Italy and so on. In all countries where social fascism emerged victorious, it emanated from the fold of middle class that asserts a high moral ground for itself. That high moral ground generally gets established around the theory that it is non-corrupt.

Kancha Ilaiah is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad


The discreet charm of civil society (P. Sainath)

In Perspective on August 22, 2011 at 5:47 pm

From: The Hindu, June 17, 2011

by P. Sainath

There is nothing wrong in having advisory groups. But there is a problem when groups not constituted legally cross the line of demands, advice and rights-based, democratic agitation.

The 1990s saw marketing whiz kids at the largest English daily in the world steal a term then in vogue among sexually discriminated minorities: PLUs — or People Like Us. Media content would henceforth be for People Like Us. This served advertisers’ needs and also helped shut out unwanted content. As the daily advised its reporters: dying farmers don’t buy newspapers. South Mumbaikars do. So the suicide deaths of a couple of fashion models in that city grabbed more space in days than those of over 40,000 farmers in Maharashtra did in a decade.

February 2011 saw one of the largest rallies staged in Delhi in years. Lakhs of workers from nine central trade unions — including the Congress party’s INTUC — hit the streets to protest against rising food prices and unemployment. This was many times bigger than the very modest numbers at Anna Hazare’s fast and larger than Ramdev’s rollicking ‘yoga camp.’ These were workers and unions not linked to the state. Not market-driven. Not corporate-funded. And expressing clearly the interests and values of their members. In fact, fitting some classic definitions of ‘civil society.’ The rally was covered by the BBC, Reuters and AFP but was mostly invisible in mainstream Indian media except when attacked for creating traffic jams.

Perhaps the whizz kids were on to something larger than even they knew. At least one dictionary has since added this entry under People Like Us: “A subtle reference to people of the same socio-economic class.” Only, there was nothing subtle here. The Indian elite play the PLU game like few others do. Entry into the club is by birth or invitation only. And getting certification from the classes that matter takes some work. Your own background can be surmounted however, even turned to advantage, if there are enough strong PLUs around you. Anna Hazare had this. Baba Ramdev did not have it. Both claimed to speak for ‘civil society.’ A media applying that word with reverence to those around Anna Hazare, denied it with scorn to those they saw as Ramdev’s rabble.

Sections of the media embarrassed by Ramdev point, in contrast, to the ‘many fine people’ around Hazare. Most of them part of the Delhi elite with indeed impeccable records of service. Yet, how did their approach differ in principle from Ramdev’s?

Both were self-selected groups claiming primacy over the elected government. Both asserted they knew what was best for the nation. (Rather than an electorate they scorned as sold on a bottle of liquor or a hundred-rupee note). Both had no qualms about breaking down the walls between the institutions of state. Never mind the Constitution, they sought a body whose members they would largely appoint. A super organ above the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Take the government notification on the drafting body for the Lokpal bill. It uses the words: “The five nominees of Anna Hazare [including himself] are as under…” When have such vital national appointments been made by and in the name of one individual, however noble?

Both felt they had the best solutions for fighting corruption, which is fair enough. Both, however, demanded that their fatwas be written into law. That their will prevail in the writing of the bill. That the Constitution assigns this right to the legislature mattered little. Both saw themselves as more representative of the nation than its people. In months, they would succeed where “in 62 years” the nation had failed.

Electoral democracy drew special contempt. In this, they were at one with the top tier of PLUs. “Who takes all that stuff seriously?” asked one celeb on a television panel discussion. Well, it seems people do. Voting in Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu crossed 75 per cent in May 2011. In West Bengal and Puducherry, it edged towards 85 per cent. Tamil Nadu in May 2011 saw its highest turnout in 44 years. And voters there showed how vital the issue of corruption was to them. Money power has surely corrupted the electoral process severely. But does the electorate deserve the scorn poured on it by ‘civil society?’ If the latter has struck a chord at all, it is because of the deep concerns of the former.

So who do these versions of Indian ‘civil society’ represent? Do we take the World Bank’s definition? Civil society would then be: “a wide array of non-governmental and not-for-profit organisations that have a presence in public life.” And which express “the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations.” The European Commission states flatly that there is “no commonly accepted or legal definition” of the term. It also “does not make a distinction between civil society organisations or other forms of interest groups.”

The U.S.-based Civil Society International raises the question of whether the media should be included in ‘civil society.’ More so when they are privately-owned and hyper-commercial in character. It points out that some notions could render both the League of Women Voters and the Ku Klux Klan part of civil society. In India, the RSS is a large voluntary organisation claiming to be cultural and non-political in character. Ergo, civil society?

Theory aside, civil society in India seems defined by exclusion. It is crowded with human rights lawyers and activists, NGO leaders, academics and intellectuals, high-profile journalists, celebrities and think tank-hirelings. Mass media debates never see landless labourers, displaced people, nurses, trade union workers, bus conductors being asked to speak for ‘civil society.’ Though, indeed they should.

Marketing minds would define civil society more clearly as a prime PLU platform. They’d be right, too. Who else do we see out there? The PLU syndrome goes way beyond the Lokpal bill. When Kaushik Basu, chief economic adviser to the Finance Ministry, called for a certain class of bribes to be legalised, ‘civil society’ simply shut its eyes and brain. The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information — a flag bearer of civil society — maintained a studied, shameful silence. Professor Basu was not pushing this idea in his private blog. He put it up on a Government of India website. Yet, thundering anchors who ‘skewer’ politicians in television interviews uttered not a squeak. Had this insane idea come from a Ramdev, or even a Lalu Prasad, and not from a certified PLU member, imagine the fun the media would have had trashing it. As for the NCPRI, it might have begun a special desk to campaign on the issue. True, an individual associated with it did write a mild critique of the economics of Prof. Basu’s folly — evading its moral degeneracy. But the NCPRI let itself down (and all those who support the RTI movement) with its craven silence.

The same media now trashing Ramdev came out snarling in his defence when he clashed with Brinda Karat in 2006. That was over the exploitation of 113 workers thrown out of the pharmacy controlled by Ramdev’s Trust and facing false cases. The media brushed that aside and slammed Ms Karat. In the PLU food chain, workers are a low form of pond life. (Oh yes, the PLU syndrome has a strong caste component, too. But that’s another story.)

Ramdev had carved out a base in sections of the elite. He also counts some media owners amongst his followers. Though not, perhaps the more anglicised anchors of television. He even has a following in Bollywood. He had attained the celebrity status so vital to gain any media attention at all. And had done so by using television itself for his ‘brand’ of yoga. But he overplayed his hand when the desired ‘A-level’ certification from the south Delhi elite was still pending. Otherwise, his claim to represent ‘civil society’ is no weaker than that of the group around Mr. Hazare. The ‘my-civil-society-is-more-civil-than-yours’ squabble has begun. And both groups have failed to pin down a corrupt, bungling government that made such a pig’s breakfast of the Ramlila event.

There is nothing wrong in having advisory groups. Not a thing wrong in governments consulting them and also listening to people, particularly those affected by its decisions. There is a problem when groups not constituted legally cross the line of demands, advice and rights-based, democratic agitation. When they seek to run the government and legislation — no matter how well-intentioned they are. Pushing a coherent vision is a good thing to do. So is demanding that the government do its job. Beyond that lies trouble.

Meanwhile, a section of Platinum tier PLUs have become champions of the parliamentary democracy they actively helped undermine during the past two decades. They cheered loudly for giant economic and financial decisions taken outside the budget, bypassing Parliament. So long as the destruction of institutions favoured corporate power, they welcomed it, collaborating with corrupt governments such as this one wholeheartedly. The Ramdev route would have done much the same in time — the Baba himself is a spiritual corporation. But he just wasn’t one of us. These new champions of parliamentary democracy have no qualms when the groups dictating terms to the government are CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM or their ilk. They didn’t like it when the bypassing of institutions came from Mr. Hazare. They hated it when it came from Ramdev. Dumping democracy is, after all, the privilege of the Platinum PLUs.

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