Posts Tagged ‘Corporate interests’

Movements such as Hazare’s may promote the corporate agenda (Prabhat Patnaik)

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm

From: The Telegraph

September 8 , 2011

– Movements such as Hazare’s may promote the corporate agenda

Prabhat Patnaik

Anna Hazare’s fast is over, but the conjuncture of which that fast was an episode is not: Hazare’s own movement, or other similar movements, are bound to recur in the coming months. The question naturally arises: what are these movements all about? And to start with: what was Hazare’s own movement all about? It was certainly not about “corruption” in any definable sense. That word meant different things to the different people who thronged the Ramlila grounds. For some, it was what caused prices to rise; for others, it was what underlay the dynastic politics of the Congress; for still others, it was synonymous with “job reservation policy”. Ironically, though the jan lok pal bill, on which “Team Anna” was so insistent, might have received symbolic support from all who had gathered there, it meant little to them. The crowds that converged on Ramlila Maidan were animated not by the prospects of some specific piece of legislation but by a general sense of disenchantment for which “corruption” became a portmanteau expression.

But the life and character of a movement are often as independent of the intentions of its leaders as of the motives of its participants. The movement has to be looked at “from the outside” to determine its character and outcome. The point to consider therefore is: what has the pervasive disenchantment that found expression in the Hazare movement ultimately yielded?

In an obvious sense, it has resulted in, or heralded, at least five major shifts. First, it has led to a shift towards the urban middle class and away from other classes in terms of socio-political influence. True, the gathering at Ramlila Maidan drew people from all classes, but the predominant presence was of the urban middle class, whose assertiveness and weight have, consequently, increased. Second, it has led to a shift towards non-political actors belonging to the so-called “civil society”, and away from political actors, in terms of influence in decision-making. (In this sense it represents the continuation of a trend that started with the formation of the national advisory council). Third, within “civil society” it has led to a shift of influence away from those who are willing to work within the political framework (not the same as being pro-government) towards those who are willing to challenge it. Fourth, it has led to a shift from the secular domain to the domain of the quasi-religious in the language and symbolism of protest. (Even “Bharat Mata”, one must not forget, represents a quasi-religious symbol). And fifth, within the political sphere, it has led to a shift towards the communal Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party, and away from secular formations, a fact underscored by the Star News-Nielsen opinion survey (The Telegraph, September 4).

These shifts are not just happenstance; they are integrally interlinked. In the old system, where vying for power was confined to political parties, the influence of any class, including the urban middle class, had to be exercised through its relative weight inside the political parties. And even though the leadership of political parties usually came from the urban middle class, the compulsions of electoral politics meant that its influence had to be balanced against that of other, numerically stronger, classes, even inside political parties. Its political influence therefore fell far short of its economic weight, a contradiction that got accentuated as its economic weight increased greatly under neo-liberalism. Greater assertiveness on its part, therefore, necessarily requires by-passing the electoral process, and hence the traditional political system. Statements made at Ramlila Maidan about parliamentarians being anpadh and ganwar, though subsequently regretted for not being de rigueur, were authentic expressions of this middle class angst. And if middle class activism is to by-pass traditional parties and the parliament that stands at the pinnacle of the political system, then it must be expressed through some other agencies; the obvious candidates here are the “civil society organizations”, especially those that are willing to challenge the legitimacy of the political system.

The situation, however, is ironical. The political system, based on the Constitution that emerged out of an implicit social contract forged during the anti-colonial struggle, represents, despite all its distortions, the highest water-mark of our social awareness, compared to which the contemporary social consciousness of the average member of the urban middle class constitutes a marked retrogression. Hence, any recession in the primacy of the political, any special privileging of the influence of the urban middle class over that of other segments of society, any ceding of ground by Parliament to those elements of “civil society” which challenge the political system, necessarily means social retrogression.

“Civil society” activism that is not centred on concrete demands addressed to the political system, cannot do without quasi-religious symbolism; it necessarily carries within itself the germs of socio- political inegalitarianism. Consider, for instance, even an apparently unexceptionable “moral” crusade against “corruption”. In a society where religion forms the basis of morality, any such “moral” crusade necessarily tends to become quasi-religious. Since the majority religion in India is intrinsically inegalitarian and upholds the caste system (eminent historian Suvira Jaiswal has even argued that the caste system is the core of Hinduism), any relapse into religious symbolism is socially retrograde. The dalit scepticism about the Hazare movement represents an intuitive appreciation of this fact. The point, in short, is that the different shifts essayed by the Hazare movement are inter-linked and occur independently of its leaders’ intentions.

The implications of these shifts for democracy have been much discussed, and need not be pursued here. What is of concern here is a different point, namely that these shifts are significant not just in themselves, but for an even stronger reason: they in turn are transitions to a further, and altogether different, shift. The urban middle class has no clear agenda to pursue. It can neither perceive nor suggest any way out of the disenchantment it shares with others. It does not even relate that disenchantment to any underlying structures, let alone to any immanent tendencies of capitalism (one, incidentally, does not have to be a socialist to do this): its perceptions are limited to dichotomies like “honesty-dishonesty”, “moral-immoral”, “greed-sacrifice”. Not that one should pooh-pooh these terms, but they are never located in its discourse within any structures. No wonder then that it is in need of “messiahs”, and can only think of curbs on “corruption” through the institution of the ombudsman as the panacea for disenchantment.

Too pusillanimous to visualize putting any obstacles to the immanent tendencies of neo-liberal capitalism, it takes the path of least resistance by targeting the State alone, which happens to be in conformity with the proclivities of corporate capital. Far from confronting the immanent tendencies of capitalism, it conforms to those tendencies and becomes implicitly an agency for carrying them forward. Consider, for instance, the emphasis on “corruption” and the suggestion that it essentially resides among State personnel, that is the bureaucracy and the “political class”. The immediate inference that will be drawn from such a campaign is that any payment of taxes to the State is money “down the drain”, and hence the demand will be for a reduction in the “tax burden”. This, in turn, will necessitate a reduction in State expenditure; and since State expenditure on “security”, interest payments and basic salaries cannot be cut, the reduction will have to be in sectors like health, education, other social services and transfer payments to the poor. This, in turn, will necessitate the further privatization of a whole range of activities and services like education and health.

In short, the consequence of the hullabaloo over “corruption”, seen primarily as an integral part of the functioning of the State, is to delegitimize the State and usher in further privatization, and hence commercialization, of a range of activities still undertaken by the State. This can only hurt the poor, and it amounts to a carrying forward of the agenda of financial and corporate interests, which want precisely a combination of tax reduction and privatization of what have hitherto been considered as State responsibilities.

The irony here is striking. Much of the big ticket corruption that has attracted attention recently, such as 2G spectrum, has been associated with privatization of State property; but the effect of fuzzy, moralistic movements such as Hazare’s that are bred in opposition to such “corruption” and draw sustenance from the middle class is likely to be further privatization. Such movements, notwithstanding laudable intentions, tend to end up furthering the agenda of corporate and financial interests.

The author is a former professor, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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