Praful Bidwai

Thousands of poor people thronged Ramlila Maidan, and dabbawalas joined the protests in Mumbai.Yet it bears recalling that the original campaign, launched in April, was Facebook- and Twitter-driven. It mobilised upper middle class people in the big cities through the technology of using free missed calls to have its supporters stay connected. A telecom company provided the technology, and somebody paid a pretty penny for the millions of calls answered. (According to the IAC website, 13 million were answered by August 15.)
…The unstated premise is that all politicians are corrupt. In fact, as Mr Hazare has said time and again, existing democratic politics is itself corrupt. He says he doesn’t believe in elections because ordinary people “cast their vote under the influence of Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor ….”  This extremely cynical view of democracy shows utter contempt for the Indian people who have repeatedly punished corrupt or under-performing politicians. India’s democracy has numerous flaws. But the voter’s lack of awareness isn’t one of them.
There is a difference, though. The middle class strata which have planned, led and formed the core of the latest agitation have a specifically corporate character. They are all products of post-1991 neoliberal policies and belong to new service sector businesses in Information Technology, banking and insurance.
These strata worship their CEOs and have imbibed a culture of subservience to corporate hierarchy. They have had no exposure whatever to ordinary people except subordinates like peons and drivers. They are easy prey for spectacles created by 24-hour television news channels, such as Mr Hazare’s fasts, which became something akin to the cricket World Cup.
There has also been corporate involvement in and funding of the Lokpal movement. NGOs run by Team Anna leaders Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal have received millions of dollars in corporate and Ford Foundation donations. This past January, 14 industrialists including Keshub Mahindra (he, of Bhopal fame, as Union Carbide India’s chairman), Jamshyd Godrej and Deepak Parekh, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Singh complaining of a “widespread governance deficit”, and pressing for an independent anti-corruption ombudsman.
Since then, even industrialist SP Hinduja (God bless his pure soul!) has held forth on corruption and the need for a Lokpal. Strongly pro-corporate media groups have led the Jan Lokpal TV campaign.

It’s as if a large chunk of businessmen had decided to ditch the Congress-led UPA government because it’s not delivering “second generation” neoliberal policies such as reckless privatisation and dismantlement of such paltry labour protection as it exists. Many industrialists are perhaps suspicious of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s mildly Left-of-centre political bent and her inaccessibility. Logically, this means they would opt for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

This is an extract from ‘The Politics of Anna’s Fast’  by Praful Bidwai

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