Sunday, November 11, 2012

How Leftist Intellectuals Got It Wrong on IAC

An year and a half after the first Anna Hazare protests, I think we can reflect on how it was perceived by intellectuals.
The first thing that we understand is how wrong our famous public intellectuals were. The Hard Left completely dropped the ball on the movement. They proclaimed the supremacy of the Parliament (Constitution is supreme in India, not Parliament. Thus, Anna's rights to protest sup
erseded Parliament's sanctity). They denounced IAC as corporate stooges.
Arundhathi Roy deserves special mention as presenting some of the dumbest criticism of IAC. She called Anna Hazare as a demogogue and then without any irony, asked the media to show porn instead of covering the protests. Meanwhile she was found cheering on protesters in Egypt and Tunisia!
How true were her comments on IAC? After an year and a half, it is obvious that her accusations of them were completely false. She presented them as Trojan Horses for corporates to subvert democracy. But IAC has actually been the most effective voice against RIL, or Tata.
P.Sainath and Justice Markendaya Katju were equally wrong and clueless about the Jan Lokpal bill itself. They accused IAC of being elitist - as if they were not elites themselves.
Why did these people, who are hailed as India's foremost public intellectuals go so wrong?
One, the mediocrity that we see all around in India is common in the "intellectual" sphere also. In other words, some of these people are probably not as smart as they are made out to be. Their arguments will be dismissed out of hand in a well-informed democracy.
Second, these people and most of the Left, for some reason, hates the middle class. They think the middle class is somehow uniquely self-centered; and years of trying to push the interests of the poor has tired them out and caused them to lose perspective (I think this is the case with P.Sainath, whom I respect enormously).
A true Marxist analysis would show that the middle class is absolutely right in looking to its interests. India's middle class is huge, and therefore their concerns may actually impact the nation favorably.
Thirdly, the Left did not make any substantive analysis of the case presented by IAC. Public corruption is, indeed, one of the most important root causes for the majority of suffering in India (others are the caste system, and gender issues, both of which can be addressed only when the government is competent and trusted). I did not see any actual, substantive, arguments from the Left that this was NOT the case. There were mostly polemics, but no actual understanding of how government works.
Government incompetence and corruption affects everyone; and hurts the poor the most. This is not an issue of trains running on time. We will cover this in a separate post.
Finally, some of "opinion" in India is structured around subtle signals. More than having a consistent political world view (such as liberal, libertarian, conservative and so on), Indian opinion makers simply signal to each other and the public on what tribe they belong to. Any issue is used for these signals, than to analyze the issue itself. Arundhathi Roy was not so much commenting about IAC, or the substance of their protests - she was instead signaling her role as a member of the Hard Left, someone who worries about the poor; as someone who was "bucking the trend"; someone who thought the middle class were mostly propagandized idiots. Most of her energies had been invested in these signals than on any real world concerns.
One example is Gail Omvedt's much circulated article linking Anna Hazare with some Manuwadi party. The entire article was structured around one single item - that a nutcase Manuwadi guy was seen in Jantar Mantar during the protests. This was then used to shower self-righteous anger at the IAC movement and denounce them as casteist. The article had no merit.
Let us assume the IAC is actually casteist. Does that have any bearing on their particular protests? Their Jan Lokpal bill was not a secret. It was out there, along with the differences with the government bill.
An overarching theme of the intellectual and public response to IAC is the social distrust that spans our nation. This distrust is mostly caused by corruption. It enables a moral judgemental view of politics, than anything based on substance.

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