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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Herding Proles The Only Hope ?


Recently, Chetan Bhagat published an Open Letter to Indian Change Seekers on his Times of India column which I found quite out of sync with reality and to be brutally honest, completely absurd and insensitive if not diabolic. I did comment there but character limit prevented me to actually refute his "theory" though I had written it. What I ended up doing is criticizing without giving appropriate reasons which is not very mature thing to do. Further, attacking a person instead of his argument violates the rules of rhetorical logic so I am not even writing a reply,only refuting his argument.



India, no matter what your Civics teacher told you, is not an equal country. India is divided into four classes with different levels of power. For simplicity, let us call these classes the Ones, Twos, Threes and Fours (deliberately avoiding upper-lower classification).

As long as right to universal suffrage is provided and exercised India will continue to be called a republic because the sovereign power rests with people. Yes there are gross inequalities from socio-economic perspective.  Yes, India's majority have not benefited from this lop-sided development, be it economic, educational or social, in fact they have been deprived of what they already had. There are people who woken up decades earlier and are working for the rural poor and tribal  some of them have been labelled Naxalites sympathizers and even jailed on charges of sedition or similar criminal offences. Others carry on their work even within the administration without really hogging the limelight.
An understanding of the polity based on high school level education is too little knowledge to start theorizing on political philosophy and making allegations of India not being an equal country (rather a country of equals).

The Delhi gang rape victim was a Three, and the gruesome case made the rest of the Threes feel vulnerable like never before. The Threes wanted the rape to be debated. Hence, for almost a month little else could be discussed in a country of 1.2 billion people. However, in the process, the Threes might have done some damage. For despite the well-intentioned outcry, the Threes inadvertently displayed they care about themselves much more than another huge class they alienated, the Fours.

How can one co-relate the gruesome incident in Delhi to the larger economic disparity in India ? Firstly, one must understand that the Delhi gang rape case may not be unique but it catalyzed the community to react to the gender insensitivity which has taken monstrous proportion. The Delhi Baveheart became a rallying point for all those opposed to misogyny and male chauvinism practiced rampantly in our society. It challenged the patriarchal system whose negative effects include sexual harassment and assault on women, the custom of dowry, female foeticide and rape cases like this one. This does not relate to the middle class only, it finds resonance across every class in the Indian subcontinent.   How can any one in good sense say that protesting  against cruelty towards women and taking up prime time news coverage, alienated the poor ? Tribal, dalit and poor women and even children face far more sexual atrocities than females from middle class do.

People who alienate the poor, especially the tribal and rural poor are those who blindly support development without giving a thought to the fact that the current model of development may help the higher and middle class but in many cases destroy the lives of the poor. What do the majority from the middle class think about the killing of innocent villagers by paramilitary by labeling them as Naxalites or Naxalite sympathizers ? As for that matter, does the middle class care that security personnel (or villagers accused by insurgents of being police informers), coming from poor background, are routinely killed in ambush by Maoists, but don't make it to news unless their bodies are mutilated and explosives surgically  transplanted in the corpses. We have been alienating the poor since half a century but protest against crimes against women is the most unlikely cause to alienate them further !

. However, be mindful of certain worrisome negative aspects of this outrage. What you stand for is worthwhile, justified and necessary. However, the way you are going about it is not. You may create a lot of noise, but not the desired change.

 Once again the writer undermines the power of democracy by being pessimistic (ironically, in a column named "Underage Optimist") about government's reaction. If the protests weren't working, the government wouldn't have bothered to unleash police brutality over protesters.  It is not the government but the society that required introspection and things have changed. In democratic movements t is not necessary that a victory can be claimed only after all demands are met unconditionally, merely getting the administration to function more proactively is a victory of sorts. True victory consists of influencing the people and making them more conscientious. Did Anna's movement change nothing ?

Union ministers from parties with major stake in government have been sacked, arrested, the union government itself would have collapsed if there were a credible and united opposition party. Corruption in government departments have come down. Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal's voice have become as prominent if not more than the leaders of major opposition parties and spokespersons of ruling alliance without them having a single representatives in the Parliament. Yes, the government was unwilling to change but it had to yield ground however little. Further, while the government was the primary target, the movement was also about self reformation. After all, some members of the middle class were also beneficiary or accomplices in graft cases. Of course,we are not be satisfied with little change but we cannot deny that there hasn't been any change. No matter what you have been told, India is a functional democracy.

As we alienate the Fours, we leave them open to be exploited by the Ones. The Ones echo the sentiments of the Fours and throw some scraps at them. In return, the Fours ignore the Ones’ misdeeds and bring them back to power.

While many of my friends found it difficult to comprehend the letter,  this argument provides the clue necessary to decipher the message. Mr Bhagat's disdain for the current government is not a secret but  his understanding of the Indian society is deeply flawed but in no case unique, some members of the urban upwardly mobile class do harbor the same belief. They believe that the poor have no understanding of the democratic process and are exploited by political parties and it is the responsibility of the educated urban elite to rescue them from their ignorance. Now, I don't think that just because I am English educated I have inherited the Englishman's burden of colonizing the heathens on the assumption that they don't know what is good for them !

Such a thought requires supreme arrogance, political awareness is maximum among the rural class because that is the only real stake they have in the Indian state. The level of political participation and voting pattern makes it abundantly clear. The rural voting turnout, especially among women has been much larger than participation of urban population in electioneering. The perceived importance of voting right is also much greater among those from the lowest strata as indicated in the voting patterns. In Odisha, which is the most backward state in the country, there is a difference in number of votes a party secured for its State Assembly candidates as opposed to its parliamentary candidate even though both the voting were carried out simultaneously.  Parties ruling states for nearly three decades have been decimated in polls which shouldn't have been possible if the rural voters could be bought off.

The fact that politics in villages are much more intense,even violent has been depicted in modern popular culture, especially movies. Yet when the members of middle class participate in candle light vigils, they are, rightly, considered to be exercising their political rights but when lower class members participate they are often presumed to have been bought off.  What Mr Bhagat and like-minded people need to understand is that aspirations of the middle class (often based on emotive themes) may not find resonance in lower class aspiration. Let's take the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare which made little impact in the rural hinterlands. Grafts affects mostly (not always) the members of the middle class were also victims, beneficiary or accomplices in most corruption cases. Without proper administrative infrastructure it is only natural that the rural class would remain apathetic. However when it comes to middle class' hunger for development and economic progress, the rural class often finds itself at the receiving end.

I am not really a fan of the ruling coalition, but one cannot deny the fact that for the first time, the governments of India (current and its predecessor ) has tried to reach out to people from remote regions offering food security, education, employment which may not have been delivered yet but it has at least promised. I wonder what scraps Mr Bhagat is talking about. NREGAAADHAAR are not scraps but opportunities which the rural poor desperately need. As a matter of fact I would have considered it insulting had not the conclusion  to his essay been so outrageous! It seems Mr Bhagat is asking his readers to influence and wean over the backward classes to our side to defeat  ruling coalition in the election and replace them with party/parties that are more likely to address middle-class aspirations over the others'.

 This not only reflects a shallow and selfish approach but also an immature one but by no means is it a novel approach. This kind of Machiavellian deceit has been practiced throughout history but never publicly proposed. The most interest writing on similar lines can be found in George Orwell's 1984. In fact, the resemblance is so striking that one may presume that it has been reproduced in modern day language. However it is unlikely, Orwell's writing was meant to criticize and expose the evil of communism and totalitarianism.

 This section in 1984, is contained in the fictional book

 THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVE by Emmanuel Goldstein 
Ignorance is Strength details the perpetual class struggle characteristic of human societies; beginning with the historical observation that societies always have hierarchically divided themselves into social classes and castes: the High (who rule); the Middle (who work for, and yearn to supplant the High), and the Low (whose goal is quotidian survival). Cyclically, the Middle deposed the High, by enlisting the Low. Upon assuming power, however, the Middle (the new High class) recast the Low into their usual servitude. In the event, the classes perpetually repeat the cycle, when the Middle class speaks to the Low class of "justice" and of "human brotherhood" in aid of becoming the High class rulers. [source]

I strongly recommend you and any one interested in political discourse, read Orwell's 1984 or at least the Wikipedia section .


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