Total Pageviews

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Make Haste Slowly, Mr. Kejariwal




Any assessment of Kejariwal must concede the monumental nature of his project. He has dared to dream of an emancipatory politics that is geared to unfold the consequences of a new possibility. Established as well as newly forged opportunistic parties exploiting the various fissures in society, anchored in the minds of their followers by pure greed and rewards of office have been ruling the roost.   Kejariwal arrived at this crucial juncture, this moment of crisis when the various debauched versions of politics had ceased to interest people because ordinary citizens felt they had no say in state decision-making. A sense of pervasive despair had overtaken a large number of people; each one of them thought that alone he could not make the difference; he needed to convince countless others like him. He was able to energies this inert mass of people and inspired by his vision the political arena has seen the influx of IIT engineers, management graduates, former civil servants, apart from common people. It has radicalized the political sphere by posing a challenge to the tired old generation of professional politicians or others who owe their rise to prominence exclusively by inheritance or political maneuvering or daring acts of criminality. A greater variety by way of “new people” itself promises to open the possibilities of radical new evolution which had been stopped in its tracks by the inbred nature of our politics. It would be irresponsible to spot him as the man in Taine’s famous triad of the man, the moment and the milieu so soon but he has certainly brought a glimmer of hope, something solid to stand upon and look beyond the imprisoning wall of despair. But above all he has promised to dismantle the political system where every source of power has been conscripted to politics and political connections. Direct democracy would be a reality and referendum the normal mode of consultation. He needs to be cheered, if for nothing else, for   the mobilsation of valuable social capital in the interest of better politics.

 It will be worth the recall that he was part of the Anna brigade and the main plank of this agitation was
 fighting corruption. After the parting of ways with Anna on the issue of a more direct political engagement to  fight corruption Kejariwal began his campaign for being anointed as the font of moral authority, as the social conscience of the age in a very systematic manner. He painted everyone in the public eye in hues of black. Revelation of financial malfeasance and corrupt practices, a disclosure a day, scandal piled upon scandal. Like Bernard Shaw, he built his reputation by murdering other people’s reputation. But he was also treading a dangerous path by setting himself up, as the Socratic figure, of a detached disinterested dreamer one who could “set against the laws of the    state a discourse of superior law, an ideal against an established order of power.” He was stacking the dice every day but I guess he misread the signal. He seemed to have located his utopia quite some distance away in time. But the people of Delhi took him more seriously than he himself. The “detached dreamer” was now called upon to take the role of a man of action. He was found to be lacking in logistics as well as a viable strategy. Surprisingly for a man who had at his command the national brains trust of IIT and IIM fellows  he did not seem to have thought deeply enough. Abundant goodwill and a determination to do good are not good enough to compensate for amateurishness, lack of experience, and ignorance about the dimension of the problems. When you proclaim sainthood you are bound to be judged by the high standard of a saint! The jury is out – almost on a daily basis.

He solved the easier questions easily. Henceforth it was for the Aam admi to decide whether its party would accept the support of another party to form a government. Whether the CM will stay in a ten room bungalow or in a three room quarter? In fact it seems the AAP is determined to disprove the wry observation of the maverick thinker, commentator and polemicist Slavoj Zizek “those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.” he wanted to transform the pretense in to the essence.  Redeeming his promise of electricity and free water were also rather easy and their consequences, whatever they may be, would be felt only in the long run.It may be a bit of pure theatre but it has reaped a great dividend by way of spurring other parties to emulate him. So we have the slightly incongruous situation where an MP sits on dharna to reduce the price of electricity. Another political party has sought the opinion of the constituents to indicate their choice of candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. More reasons for cheer for Mr. Kejariwal.  

Unworkability is one of the main elements of utopian projects; the other being a certain endearing vagueness. Who is an Aam admi? An Aam admi is indeed an abstraction. In him he has sought to locate the source of ultimate purity and honesty. Some kind of a noble savage dressed to make a living in modern times. He is the personified victim of a dysfunctional system. The fact of the matter is that he is a Janus faced creature, much like Sartre’s “half victim half, half accomplice like everyone else”in a polity whose wheels are kept in motion by the grease of corruption and extortion. To begin with who is an Aam admi? The railway porter who will not hesitate to extort the maximum portage   from another Aam admi, on one of the many railway stations? Is it the auto driver who will maximize his advantage by refusing to take a fare on a lonely less frequented route, or late in the night unless he shells out the price he has quoted? Is he the milkman or vegetable vender who considers adulteration his birth right? The international film director whose outing for an evening could mean the domestic budget of any of the three categories of people mentioned previously? Or is he the owner of a private airline? Or is he the law minister who orders about the police to do his bidding whatever the circumstances? Or is he the one who is prepared to let lose anarchy should the central government not accept his advice? Aam admi is the embodiment of all the romantic notions about helpless citizen pitted against the vast impersonal state but he is also Khas in his own sphere of activity. Aam adami subsumes a variety of mutually hostile interests; they do not make a solidarity group and are a source of many contradictions. As indeed Kejariwal learnt to his embarrassment when he fled from them to take shelter on the roof top.

His pronouncements about corruption also showed the same lack of awareness of the scope and reach of corruption nor does he seem to be aware of the slow, inefficient and unreliable process of law to curb it.  When the time came to redeem his promise into the CWG scandal and the lady who gave it a visible face -Sheela Dikshit- to set in motion definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation, the 370 page document with which he had threatened to nail the culprits who had siphoned away tens of thousands of crores of public money during the common wealth games turned out to be just a whole baggage of news paper clippings, not enough to nail the culprit. Or was it? The fact that he was sharing power with Congress added more grist to the rumour mill. The ghost of murdered reputations has come to haunt him.

Kejariwal’s, mind is inscrutable. It is also dangerously agile and jumps nimbly from one issue to another even without so much as a semblance of continuity or design. May be he has programmed such a randomness in his mind that even he does know not where the trajectory of his thinking will lead him to.
 His focus soon shifted the battle lines to the unrequited sinfulness of the African nationals- from plunder of astronomical sums of public money by a CM to peddling of drugs and sex on the street- which was revealed to him by his law – or lawless - minister. Kejariwal’s ideas about governance imply a kind of basic, constitutive naïveté: or else he would not have taken the legally and pragmatically indefensible position. As I understand a minister, a minster of law at that - wanted his impromptu orders to be implemented by the police. The law minister of Delhi has no authority in law to order about police men He has, just as any citizen, the right to be heard and his grievances attended to with utmost dispatch. As subsequent events have shown the police was quite right in exercising circumspection.No one can deny that the CM of Delhi should have control over the police. But so long as the untenable position remains the police is duty bound to act in accordance with this arrangement.

 Unable to counter charges of impropriety on part of his minster, he quickly turned the barrel on to the police. No harm there. Police serves a useful purpose in giving all forms of democratic and undemocratic protests – howsoever senseless, howsoever meaningless- substance and form. A few broken skulls on either side, a demand to punish the guilty policeman is also par for the course. But the revolutionary nature of Kejariwal’s politics consisted in reneging on his solemn oath to the constitution which he swore amidst great fanfare to profess anarchy. His two day old dharna at the Rail Bhawan is reminiscent of the remark of one of the Pussy riot activists “Humor, buffoonery, irreverence can be of use in the quest for the truth.”But the truth did not emerge; here it led to more controversy. How can a CM profess and propagate anarchy? Is he is now trying to locate his support base more in the urban poor even at the risk of alienating a large number of middle class constituents? Police has been a rallying cry for mobilization since the pre independence days. Delhi has a considerable number of urban poor and a fairly large number of youth - traditional foes of police – and they welcomed it with great gusto. They seem to have the least to lose.

  Not surprisingly his exhortations to anarchy have been welcomed, even, by members of the middle and upper class ,including civil servants, personalities from the film world, people living in gated communities and others located in various islands of privilege. Radicalism finds a more fertile breeding ground in the minds of the most conservative and reactionary of circles. They can talk about injustice because they get more than their share of justice all the time. But possibly they have not seen anarchy at close quarters .The  radicalization of the urban masses could prove to be a dangerous thing, especially in view of the fact that our democratic infrastructure- time worn and decrepit- are already finding it difficult  to manage dissent.  More than 350 districts- largely forests and rural areas- are already taken up by the activities of the extremist groups, their criminal activities masked as “revolutionary “struggle. Add to that the communal cauldron which is perpetually on the boil; we are sitting on a tinder box. Anyone with “an adequate sense of causation”, anyone with a sense of history could see that such frontier bravado could easily get out of hand.Tahrir Square is an enticing metaphor but it hides the nightmarish reality of the unworkability of the revolutionary hypothesis.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Paradox of Public Space


The Tarun Tejpal episode has put the cat among the pigeons. Tehelka has for long been considered to be an ethical resort area. A brave new world inhabited by intrepid journalists, like Tejpal, who had taken upon themselves the burden of an extraordinary enterprise of exposing the high and the mighty. But when the searchlight was flashed inwards, the continent showed up as just another moral swamp, with the same climate of atrocity and rhythm of destruction that characterizes the rest of our society. Women are no safer; the minds of those who seek their emancipation on their behalf are themselves so much more in need of emancipation. Followed by news of the sexual atrocity come the troubling disclosures of massive financial wheeling dealing, parking of anonymous funds, betrayal and criminal breach of trust. How shall we hold faith, then? If the best of the media is like this how much confidence can the rest inspire?
But the condemnation of Tehelka is not universal like it has been in the case of some other notorious rapes. The lynch mobs have not come out in the streets demanding instant decapitation or hanging. Those who have taken to such measures have been easily dismissed – with a large measure of truth in it – as partisan BJP mobs with scores to settle. In fact, spirited defences have been set up by some media men, politicians and public figures alike. A major political party has actually slipped in a few words edgeways, by way of support also.
The responses to l’affaire Tehelka can be broadly categorized – the first being the one that rightly condemns the rape because all rapes are condemnable and no exception needs to be made here. This is the response of common people who are unaligned and not too political. There are some channels who have gone in to an overdrive discussing it on primetime, keeping the issue alive, seemingly seeking justice for the victim. Could the stridency be an unconscious urge to justify themselves to themselves and in the eyes of the people that they are different?
Then there are people who seek to contextualize the incident, narrate the extenuating circumstances and tirelessly describe Tejpal’s revolutionary past. It has been dealt with it extensively but I shall permit myself just one observation. Grave and sudden provocation sometimes do count as mitigating circumstances but this can be termed as nothing but a premeditated and willful act committed by a man who was not so much drunk on alcohol as on a sense of his own power, his fame and the fevered adoration of his acolytes. Heady brew no doubt, but it does not qualify as an extenuating circumstance in the eyes of criminal law nor of prevailing morality.
A columnist in bhadas4media.com plays the devil’s advocate. His contention is that Tejpal is being targeted because his Tehelka was different and it reminded the others of their own inadequacy. Then he goes on to tar every one with the same brush: burked instances of sexual exploitation, conspiracy of silence, pimping for the corporate, suppression of stories, blackmail and extortion are itemized with malicious glee. But his logic of moral relativism does not go too far. He is even more grievously wrong when he insinuates about the misdemeanour of others stopping short of full disclosures. But now is the time to light up the spooky corners, to unmask the charlatans. His rhetoric can be described what Umberto Eco calls ‘a private communication between power groups which leapfrogs the citizen denying him his viewpoint ‘and leaving women as insecure as ever. To that extent it is both anti- democratic and contrary to the credo of healthy journalism.
Not that his disclosures come as a big surprise. The Radia tapes have already shown many media men in their role as power brokers, as political go-betweens, and corporate fixers. They are also into the business of money making like everyone else. Sometime back a blog serialized the libertine lifestyle, the parties and sleeping around in a TV news channel and some of the leading lights could be identified. The action on behalf of the channel was both prompt and peremptory. The authors of the mischief were spotted, promptly sacked and for good measure it was insured that their future did not look too rosy. But that has not deterred a section of the media from seceding to a hidden planet with their own “inverse surrounding values,” a culture of their own where profligacy, unabashed hedonism and promiscuity are the dominant gestures. No wonder women are viewed as the ultimate consumption value. In the newly invented idiom of the place rape becomes “mild sexual banter”, “the easiest way to keep the job.” So why this outrage?
“This is the paradox of public space”, says the maverick Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek, “even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.” This is what this girl – or the other girl in the matter of the retired judge – has done. By merely articulating the wrong done to her in a full throated manner she has asserted not only the claims of women to an equal share of the workplace but radicalized the whole atmosphere. In her – and the likes of her, they are not beholden to a name – one can see the emerging image of the new Indian woman.
But young and inexperienced as she is, she has to learn many things especially how things work in the real world, the foremost among them is that Power has only masculine gender. That is why when Shoma Chawdhary – dubbed as a turn coat of her sex –connived with the powerful Tejpal for as long as it was feasible, trying to broker peace and bury the deed, she was only following the logic of power which is devoid of imagination, a dehumanizing apparatus in its own right. So it happens that women are as much unsafe in presence of cult figures and fountainheads of power whether Sant Asaram or Tarun Tejpal, whether in the tutelage of an incestuous father or in police custody. But things are beginning to change; things are bound to change and the society should feel indebted to the courage of such individuals.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rape By Any Other Name


Tarun Tejpal, the inquisitor par excellence is now himself being pilloried in the media for his “bad lapse of judgment”. This “bad lapse of judgment”, however, comes with its own palliative – his literary worth, his courageous journalism, his mastery of the art form of essay, his Midas touch are narrated in the same breath.That makes me feel so inadequate  because  I must confess,  I have not read anything by Tejpal - essays, fiction, whatever. As a matter of fact, I do not read any fiction at all.In a world saturated by 24/7 TV and the ubiquitous print media; we live our lives as serialized fiction. Or the fictitious world is passed on to us as our very own lived lives.

Tehelka, we have been told, has been unsparing in its efforts to expose to the glare of public scrutiny the conduct of the high and mighty without fear or favour. It did not pull any stops, it even took enormous risks     in the pursuit of     its   objectives.    Its stories called a spade not just a    spade         but        a bloody  shovel.But,uncharacteristically,Tarun Tejpal’s epistolary address to his flock before his proposed self exile – self exile, we have  all  begun to suspect,  is a common place arty gesture, a regular indulgence-is  an exercise in minimalism. When it comes to describing his own escapades, the writer whose fiction has been described as “bold,” “sexy,”  “sultry,”   “sizzling” evokes the literary conventions and cultural mores of the days gone by, he reduces the   horrible incident to the requirements of staid domesticity. The highly shattering and traumatic incident of rape has been routinized, reduced to an embarrassing faux pas rather like getting into a heated argument with the host at a party or some other breach of decorum in a domestic setting. Euphemism characterizes the idiom of the powerful; understatements naturalize the cruelties of power by dissociating the memory of cruelties from the act itself. Language, among other things, is about naming objects, about evoking states of being but understatement subverts the natural association of the word with the mental picture. 

 There are other reasons why I find the opening line of Mr. Tejpal so fascinating and worthy of extended analysis. The obscurity of the message is intended to go over the heads of people outside the Tehelka cult, should it by chance   ever leak because it could be decoded only if you had the key. The key was that a rape had taken place, that the rapist was none other than the pater familas and that the secret must not get out at any cost. Nor is Tejpal’s mail to his staffers in the nature of apology; it is not act of contrition; nor for that matter are these words of repentance. It is sheer  power discourse .The imprecision and obliquity of the text create a sense of moral ambiguity in order to inscribe in the minds of trusting and supplicating followers the version of truth that the powerful leader wants them to believe in. What qualifies to be   called rape   in the Indian penal code should be taken merely as a “mild sexual banter”. “Bad lapses of judgment, itself comes loaded with a whole baggage of memory, promises of reward and implied threat. The counterfactual has not been stated - what are the dividends  of a shrewd reading of the situation, of a proper exercise of judgment. What a pity that the unspoken but clearly understood mantra   of success, “This is the easiest way to keep your job” had to be made explicit to the unfortunate girl.


Tejpal   then goes on to remind them of what Tehelka is what the membership of this group means, and how he built this institution with his blood etc. Will they not excuse him this small little “drunken sexual banter”? He was even willing to recuse himself for six months and, impressed by her ability at damage control, hand over the leadership of cult Tehelka in “more capable hands “of his deputy Shoma Chaudhary.
His trust in Shoma was not misplaced. She had not imbibed the Tehelka culture of double standards and hypocrisy in vain.  When it came to fighting the biggest battle in the life of Tehelka, she betrayed her young, inexperienced but brave colleague to the demands of expediency.  She tried to hush up the scandal as being an internal matter-a stance that is reminiscent of a James Thurber fable, wherein a Fox charged of eating up a rabbit says, “He is eaten and digested, so it is an internal matter.”

Tehelka’s - soi disant (?) - moral authority is rooted in the fact while holding a mirror to the other three estates; it can pass the strictest public scrutiny in terms of its own impartiality, even handedness and fair play. It failed this test miserably.  As the Tehelka story is unraveled layer by layer-it’s funding and ownership is already a subject of some curiousity- we must prepared to be disappointed. This was one more false prophet; we have once again been fooled into mistaking a garden variety cabbage for a rose!


Friday, November 1, 2013

Police : Between the terrorist and the terrorized

                          
If we judge by the result the terrorist strike in Patna failed to achieve its objective. The terrorists seek to disrupt normal life by injecting a deep sense of insecurity and fear, to break the even tenor of life, to disrupt the routine. It kills five and terrorizes a city of five million. But in Patna the other day, the eight blasts seemed like so many celebratory crackers being burst in a cricket match which was going our way. The people listened to the speaker and left the venue safe, unharmed and unprovoked. Yesterday was also their day of glory when the humble, much reviled Bihari made a historic contribution to the cause of communal harmony by defeating the designs of the terrorist, treating it as one more criminal incident.

 From what has appeared in the media there is no doubt that a lot more needed to be done by the Bihar police but I shall not pile more dirt on my beleaguered former colleagues in the moment of their shame. As it is the whole world is doing it. But it is as good an occasion as any to reiterate that police in general has – never was - been a professional outfit exclusively geared to its avowed ends of protecting the people. To mould the police after its own image through extensive systems of formal and informal controls is a typically politico- bureaucratic industry and the political orientation of police leadership often blinds them to the obvious requirements of professionalism. The detractors are already explaining
the half hearted approach of the police in the light of the known antagonism and hostility between the two chief ministers. When professional response has to be factored with political costs the police man falls between two stools as it happened on the day the funeral procisionists went on rampage in Patna.

It has been evident for quite long that police in Bihar is in the need for radical reforms as well as a massive up gradation of its skills, logistics and other wherewithal. The government, however, seems to have become a dupe to its own assiduous propaganda about the enhanced capability of  its  police and  the  state of  law and order,  which was being   cited as an example for the rest of nation to follow. A salutary dose of healthy criticism has for so long been missing from its diet that the administration shows the characteristic sloth and lethargy of a diabetic.

Having said that can even the most organized and professional police force prevent a terrorist attack in a society like ours? No matter how pervasive the surveillance, no matter how ruthless the frisking someone, somewhere is going to get past the safety net. Because now the enemy is within, dispersed within the body politic, looking like just you and me, sharing the same neighborhood. Only his mind is controlled
by hostile elements sitting across the border. How do you know what is brewing in his mind? What dire motivation impels a man to weaponize himself? To become a human bomb ready for   targeted delivery!

 So guns and surveillance are alright but should not we be thinking of striking at the root of the trouble -the deeply alienating nature of our politics. Could we  not  desist  from a politics which goes in a state of overdrive to  inflame passions , polarize sentiments , put  the communities on the throat of each other,
 stoke suspicion of one  caste  against the other  and is  ever willing  make a burnt offering  of human lives in their hundreds  at the altar of electoral prospects. Could the political parties come to some sort of an agreement to cool down the temperature which is already past safety levels? The battle against terrorism is as much a battle for the control of minds of men as anything else and we seem to be losing it. In fact, in view of the fact that the estranged bedfellows- the JD U and the BJP – are likely to make more and more dangerous politics in the days to come , the writing on the wall is clear for us.  There are no indications of politics ceding control of police and the change of its heart seems nowhere on the horizon.  So till then we must take a lesson from this tragedy. Stoic calm in face of a misfortune which affects both the communities in various ways!  We are a state of 100 million people; they certainly could not kill that many!











Sunday, October 6, 2013

 PEOPLE GET THE POLICE THEY DESERVE

After DG Vanzara’s letter claiming mere agency for himself and scores of his colleagues cooling their heels in the jails for all the gory deeds that are being attributed to the police in Gujarat comes the allegations of Police that they were forced by UP administration to wink at communal bloodbath.
         Ambitious police men often betray their calling in pursuit of the strange gods in whom they repose total faith and the gods in turn absolve them of all their sins. It is only when their gods fail that the world comes to know, through the testimony of the apostate, what it knew all along intuitively. Those who stand up are summarily dealt with and the community is in no position throw a lifeline is equally true.
If we start retracing the history of Independent India, sooner or later we reach the fateful conclusion that the abuse of police appears to be, in Rawlsian diction, part of an overlapping political consensus. Thus the simple personalisation misses the point. It would be a mistake to view it as a problem of police brutality; the political class that abuses police is the greater problem.
 The foundational principle of the Indian police involves a punitive use of its power under the garb of rule of law, without let or reserve. By locating the source of exploitation and tyranny in the "native police” the colonial authority sought to displace the awareness of the oppression to a third party, and maintained its facade for fairness and rule of law. The Indian politics found this instrument far too valuable for their purpose to dismantle it.
  Once crime is linked to the state, then it summons to the mind weightier judgment like mass murder and genocide. But even then the issues are discussed because of the criticality of the political ramifications. There is a cacophony of hypocritical and opportunistic pronouncements, over determined by immediate political gains and it is the competitive opportunism – who got away with more- is clearly evident behind the fake moral outrage.
The endless disclosures of complicity of administrations in cold blooded killings and of corruption in governments have exposed the opaque relations between power and privilege, and the hidden continuities between the legal and the illegal. But, like spectators up in a pavilion, we are watching the gladiatorial contests between mutually hostile political formations. We seem to have no stakes in the mater- only a prurient interest. Was Vanzara’s disclosure engineered by rival political factions? Are the UP officers sending out signals to their former patrons or is it a counter for blackmail? There are no signs of a broad emancipatory movement developing to counter the abuse of police. Most of us have already accepted with diligent apathy the inability of democratic politics to produce viable solutions to social and economic problems. We seem to be now well on our way to accept the all-encompassing control of the state security apparatus over our lives.
 Secularism and eradication of corruption, the two avowed goals of contemporary politics would best be served by urgent police reforms. An independent police acting independently in accordance with the dictates of law would not have let politicians turn their constituencies into a communal cauldron nor would corruption in public life have metastasized to engulf the entire body politic. Prakash Singh’s writ in the Supreme Court stands defeated by sheer delay; there is more than a hint of systematic deception in the affidavits filed by the various state governments before the Supreme Court. Earlier, on occasions like this at least a lip service was paid to these concerns. Now it is not even mentioned and everyone seems to have given up on the reformist agenda.
 Karl Marx once said that “force is the midwife of change.”  It is us the politicians fear and us they court and it is within our powers to force them to change. So it is unfair to solely blame the politicians because it does not bother us to have a police which can be the sole arbiters of our lives and liberty, or a police which is an equal stakes partner in a kleptocratic state.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

 


                                RESISTING THE RTI
The political parties who have now been made accountable under the RTI will not easily give up and the legal battle may be contested till the bitter end in the higher courts.
In their public postures, however, they have taken the line that they are already furnishing information to other agencies like the election commission and the income tax; they can be inundated by frivolous petitions; the confidentiality of political decision making can be misused etc; it is not possible to maintain records .The legality of the order should better be left to the courts because that is where the legality of the order of the CIC will be decided.
A brief examination of the performance of the Act so far may light up some areas of the debate.
The RTI Act made available to the common people all the information that could be made available to the members of legislatures and members of the parliament. Suddenly the amorphous, undifferentiated, impersonal information potentially accessible to or already in the inert keeping of our public representatives is being mined by RTI seekers to seek a measure of control over their destinies. The master key to force open the secret vault called bureaucracy which had for long eluded the citizenry become available to all and sundry. The accountability scene is undergoing a magical transformation.
RTI activists, autodidacts, and public spirited people are using this as a tool to map the objective reality of their particular situations against the given big picture. People at large nourish fairly sound attitudes based on instinct and memory but they lack a coherent account as to how their local environments of oppression are located within the larger economic or socio-political realities. In order to be able to derive maximum advantage from this legislation, people all over the country are raising themselves to levels of awareness commensurate with their particular situation, are acquiring uncanny legal skills and are extending their circle of influence to initiate a potentially transformative movement. Antonio Gramsci would have approved of these “organic intellectuals”.
Where does my little postage stamp of a village figure in the double digit growth story of Bihar? To find out Sanjay Sahani, Ramkumar Thakur and a motley group from a nondescript village called Ratnauli in Bihar demanded the information about the implementation of MNREGA in their panchayat. It is but natural that the custodians of all those little bureaucratic lies that collectively go to make the official truth should feel threatened. Ram Kumar Thakur had to be simply put away. But killings are not the norm; slapping of false cases is the standard tactic as the RTI groups have claimed and even the pioneering RTI activist Shiv Prasad Ray was subjected to this fate.
The formidable bureaucracy which had expressed fears of its misuse have realized its subversive potential. So they have taken to something akin to a civil disobedience movement, a strategy of passive resistance against army of information seekers under RTI demanding information as varied as the lifting and disbursal of PDs grains to the amounts of travelling allowance drawn by the civil servants. They just remain silent. Or pretend imbecility. If you ask for information A they furnish B and in some cases no relief could be had even from the information commission. Or they wage semantic guerilla warfare; they ambush you with an ambiguity of meaning. So there is no frivolity involved here. It is a deadly serious business.
There are some other democratic dividends as well. RTI has created a new and thriving public sphere. Village chaupals, hamlets with cyber cafes, small towns - quite different from the traditional city centric public sphere, salons, coffee houses, universities, think tanks and media clubs are the new hubs of activity. Debates on development and public issues are becoming livelier because the range and depth of their information has increased considerably and citizens are acquiring a better understanding of how things are done. The RTI is materializing a “public that is living up to instantiate and ideal of public reason”.
So should the political parties feel bothered by unnecessary duplication of work or is there an apprehension in the political minds that the information furnished by them, say the accounts of laughable sums of money spent in their election campaigns by candidates could be put to rigorous scrutiny by an army of local volunteers? Everyone knows that the figures are meant just to get past the Election Commission which has neither the time nor the wherewithal to verify them in every particular. But in the hands of the masses it can transform the whole scene. How many taxis were hired, who printed the publicity material, who set up the pandal and for how much? The right to information becomes purposive, goal directed hence an effective tool of accountability; in the statistical keeping of the Election Commission it is merely grist for the academic researchers’ mill for drawing broad general conclusions.
In the absence of transparency and internal democracy politics has largely become the skill of intrigue among a narrow group of those closest to the instruments of power. Mendacity and cynicism in political discourse - "they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it" has become a sad fact of our lives. So what is at stake here is not the fear of being submerged under frivolous queries, nor is any one afraid of being asked about their internal affairs - the nation has already an unsolicited surfeit of it. RTI is ushering in some kind of a direct democracy and that is a terrifying idea.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Welcome to the Spiritual Kingdom of Animals



The Hon’ble Supreme Court was recently compelled to take recourse to the imagery of a parrot to lament the degradation of the CBI into abject slavery.  As if this was not enough, another court, in Bangalore, compared the IB to a pigeon.  It is not exactly complimentary for police forces of the country to be told that their depravity, even of the best of them, their crème de la crème, is on a sub human scale.  How would the garden variety of police men fare on the scale of wretchedness, when put to searching scrutiny: amoeba, bacteria, virus or just inert gooey matter in a state of pre-biotic existence? 
Evolutionary biology tells us that the time and evolution are both unidirectional; they are barbed arrows incapable of going back in time.   But perhaps moral regression is not guided by the laws of evolutionary biology, even though the state of morality is heavily dependent on the social ecology, the environment of power.  The history of the CBI has been one of progressive diminution.  Till the other day, it cut such a heroic figure that the mere entry of the CBI Officer in critical cinematic moments, flashing his I-Card, would lift the morale of the audience, just when it appeared that all had been lost.  How and when did this freakish regression from a heroic stature to a universal butt of joke take place? 
In a crony capitalistic order, in an advanced stage of state capture, “society naturally divides itself into the very few and the many” according to the “unequal faculties of acquiring property” of its constituents.  Such a differentiation of traits is most likely to occur in civil servants, politicians, powerbrokers, pimps.  The several fold increase in public spending has dramatically enlarged the corruptive interface between the consenting public servant and the obliging client.  On the other hand dozens of laws that have been passed have brought more and more areas of our private and public concern under bureaucratic gaze and control.  This has created enormous opportunities for rent seeking and bribery.  The issue of corruption naturally comes to occupy the centre stage of public concerns.  Overwhelmed by  such  situations, governments all over resort to the strategy of - what Leo Strauss calls - “necessary lie”, wherein the rulers, in a bid to distract people from problems closer at hand, feed them fables to keep them peaceful and pacified
Zero tolerance to corruption is the avowed goal of this government.  It is also the supreme exemplar of the idea of “necessary lie”. 
The neo-liberal discourse, however, tends to treat corruption as a purely economic issue - a market transaction in informal services in a bureaucracy-infested, over-regulated state; bribery is purged of its moral connotation and made respectable as facilitation fee for services in a transaction between socially anonymous partners.  So, the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, in a society on a roller coaster ride to the abyss of market consumerism, is bridged by an ever more strident cry for need for hygiene in public life.  It dupes itself with foolish expectations and sets extravagant goals for its investigative agencies.  Pining for an independent CBI is one such nostrum. 
The CBI is no longer required to handle crimes in the ordinary sense of the term; more often than not it is the criminality of governments – their involvement in bribery and payoffs, their efforts to subvert parliamentarians, their involvement in fake encounters and engineering systemic pogroms, you name it – which keeps their hands full.   Or if it is not the government it is its more formidable patrons, the super-rich, in whose gigantic shadow the government cast its miserable little tent.  But as in the pre-modern days, figuratively speaking, when the crimes and their perpetrators were painted on a less grand scale, it is  still  the sole prerogative of the government (I include the leader of the opposition as a representative of government in exile, and thus an interested party) to appoint the director, equip outfit and determine working conditions of the organization. 
For the last several decades ambitious political leaders have sought to create fiercely loyal battalions of bureaucratic palace guards who, if they pass the loyalty test, are exempted from every other.  The changed environment has led to a proliferation of officers with a natural tendency to voluntary servitude.  Blind obedience confers a massive selective advantage; the courage to stand up renders them incapable of finding a foothold in the fragile ecology of power and they invariably fall by the way side.   So the parrot cannot but speaks his masters’ voice because he is wired like that, protein coded for blind obedience. 
Hegel proclaimed long ago that “self-interested egotism is not the brutal fact of our societies but its ideology.  In given a century and more for the inhabitants of this “spiritual kingdom of animals,” to indulge their self-interested egotism, the regression to the stage of an aviary was but natural.  As long as the moral environment is not restored to a state which is conducive to evolve autonomous, rational, conscious, moral agents caged parrots and white pigeons will abound.  So till then welcome to the land of spiritual animals, welcome to interesting aviary of great diversity of policemen.