On the morning of 17 January, the very day after Somnath Bharti carried out his vigilante act – and I maintain, despite Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav, that it was a vigilante act – I wrote a post relating to the dangers of xenophobia, racism and vigilantism that this act portended. I felt called upon to write that post because one of the valuable political lessons I have learnt over the years is that there can be no unconditional support for any political formation. Every support must be is contextual and conjunctural, never for all eternity. My criticism was therefore of someone who is invested in the process that AAP and Kejriwal have unleashed and I want it to succeed. In invoking xenophobia and racism, my point, however, was that the leadership of the party has a role to play in relation to political education and cannot simply flow with the local sentiment.
I have always maintained, right from the days of the anti-corruption movement led by the IAC, that the movement and its later avatar, the AAP, had opened out a space of new possibilities. The mass support that the movement and now AAP is drawing is primarily, in my view, a function of the fact that it can mean many things to many people. ‘Clarity’ on every issue concerning the world is not its agenda. This is why some of us have been arguing that the movement/ party is still taking shape. It does not yet have a ready-made, given ideological form. This is why it can be shaped. Its future is radically open. I see no reason to change that position yet. Yes, it is in the design of things that there are Kumar Vishwases and Somnath Bhartis in that formation, and it disturbs our sensibilities no end. But that is precisely the challenge – if we cannot deal with them, we cannot deal with ordinary folk either. Moreover, everybody can change and it is simply arrogant upper class presumptuousness to mock at the ‘uncouthness’ of someone or hold their past against them (in the case of Vishwas). In any case, for anyone seriously interested in changing the existing state of affairs, it should be quite clear that the entire business is about changing ‘common sense’, to put it in Gramscian language. We don’t live in an already transformed universe.
Political formations which come into this world with everything sorted out – and ideologically pure – as the experience of many marxist and socialist groups in India will tell us, come stillborn, precisely because their life has been drained out at birth. They have been cleansed of the last vestiges of whatever – good, bad and ugly – defines the world of the common person. So, despite the current episode, I think the party is right in not taking the advice of the radical intelligentsia to define their ‘ideology’ – even while taking their criticism on board seriously, though from a distance.
True, Arvind Kejriwal did not respond in the best way possible to criticisms of the Law Minister but it is clear from news reports that even before he began the planned protest, he climbed down from his earlier position. He stated, firstly, that the protest would be in the form of a dharna – and by implication, not an indefinite hunger strike, as was initially planned. Secondly, he and the party made it clear that due to Republic Day preparations, supporters should not land up at the dharna. For that reason, the protest was actually converted from a mass action into a dharna of ministers and MLAs. Thirdly, he also agreed to dropping the demand for suspension of the concerned police officers and being content with transfers, once again, before the dharna began – evidently responding to the public criticism. Finally, he also tweeted (as reported in many newspapers) that supporters should take care not to target foreign nationals. It was on the morning of the protest, when they were stopped at Rail Bhavan – and in doing this the Congress government actually upped the ante, exactly as it had during the Anna Hazare fast – that Kejriwal too responded by raising the stakes and saying that the protests would continue; and that even if it meant a disruption of the Republic Day march past, common people would flood Rajpath.
It is interesting that not one analyst or commentator has thought fit to raise the question about what is wrong with a peaceful protest in the seat of power in New Delhi. Why should those in power be insulated from popular protests through repeated – often even permanent – imposition of section 144? Why is it that the violation of the most elementary democratic principle does not call forth a single voice of protest? Let us not forget that in all these years all great radicals have retreated into the comfort zone of holding ‘protest rallies with police permission’ and never overstepping the lakshman rekha that has been drawn for them by the police. Jantar Mantar has become a protest ghetto and the power elite has become used to treating it as the dump-yard of protests at worst – and as a showcase of its ‘democracy’ at best. Protests in Delhi have been reduced to rituals, which is why the violation of this code finds such hysterical and out-of-proportion response from both the media and the established parties – shrieking ‘anarchy’ and ‘murder of democracy’ at the tops of their voices. The intolerance of the power elite to popular protests was seen last year as well when spontaneously students and youth gathered in Vijay Chowk – only to be faced with water cannons and lathi-charges. Once again, it was the outsiders – ordinary folk who had barged into the ‘forbidden city’.
There is one more issue that remains to be discussed here. The Khirkee episode. It is true that there was an element of racism in the way the othering of Africans in Khirkee took place – and Minister Somnath Bharti seems to have gone along with the flow. But that in itself does not make Bharti a racist and AAP a racist party. At any rate, it is now clear from all the reports that have subsequently emerged that there are serious issues between the local residents and some of the Africans staying there. And these issues relating to drugs and sex-work have created conflicts locally. The way Somnath Bharti took up the issue further stirred up the muddy waters, leaving no space for any sane discussion. It may well be that the police is in league with drug peddlers and traffickers, going by their record elsewhere in Delhi. But the minister does not have seem to have done the ground work in building up a public case against the police before he moved into action. A solid case could have been made by creating a paper trail and by campaigning in the mainstream and non-mainstream media. A simultaneous effort to initiate a conversation within the locality too might have helped, especially because the party is so deeply invested in the creation of mohalla sabhas. The debate, in other words, should have preceded the unnecessarily dramatic intervention by the minister with full media fanfare .
Finally, some friends have caught on to the term ‘post-ideological’ that I among others, had used. They have argued to the effect that people who are racist cannot possibly be free of ideology. Some others believe that being post-ideological is another name for being of ‘loose morals’. Ideology to them is the opposite of vacuousness and lack of substance. As a matter of fact, to my mind, ideologies are closed systems and inimical to any kind of critical thinking. They provide the groove within which we can think, and define the limits of what we can think and what we cannot. In that sense, being post-ideological, to my mind is to court a certain openness, free of the debilitating dichotomies of the past century. But when we use the term ‘post-ideological’ for a party, it could mean something different. Individual members and leaders might have some kind of ideological commitment but insofar as the party itself is not quite a party of the ideological sort, it has the space for all kinds of voices and positions. True, this situation cannot last for all perpetuity. Gradually the party will have to reach a shared understanding about many crucial issues. But that shared understanding does not have to emerge from an ideology. Take the case of AAP’s relationship to corporate capital. One clearly ideological way of dealing with it would be to declare itself an ‘anti-capitalist’ party – and let loose all the demons that that term can call forth. The other way would be to insist, like AAP does, on the simple idea that being a private corporation does not exempt you from the laws of the land. You must be subject to the same regulation, the same anti-corruption laws, that everybody else is. You cannot, likewise, get any special benefits simply because you are a corporation. Can even the most right wing person on AAP’s economic affairs committee oppose this? This may sound to some like a recipe for a reform that will perpetuate capitalism. However, since all throughout the last century, we have only seen revolutionaries build capitalism after revolution, there is no harm in trying out this option. Who knows what changes capitalism may undergo once it is brought under transparent public accountability?
37 thoughts on “In Defense of the ‘Post-Ideological’ Aam Aadmi – Yet Again!”
Something I wrote.
I felt sad reading this. I deeply admired Aditya Nigam’s contribution till I read this. It is the same way in which Alexcallinicos and co. of SWP defended the dissenting feminists with in the party last year. This is the way Sara Joseph also indirectly defended Kumar Bishwas. My own family members, as professional nurses and Keralites and women… how much hurt, they are. How can they forget it as past…. I think now I will stop criticising CPM. Why only to single them out…. Aijaz Ahmad is wrong… power is ontology…. Foucault wins…..After reading Aditya and awed by his intellectual authority, for a brief span even a nobody like me developed a soft corner for AAP last month. No more.(In fact, I almost stopped reading Zizek (it is not that I fully understood Zizek’s magnum opus Less than nothing) after Aditya’s last year article critical of him and was reading Mignolo. Now I should restart Zizek again) . May be some body of Suddhabrata or Kavita’s calibre will give a reply and clear the muddle in my brain…..No offence….a democratic disagreement.
Sorry I meant Alex callinicos and co defended the party against dissenting feminist
“Who knows what changes capitalism may undergo once it is brought under transparent public accountability?” What is that? Is it like Somnath Bharti’s accountability to Khirki residents? You started the article as if you disagree with the positions of AAP on Somnath and ended up defending the same. I wonder while propagating a “post-ideological” party which for me mean nothing but disarray you forgot to maintain the coherence of your arguments. Atleast you should make you position clear to the readers of Kafila.
Can capitalism be regulated tranparently by public? I cannot find a single instance in world history. Do you have one? Please share it with us.
I am sure there is always a first time! Or no? Everything is the eternal return of the same? In any case, if one has to go through the rigours of a so-called socialist revolution, only to build more capitalism, more violently (look at China), then perhaps, for the time being, till you come out with a better and more convincing blueprint, let me continue with this do-able idea…
Though I don’t entirely agree with Aditya’s article but I’m dumbfounded by your comment on “maintaining capitalism” and asking for an example. Look back at all possible examples where revolutions promised to overthrow capitalism and where are they today? China, and specially after their last set of reforms deregulating the few sectors that were still under state control, the Chinese state is far more aggressively capitalist than most others. And I sincerely hope that North Korea isn’t an example you’d like to sprout as socialism.
In fact, the only left which has in the recent past been able to pose a threat to imperialism is the Latin American Left. From Chavez to Morales, they’ve all come to power democratically and have dumped the painfully stifling Leninist party structures and have also dumped the classical communist project. Capitalism is being ‘regulated’ there and how!
Another point- Where I do disagree with Aditya is the acceptance of a completely loose, undefined politics where even broader ideological contours are not guiding AAP.
For example, where do they stand on issues of social justice? And to rely on majoritarian sentiments here can be very VERY dicey and counter-productive.
Let’s take one example- A young girl in Haryana wanting to marry out of choice. And a marriage which is considered contentious. Would the AAP rely on majoritarian sentiments to determine whether they’ll protect the girl’s right to marry out of choice? Majoritarian opinions can even be manufactured in circumstances like this. Very often a silent majority has to go along with the diktats of the dominant caste leaders of that village (even if they may be secretly opposed to their decision). And so, the majoritarian decision can at a time like this can be in gross violation of the girl’s human rights.
Similarly in some villages in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts where entire Muslim populations have been displaced in the recent anti-Muslim violence. Perceived majoritarian sentiments can prove to be very fatal to the minority community in such a case.
(And one could endlessly come up with several such examples).
I feel it is for AAP to define at least some basic socio-political-economic guidelines for their party even if not a clearly defined ‘ism’.
Moreover, AAP needs to be more open to alliances (electoral and non -electoral) with several mass organisations and activists on the ground and not just expect to co-opt everyone into their party. As of now they’ve shown great reluctance to do that. Their ‘ekla chao re’ mantra is beginning to sound painfully arrogant.
I think AAP’s position on social justice is pretty clear. They were against the s 377 judgment. And I’m sure they’ll be against anyone who says a girl has no right to choose her own spouse. It is obvious to me that AAP tempers majoritarianism with fundamental rights (which includes minority rights).
Let us remember one more thing. In being anti-corruption to a fault, AAP is not majoritarian. The majority in this country doesn’t mind being corrupt. This includes almost every person who pays or receives cash for property transactions, underreports income (however small it may be), pays some middleman to get a ration card or any other service from the Government, pays 100 bucks to a traffic cop instead of paying a fine, pays hafta to a policeman to let him run an illegal roadside stall… Most people deal with authority at some level or the other. And when they do, they usually do so corruptly.
The example of Venezuela is not admissible. 50 % of its GDP and 95 % of its exports are petroleum based. In addition, the country imports two-thirds of its food needs. As such it is extremely vulnerable to the kind of oil-grain shock held as one of the key reasons for the Soviet Union’s collapse, http://www.aei.org/files/2007/04/19/20070419_Gaidar.pdf
Personally, the only way I see capitalism being properly regulated is through a fully democratic, decentralized polity with high levels of institutionalized public participation (Sweden and Finland are the closest examples I can think of). And the AAP is a small step in that direction.
Switzerland has as pure a form of capitalism as can be found anywhere. It is pretty well regulated and most often by public initiative. Most recently they had an initiative to restrict the inequality in incomes by imposing a maximum. The initiative failed by public choice and everyone accepted it . The country is also one of the most equitable society. Rich and the poor go to same schools and universities. Overall capitalism works very well here.
in today;s interview Kejriwal says that some son of industrialist told him how to define their economic policy and that is ‘honest politics’ and ‘economy is not the cause but outcome’
AAP seems to be the only party (apart from the likes of Gurudas Dasgupta) with a mass base who have the courage to take on the Ambanis. Something extraordinary happened in the last one week. For the first time in recent memory a party is making the corruption by an industrialist like Mukesh Ambani, who pretty much owns the country, an election issue, and media is covering it! This is reason enough for me to support the AAP. See this link.
You make several important points. One article, perhaps, is not enough. Two of the following points need to be dealt with in separate articles:
1. “The debate, in other words, should have preceded the unnecessarily dramatic intervention by the minister with full media fanfare .”
2. “As a matter of fact, to my mind, ideologies are closed systems and inimical to any kind of critical thinking. They provide the groove within which we can think, and define the limits of what we can think and what we cannot.”
Point 1 is about strategy. Point 2 is about feasible processes required to achieve goals, be they static or dynamic in nature. Of course, these two points are related. So further write ups could follow. I look forward to reading your thoughts on these issues … as always.
China could be a good starting point. It provides an interesting case study of how static processes have been fine-tuned into dynamic processes. A blend of confucianism, communism and capitalism. Will flexibility work in a highly hypocritical society like ours?
The gem of this piece: “ideologies are closed systems”.
They draw ‘lakshman rekhas’ around what you can think, or what you can do. Point well made.
Point to be also discussed is, how is “post-ideological” different from “pre-ideological” ? If both are equally devoid of ideological structure and associated constraints, then what was the whole point….are we back to square one ?
That point about clarity – look they began by protesting the state of the nation, the lack of accountability and so on and decided to become a part of the system to change the way it functions, which is by far the most awesome thing I have seen happen in this country. All we do is talk and criticise and here is an entity that formed itself because they wanted to be the change. Nothing short of exceptional and I was glad someone finally had the balls to do it. And, when you graduate from protest to governance, you need to have an opinion about things other than corruption. It’s that simple. Not all the issues in all the world, but definitely the issues that your area of governance is dealing with.
Second, this country’s 24-hour news media is legend when it comes to making too much of nothing and that is exactly why AAP ended up looking stupid for no reason. No one is questioning Arvind Kejriwal’s civil rights as a citizen of our democracy, but as a Chief Minister, the expectations are on a different scale altogether. I’m not being stupid here, please look at the response to his junta darbar. He’s being treated as a messiah and one mistake, any mistake is all his opposition needs to bring him down, and boy did they. The 24-hour news media and everyone else joined in the chorus.
What people fail to understand is that Indians are in a race to get everything done all at once. This behaviour is obvious at toll booths, in temples, on the road, while getting off trains and buses and airplanes… the same people have voted for KEjriwal, and the same mindset is at play here as well – he said he’s corruption free and will get things done, and until he gets it done, people are going to keep badgering him. He needs to get used to it.
I am very disappointed by this piece. ‘There was an element of racism’ but that does not make Bharti or AAP racist? Can one extenuate the Law Minister’s vigilantism by relegating its racist element to some undefined, non-personal vehicle? Nigam himself notes other ways in which the problem, if there is one, could have been handled. If Bharti chose the path of midnight, racist vigilantism, he is to blame and the party should censure him. Why is Nigam trying to defend the indefensible? Any the end, he speaks of the simple rule of adherence to the law of the land. In my view, it is by that simple rule that Bharti was at fault.
“It is simply arrogant upper class presumptuousness to … hold their past against them (in the case of Vishwas)”.
Whoa! Does this apply to Modi?
The short answer: No it doesn’t. For the simple reason that Modi continues with the same politics from the days when he was an RSS pracharak. Gujarat 2002 is his present as well as there is no break. The ‘past’ here does not refer to mere lapse of time but of a move from one kind of politics or no politics to another.
An element of racism??? I think that’s a ridiculous understatement. Our obsession with ‘race’ and ‘colour’ has much more than ‘an element’ to do with how African nationals are treated in India. This is true of Khirkee as well. If the minister was a crusader against prostitution and drug-peddling in general, Khirkee was, by no stretch of the imagination, the most obvious place to start his ‘activism’. It is blatant racism at its worst, or a failed attempt at some easy publicity at best. To pass it off as anything else would be providing ‘unconditional support for a political organisation’. Let’s not even start with defending Viswas. That’s just continued proof of systemic bigotry in the country and just because its systemic does not mean you should defend it. To label anyone criticising his ‘jokes’ as the ‘presumptuous arrogance of the upper class’ is being, ironically, presumptuous and arrogant.
But, of course, a fledgling party like AAP can be given more time and latitude in finding an identity, if it’s required at all.
In particualr with ‘ Our obsession with ‘race’ and ‘colour’ has much more than ‘an element’ to do with how African nationals are treated in India. This is true of Khirkee as well. If the minister was a crusader against prostitution and drug-peddling in general, Khirkee was, by no stretch of the imagination, the most obvious place to start his ‘activism’. It is blatant racism at its worst, or a failed attempt at some easy publicity at best. To pass it off as anything else would be providing ‘unconditional support for a political organisation’
What i cant understand is why is the need being felt to reiterate again and again that ‘serious’ problems of residents exist ? Do not such problems exist in most cases of communal/racial/ethnic profiling ? what are non serious issues underlying different kinds of racisms? Has it even been denied? But does it lead us to state that in this manner everytime we condemn or criticize an openly communal/racist/xenophobic action? And is there merely an ‘element of racism ‘ involved? Reading the RWA pamphlets and seeing the reactions and comments of some of the khirkee residents make it amply clear that they are no exception to bias against ‘black africans’ despite the fact that many of them are economically dependent on them , if ‘white caucasians ‘ were involved for instance , neither such easy stereotyping as ‘drug and sex peddling ‘nor such vigilantism would have occurred – there merely would have been more cases such as the rape of ‘Danish woman’ now and then . The underlying gendered and racial problematique is clear and this was also not even a ‘grey’ action , where there could be two sides !.
I find some of the arguments deeply problematic and surprising that aditya felt the need to even state them in this case and the extent to which people are going to enagage in deeply counterproductive exercises in exoneration !. Especially after his earlier principled stance on the same issue. A statement like “everybody can change and it is simply arrogant upper class presumptuousness to mock at the ‘uncouthness’ of someone or hold their past against them (in the case of Vishwas).” Firstly , there is a reason why the past of somebody who chooses to stand for a public office comes under the scanner in assessing them – it gives us a clue about where they are coming from. And secondly, i see nothing in Vishwas’s actions , speeches or demeanour which suggests a radical transformation – in such cases the onus is certainly not only on us to have good faith and presume change – it is also on the person himself to demonstrate that and holding up his past critically to him is important to bringing in an awareness of the problems and demand reflexivity on their own part.
I agree with the fact that the experiment in social engineering which brought AAP has led to an amorphous formation which is yet to crystallize as a moral and ideological force. But then surely it becomes even more , not less, important that racist, sexist, casteist xenophobic actions are censured in a transparent way right when they occur , given the amorphous idealogy ? especially in absence of visible signs of them being taken seriously by the party itself ? And so the problem with the action , the dharna and the entire agitation has to be put in perspective accordingly – you cannot see the dharna as an act with a moral economy of its own in such cases – and i’m not speaking of mainstream reactions over here but of the sections of progressive left which came down upon AAP. You simply cannot compartmentalize a sequence of events and isolate an act for scrutiny as having an autonomy and moral legitimacy of its own, when they were actually adding to what was in its entirety becoming more and more indefensible as a chain of events .
The problem, as i know aditya atleast is well aware of , was not with the fact that residents had complaints , whatever their merit , but the fact that an ‘aam aadmi ‘ now armed with power of the position of a law minister, behaved the way he did in response and the party in turn , out of several issues on which it could have chosen to do so on, chose to go on a dharna in his defence instead of even admitting there was even prima facie a problem with the action. It is immaterial what the congress did to escalate their defiance and perhaps the main reason why they called of the dharna was because beyond largely AAP members, the public for once failed to join them in large numbers despite their call – when earlier they had managed to canvass impressive support on several other issues .
Perhaps direct , unequivocal criticism is the best way at this juncture for those with any investment in the idea of AAP to serve the continued hope in AAP ‘s ability to emerge as a progressive force!Not such apologias in this case atleast .
just a curious thought, could such (Bharti) response have been articulated during the heyday of the freedom struggle, amid the ‘circumspect’ ideological context prevailing? Can we interrogate the notion of an ‘aam aadmi’ (everyman?) in an environment of plural (group/divergent) interests? In the event such a national ‘mean’ could be arrived at, what might it portend for (indigenous) alternatives, structures and institutions
1. For a moment, let’s keep aside the issues of ideology and strategy and ask one simple question: Is a person who is elected to office to uphold the law morally bound to follow the same law? The answer is a resounding yes. Bharti had no business to either ‘raid’ or strip search or cause anyone else to do the same to anyone (male, female, of whatever race), without following the procedure prescribed by law. And for this alone he should be pulled up. Even if one wants to argue that he wasn’t doing it and the ‘mob’ did it, he should have been doing everything in his power to stop them from doing so. Shame on the AAP for defending his actions.
2. The issue of ideology. One need not explicitly declare an ‘ism’ to have an ideology. The AAP, or any party for that matter, need not go much further than the Indian Constitution, in letter and spirit. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good place to start as far as an ideological framework goes.
The fundamental problem with the Indian polity is that our democracy is grossly skewed by structural inequalities – this is almost our defining feature. Any attempt to restore democratic balance would mean some kind of ‘socialism’, whether one wants to call it that or not. However the terminology is a little iffy – for instance, the main social base for the opposition to FDI in retail comes from farmers and small retailers, who are ‘capitalist’ in their own right. Vendors, hawkers, a large chunk of the unorganised sector. They are for-profit business entities. I’m not too sure whether a statist solution is the ideal one for certain sectors – agriculture, for instance.
From a development perspective, the basic problem in India, one that political parties since forever have failed to address, is that the state has neglected primary education and primary healthcare so spectacularly that choice and democracy are meaningless. Countries (even so called LDC’s) which became independent even after India have surged ahead because they took these two things as non-negotiables, and continue to do so for the most part. Most ‘capitalist’ countries in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa spend a higher proportion of their GDP on education and health than we do despite all our Nirmans and Abhiyaans. First empower people to choose (in the real sense of the word), only then will real choices emerge. Then people are smart enough to choose what they want, innovate and come up with new ideas where there is intellectual bankruptcy (after all Indians are good at jugaad), decide on their ‘isms’. Choice in our current setup with all its structural inequalities is a farce.
3. Strategy. Probably the Bharti incident was something nobody expected. I guess AAP will weather the storm, though I don’t like the way they are doing it. I would have liked to see a heartfelt apology with the same humility that Kejriwal displayed during his oath-taking ceremony. I don’t think they can make amends for what has happened – a true penance can only come in the form of a change in the public perception and behaviour towards, say, Africans or Northeasterners or any other group of people seen as different. But the AAP can still get back on track by focusing on the basics. Health. Education. Urban Transport. Effective regulation of capital. Rule of law (and that applies to party members too, by the way).
Thank you Mr Nigam for a balanced write up. It has been extremely disturbing to read articles in Kafila that, in the effort to appear politically correct to a ‘international’ audience, have neglected ground realities in their local context. It is an open secret that Nigerians peddle drugs. They have been dying so for years and are increasingly visible in Goa, Bombay and Delhi, carrying out their trade. There might be genuine students among them though I doubt that even Nigerians would travel so far to study in IGNOU. They are sexually aggressive and have molested women in public spaces in India-but we have been told that ‘butt-slapping is a part of their culture’. Girls who live in Khirki have been asked by their parents to quit work (and therefore new-found financial independence) because the lanes of Khirkee are riddled with drug peddlars and pimps – making it unsafe to come back home late. Abstract debates about the culpability of prostitutes is out of place in this particular situation as are debates about racism.
‘Artists and intellectuals living and working in Khirki’ who have spoken out for ‘our African brothers and sisters’ are either unaware of or oblivious to the very real discomfort/threat many residents of Khirkee experience on a daily basis. Unfortunately , one doesnt get to hear the voice of these people who are uncomfortable with living with their families among peddlars and pimps in a space like Kafila. What one has been hearing instead, stridently and ear-peircingly, are accusations of racism against people who simply cannot literally afford to indulge xenophobic feelings. They are forcec by their financial situation to rent out their flsts to whoever is ready to pay the best price.
Many of us may not seem any harm in drugs and prostitution and support movements that move to legalise both. But we have to be open to listening seriously to the concerns of those who have to suffer the fall out from actually living amongst gangs of drug peddlars and pimps.
Where is the proof? Really, where have you been?
I really think what is being missed out in these comments is the simple fact that its the minister’s actions which were inexcusable and racist – and no there was not merely ‘an element of racism’ in somnath bharti going with the ‘flow’ . One would not defend such an action on part of an ordinary citizen or even a khirki resident , let alone on the part of a law minister. Worse still was the party’s defence in such a clearly and unequivocally indefensible action..
PLease read elsewhere in kafila , the case has been made eloquently about what was wrong – it was the nature of the intervention which was decried not the fact that an intervention maybe needed . What is really genuine or not genuine about racism or communalism ? mapping the realities underlying it can help us diagnose the problem , not dismiss the problem itself or rationalise to legitimise the action !!And also please dont think its mere economic compulsion which drives khirki residents or residents of any urban village or for that matter locality to rent out to foriegn residents – good money , less danger of occupation and eviction issues etc are incentives- but the contradiction lies when you demand the gain but an insulation from interaction with other lifeworlds . And the source of conflict lies therein – as is often the case with communal/racist/ethnic tensions – it requires sensitive interventions and a dialogue for peaceful resolutions.
One correction about Vishvaas is that it is not just the past, even in Amethi he said, “I am a Brahmin’s son, have read Upnishads and will not break my promises.” Is this not upper caste chauvinism?
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.
Thanks everyone for all the comments. Tridib, I will try and come back to the issues you raise in a separate post – delinked from AAP and its current predicament.
Shikha, I am certainly not retracting from my earlier position but my earlier position itself was more about what I thought the incident portended. I read it as a warning signal of sorts. In the present post I am talking, not of the RWA or anything else but the actions of the minister – and to me so far there has not been any evidence of racism per se. Racial prejudice that runs like an undercurrent, often unarticulated, must certainly have been there – otherwise you cannot simply go with the flow. You have to be able to share those prejudices to flow with them. But I am sure you will also agree that such racial prejudice needs to be distinguished from a racist act, and a racist act needs to be distinguished from racism as such. These are not very fine distinctions – and they are important in thinking through many things we encounter in our everyday lives. A majority of Hindus share common Sangh Parivar type prejudices about the Muslims (irrespective of which party the belong to, if they do). But that does not mean that all of them actively participate in anti-Muslim activities. They do not necessary even indulge in communal acts and many who participate in actual communal riots do so out of very secular motives – say looting the property of a wealthy Muslim because there are chances of greater impunity that looting a wealthy Hindu. One could go on with the distinctions but let me leave this aside for now. I might come back with a longer post separate from this incident and AAP later.
All such nuances were lost in the cacophony of the mainstream media which relentlessly reduced the entire incident to ‘racism’ and the ‘racist action’ of Somnath Bharti – the Sagarpur case of Neha Yadav too was sidelined. And when the BJP takes up the banner of antiracism, I smell a rat! Just look at the way the campaign became a Congress-BJP tango and I also cannot but help noticing that there was an orchestration of the ‘racism’ issue with all sorts of interests jumping into the fray. And predictably, the entire matter was reduced to that one big farce of Indian democracy – the demand for resignation. This is the most knee-jerk response to any situation. You don’t have to think, just say ‘resign’. As if every issue is simply a matter of a particular person being in a particular place. No analysis, no thought is required after that. This media cacophony was symphony to many ears and I wanted to distance myself from that.
Great article, Comrade. Having worked with you in SFI in my University days, I have known you for practical and pragmatic ideas.
Wanted to comment on this earlier, hope this is not too late.
I have a number of problems with the argument here, but let’s focus on two big ones. The first arises, I think, from the vagueness of the word ‘ideology’. This term can mean almost anything, but in particular there are four broad definitions: 1) dogmatic ‘blind’ adherence to certain beliefs; 2) at an organisational level, a collective shared way of analysing the world (i.e. not merely beliefs but a certain method); 3) at an individual level, a method to ‘make sense’ of the world, in which case no human being can function without ideology. You seem to prefer the first definition, whereas I prefer the third definition, since no other seems to be possible to define in any consistent way (one person’s dogma is another person’s rational conclusion, etc.) However, for an organisation, particularly one seeking to challenge the status quo, ideology in the sense of point 2 is most critical. At present you also seem to feel that AAP does not have this, and that this situation will not sustain itself. But it is one thing to merely not have a shared understanding, and another to contain within oneself mutually contradictory and completely incompatible understandings – particularly on the question of power. The problem arises because AAP is not functioning in a vacuum; it is not a study circle that can seek to mutually resolve its differences. It is a political party that claims to be about confronting power. Inevitably, when it does so, it will come under the hammer, as it already has. At that time, in the absence of any agreement on whether to confront power or not, it will have a strong tendency to comply with the status quo on major issues. I think this is the problem. if you look at every other ‘new’ Indian party – the BSP, the regional parties, even the BJP – they have all entered the stage of confrontation with some kind of a shared understanding about which axis of power they will seek to challenge. What is AAP’s understanding on this? And why should anyone believe it is a progressive party when it does not express such an understanding?
The resulting confusion spills over into your own argument. You said in your previous post Khirki article that the party leadership should hold workshops and study circles. On what, precisely? On how to physically raid “sex and drug rackets”? On how to tactically convert an illegal attempt at abduction and assault into anger against the Delhi Police? Or, as you seem to desire them to do, on racism and vigilantism? Which one of these is in keeping with AAP’s approach? The answer at present is: all three, though the first two much more than the third. And which of these lines do you think is likely to emerge stronger during a confrontation with the ruling elite?
Similarly, you claim AAP’s understanding of economic policy might be that “being a private corporation does not exempt you from the laws of the land,” and imply that this is a good thing. Really? Presumably the laws of the land include the SEZ Act, the Indian Forest Act, the SEBI regulations permitting participatory notes, the double tax avoidance agreement with Mauritius, the policies promoting contract farming, the JNURM regulations on user fees, etc. Never mind regulating capitalism – how on earth is this going to even confront the most obvious injustices of neoliberalism? Have you too begun to believe that neoliberalism is all right as long as it is legal? The most dangerous things done by corporations in this country are precisely done through the law, not against the law. Incidentally you then contradict yourself by stating that “You cannot, likewise, get any special benefits simply because you are a corporation” as if that is the same thing – when any corporate investor worth his salt, including, I am sure, Meera Sanyal and Sanjeev Aga, would say precisely the opposite (with different words of course).
Re Kumar Vishwas:
Yes I admit to “upper class arrogance” in deciding to tweet the video link to KV’s “kali-peeli” remarks. Aditya I suggest you take time off to go through KV’s 2013 tweets. Kavita Krishnan sent me a sample:1.Is Ishrat’s death more important than the deaths of thousands of innocents in Uttarakhand? 2. When will Indians understand the difference between “ahinsak” and “napunsak”? When the enemy (Pak) has entered our homes? 3.After Raghavji rupee should be arrested for unnatural downfall. 4. From nationalist RSS to corrupt BJP what a transformation.5. (Shinde) doing shameless appeasement politics
I really think Vishwas should have joined the BJP. Or better still the RSS. He can cleanse the BJP from inside.
Vidya, I do not disagree with you on what Kumar Vishwas is, but I do disagree that all such people should be in the BJP or RSS. My understanding, on the contrary, is that all such people who are there should not be there – wherever else they are. That is the basic point about all politics – of winning over people to your politics and this, unfortunately only happens in small steps. This is the crux of my disagreement with my ‘biradari’, so to speak, most of whom would rather expel, excommunicate everyone but the purest. That is why they always lose the battle. The risk of doing mass politics is a big risk but one that has to be taken – else what I hear you saying is that they should go and vote for Modi.
Shankar, my views on neo-liberalism and capitalism are there in print in a number of places as well as elsewhere on this blog This is not the place to elaborate on them. However, your ‘Really?’ was stunning in its rhetoric. Can you tell me of a single Left party – Marxist, Communist or whatever – which has not ultimately reduced itself to the pathos of ‘building capitalism’ after going through heroic revolutions! (The only exception at the moment that I can think of is Castro’s Cuba – but it is largely due to the economic blockade that they went in for innovations of various kinds). Why blame AAP which claims no such thing.
As usual you indulge in what I have earlier referred to as ‘wishful reading’ of my posts – especially where you refer to my ‘confusion’ – let us leave this matter here. Your clarity is heartrending! A small dwindling community of pure Leftists produces a whole list of criteria on which to judge the purity of somebody else’s commitments who has no claim to its ideology – and the irony, of course, is that for this community the weapon of criticism is never turned inwards. Just ask yourself what your ideological purity and clarity (even by your definition – which, if your comment is anything to go by is a version of my definition!) has delivered. Politically or otherwise. We will have some ground to discuss AAP after that.
I think my wishful misreading of your article may have been reciprocated by your wishful misreading of my comment :). It’s in fact because of your position on neoliberalism that I’m surprised at the argument that “making corporates follow the law” is assumed to be an advance on the current situation; or how it is argued that this is the same as “transparent” and “accountable” control over corporates. I’m not sure how this fits with the understanding of neoliberalism argued by you and most others on Kafila. That is all I meant by “confusion.”
I don’t lay much claim that either I or the organisations I’m affiliated to has any ideological purity or clarity – if anything we are as confused and diverse as AAP. Indeed if you’ll note, in my comment, I’ve made implicit comparisons not with “ideological purity and clarity” on the left but with the BSP, the regional parties and even the BJP. Where I think the distinction between all of these forces and AAP is that they all had /have some internally shared collective undestanding regarding the axis of power that they intended to change (either to challenge or to reinforce) in Indian society. AAP does not seem to have agreement on this issue, and hence there are likely political consequences, which is what I am arguing one should be concerned with.
For the record, I do think that we as well as literally hundreds of other organisations have achieved a great deal. Indeed, so has the party left. Every formation has its possibilities and limitations. I think we mislead ourselves deeply if we think that the alternative is between AAP on the one hand and a “pathetic’ and “failed” left – and that nothing else exists in Indian politics. This does not permit of a real analysis of either.