In an earlier post last month, I had discussed the global rise of the Right as related to the revolt of the ‘little man’ (a term I borrow from Wilhelm Reich) and his search for a ‘father-figure’ of authority. I had also argued in that post that the revolt of the little man in itself could not have led to the rise of the Right, were it not for the ways in which Capital moved to appropriate and channelize that revolt against the Left and Left-of-Centre politics – and regimes that dominated the scene earlier. It is virtually impossible to understand this huge tectonic shift in the politics of the past few decades without understanding the conjunction of the little man and Capital – the Big Men – as it were. No less important, it is impossible to understand this shift without understanding the revolt of the liittle man in relation to the different structures of privilege that appear before us as culturally encoded power relations – as tradition, as ‘our way of doing things’, so to speak.
Ramesh has been working as a daily wager in a Government of India office in Delhi for ten years. He is one of the army of peons, office assistants, security guards, gardeners, and cleaning staff which government offices, city municipalities, hospitals, schools and colleges of the metropolis employ regularly. He is a graduate, but gets the wage of an unskilled worker. He is among the fortunate ones who at least get government mandated minimum wage. Most private employers in the city violate the minimum wage act; either they pay less than the mandated amount, or make daily wagers work more than eight hours without any overtime.
Ramesh was pleasantly surprised this April when he noted a more than 30% increase in his wages. His daily wage that stood at Rs 360/ earlier was now Rs 513/. This was due to a Government of Delhi notification issued on 3rd March, 2017. The news was covered in the inner pages of some newspapers. Most TV news channels ignored it. Hence, it is not surprising that employees like Ramesh who are not associated with any organsiation of workers were not aware of this increase. Continue reading The Elephant in the Room – Silence on Class Issues in Indian Politics : Sanjay Kumar→
The BJP’s appointment of Adityanath to the post of UP CM once electoral victory was secured has left many angry, sad and frightened. Already the ominous signs of inhuman mass violence are accelerating across UP. A more brazen Sangh will pivot off UP to spread terror and hatred across the country. And yet, we must guard against an excessive pessimism and guide the anger and the sadness in productive directions. The 2014 Lok Sabha, 2015 Delhi and Bihar and 2017 UP elections together are indicative of an evolving structural logic in Indian politics and show telltale signs of irresolvable contradictions that the Sangh is faced with. Modi and the BJP are riding a wave that is not entirely of their own making – a wave that will necessarily crest, break and crash in the not too distant future. How soon this wave can be interrupted, and what happens after that, does not depend on them, but on the rest of us.
So here then is the puzzle: Why do so many people support what is both an absurd and an unrealizable ideology? Absurd, because poverty, caste discrimination, corruption and government failures are not due to “enemies” or “enemy communities”- Muslims or Leftists, LoveJihadis or Beef eaters; and unrealizable because with over 400 million minorities and oppressed castes who will not fit into Hindu Rashtra, the saffron brigade can only deliver a horrific civil war. Does UP mean that, despite all this absurdity, this ideology has nevertheless triumphed in the Indian mind? Continue reading Stepping Back/Stepping Forward – Thinking Past the BJP Victory in UP: Biju Mathew→
As I read it, neither Aditya, nor Partha nor Gyan seems to deny that the Anna Hazare movement is populist. The debate here seems to be about: what kind of populism is it? Aditya is saying that this populism can lead to progressive political consequences, ‘by the presence of an anti-institutional dimension, of a certain challenge to political normalization’, while Partha (and Gyan too if I read him correctly) seem to be arguing that this populism is not progressive even if sometimes anti-institutional. And here Aditya reads Laclau contra Partha: that populism may indeed be the royal road to the constitution of the political. Partha and Gyan maintain that this populism works with a notion of ‘we the people’ who are free from corruption defined against ‘they the corrupt enemy’ (the government and netas). This ‘we the people’ can very well gloss over all internal contradictions, social divides and heterogeneities – hence Gyan points out that Dalits and minorities will not be counted or simply assumed away.
In following the discussion on the Anna Hazare phenomenon, I have found the references to populism very interesting. In response to Partha, Aditya reminds us that populism should not be dismissed as non-political or anti-political. Partha clarified that he does not regard Anna Hazare’s populism as anti-political but as anti party-politics and anti government. Team Anna narrowly defines politics as the domain of party politics and the government, which it then identifies with corruption. Om Puri’s rant and Kiran Bedi’s vaudeville performance expressed this sentiment. Politics means netas, who are corrupt. References to 2G, CWG, Kalmadi, and various land scams refer to politics in this sense. Such a definition of politics allows the claim that the gathering at Ramlila was non-political or beyond politics. Anna as a saintly Gandhian figure who does not seek office, and the status of Kiran Bedi and Kejriwal as civil society members, contributed to the representation that the mobilization of the “people” transcended politics.
I have been trying to make sense of the Anna Hazare event. I agree that it was historical, but was it a tragedy, or a farce? The swift exchange between Partha Chatterjee (PC) and Aditya Nigam (AN) and their reference to Ernesto Laclau and ‘populism’ have given me a familiar frame to enter into the debate around the event. Here, I will concentrate on the question of populism and its normative status. However, unlike PC and AN, I have got nothing to offer to ‘the Left’ (Independent or Dependent), because I am not a leftist, rather one who likes sitting on the fence on a nice arm-chair and this piece will perhaps bear an imprint of that position. Also, apologies are due to the readers of Kafila as I have not read, just browsed through, the two pieces written by Shuddhabrata Sengupta, which have been wildly popular – if Facebook is an indicator – and have been referred to by both PC and AN. Therefore, I might be repeating what Sengupta has already said.
Partha Chatterjee’s post, following on Shuddha’s Hazare Khwahishein… is something of an eye-opener for me. I will not enter into a debate with him on his reading of Shuddha’s post as Shuddha and I have had our long online and offline exchanges and I have learnt immensely from these exchanges, even if a core of disagreement persists. I do think, however, that Partha is mistaken in thinking that this is the first time the question of corruption has been discussed on Kafila or elsewhere but since I am not interested in discussing that question here, I will leave that matter aside. I think I have said pretty much what I wanted to say on the movement and the myriad issues related to it and so I am no more interested in going over that territory all over again. Interested readers can see the Kafila archives if they so wish.
What has been an eye-opener for me is the way a certain other Partha Chatterjee has emerged, as soon as his theories were brought face to face with the hurly-burly of politics. The imprint of this other Partha is clearly evident in every word and sentence of this post, but most clearly in the concluding sentence where he claims that the indepdent Left has ‘its populist moment in Nandigram’. This sentence encapuslates the gist of our disagreements. It was this assessment that led Partha to write the essay, ‘Democracy and Economic Transformation‘ where, in some elliptical fashion, his own discomfort with popular politics found expression. That is when he extended the definition of ‘political society’ to say that it was the sphere of ‘management of ‘non-corporate capital’ (of course, by capital and government). That Partha links his discomfort over the Anna Hazare movement to his discomfort over Nandigram, is in my view, a sign of the fact that his idea of ‘political society’ lies in ruins, that it collapsed at the precise moment of its encounter with the popular.