Well, Information and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal’s prickly suggestion to pre-screen content on social networks like Google, Facebook and Twitter, has invited such derision from the internet world that it has given him a tag to his name – Idiot Sibal. For iSibal, it’s not his status on Facebook that should bother him, but the ruinous unmasking of the minister in status-anxiety New Delhi. Sibal, after all, prides himself in belonging to the elite movers and shakers of the Capital – educated, connected, and gold card holder of the Stephen’s Old Boys Network. For the status seekers, this is a world of privilege and entitlement, cosmopolitanism and tolerance.
Now you would wonder what came over the blue-stockinged Technology Minister to make such an ill-thought out statement. Sibal’s liberal snobbery is not always what it seems to be, for there is a lurking autocratic and despotic streak, even archaic at times, that has surfaced time and again. And it is this aspect that has largely been ignored in the bedlam over his latest decree to social network companies.
In an earlier post, (hits to which have broken all records on Kafila), Shuddhabrata Sengupta has raised some extremely important points in the context of the media-simulated coverage and celebrations around the ‘Anna Hazare’ movement. I agree with the central argument made by Shuddha – which is about the authoritarian, indeed totalitarian implications of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill (though, as many commentators to the post have pointed out, the Bill really remains to be drafted and passed in parliament).
I have no doubt whatsoever that any demand that simply seeks a law of the sort that has been raised by the movement (even in the proposed form), is completely counterproductive. Indeed, it is naive. Matters like corruption or communalism cannot simply be legislated out of existence through tougher laws. Inevitably, they will lead us up to China type situations where you will end up demanding summary trials and executions. Even in the best of cases, a law and state-dependent mode of addressing such problems, adds to the powers of a corrupt bureaucracy. I also agree with his (and Bobby Kunhu’s) criticisms of some aspects of what they have both chosen to designate as ‘mass hysteria’ of sorts – I certainly do not agree with this description but that need not detain us here. I am interested in something else here and that has to do with the way the movement has struck a chord among unprecedentedly large numbers of people – mainly middle class people I am sure, but the support for it is not just confined to them. In fact, on the third day of the dharna at Jantar Mantar I received an excited call from a CPM leader who works among the peasants in villages of northern India in the Kisan Sabha, about the response to the movement he had encountered in his constituency. I doubt that this was a support simulated either by the government or by the electronic media. Continue reading ‘Anna Hazare’, Democracy and Politics: A Response to Shuddhabrata Sengupta→