The Anna Hazare Movement and the Second Generation Reform

September 4, 2011

by Vishnu Sharma

The Anna Hazare’s Anti-Corruption Movement has become an important point of discussion among the general public as well as intellectuals. The first reaction, although mistaken, was that is a battle between the democracy and the oligarchy comprising feudal elites of Indian society who have taken over the parliament, which represented democracy. The second reaction was from the left perspective which was often confusing. Initially it refused to accept it as a movement but later, when it grew ‘big’ -thanks to the corporate media, it gave it a ‘conditional’ support fearing isolation from the ‘masses’. The confusion was due to the demands put forth by movement and the support of the corporate it was getting. Both anti-thesis to each other in form and in essence. The left could not judge what the Team Anna was fighting for and hence was unable to educate the masses. The left also didn’t see that through the Anna Movement the Indian state is initiating the second generation reform. In this phase the major issue is the reform in the bureaucracy. During the first generation reform Ram Mandir hysteria was created this time corruption became the logic of reform.

Although the reforms were initiated- in 1991- but were put ‘slow’ because of the democratic pressure. The era of coalition, which was again a reflection of confusion prevailing among the masses, became the major hurdle for the speedy reform as demanded by the investors. Montek S. Ahluwalia described it as ‘gradualist economic reforms’ and suggested that, ‘this reduced politically divisive controversy, and enabled a consensus of sorts to evolve, but it also meant that the consensus at each point represented a compromise, with many interested groups joining only because they believed that reforms would not go “too far”. The result was a process of change that was not so much gradualist as fitful and opportunistic.’[i]

On the one hand reform demanded pace and not gradualism on the other hand it was ‘restricted’ because of democratic space of Indian system. So the well wishers of reforms moved to trace the democratic space for pressurizing the state for the reforms. In this backdrop the rise of ‘civil society’ could be understood. In the book ‘Social Movements and State Power’ James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer argue, ‘Reconsideration of the limits of state action also led to an increased awareness of the potential role of civic organizations in the provision of public goods and social services, either separately or in a ‘synergistic’ relationship with state institutions. In this context, the idea of ‘civil society,’ like that of ‘globalization,’ was converted into a discursive weapon and ideological tool in service of advancing the neoliberal agenda.’[ii]

In a way the Anna movement could also be seen in this context. It has taken over the issue of reform in the field of bureaucracy which is the most sought after agenda for the proponent of the reforms as they see the bureaucracy frozen in the Nehruvian times as the major obstacle to their agenda. A study by Arvind Panagariya on behalf of The Asia Development Bank suggests, ‘the reform of bureaucracy is essential. The problem of a bloated bureaucracy and the need for downsizing it is well recognized. But with policy making becoming an increasingly sophisticated and specialized activity, it is necessary to open the top bureaucracy to outside specialists. One proposal, made by the present author, is to open the positions at the level of Joint Secretary and above to outsiders rather than limiting competition to the existing bureaucracy as is the current practice.’[iii]

This could work as a point of reference for understanding the Anna Movement. The movement traced the growing anti-corruption feeling among the Indian people and funneled it for the reformist’s agenda of the corporate. The movement was not at all against the parliament as the very people in the parliament tried to show but it actually was powering the reformists inside the walls of the parliament to bypass the long arguments necessary in the parliamentary democracy. Had this movement not taken shape the parliament would have to go for a longer process of arguments and counter-arguments for this bill to go to the standing committee.

The movement was first tested in April for two days. It was not a presentation to the government but to the corporate to show that the Team Anna was worth supporting. The corporate understood but they saw problem in Baba Ramdev who due to his political ambition was ‘actually’ fanning the issue of the corruption among his supporters. The ‘black money’ issue was against the corporate interest hence they could not entertain Baba for too long. This also explains government’s ‘duel’ approach for the ‘single’ issue of corruption. It used force against one and bowed down in front of another. Had Baba Ramdev adjusted according to wish of the corporate he could have been well accommodated in the stage.

From this angle Left must work. The Ramdev episode shows that the Team Anna was not against corruption as was being propagated but for the reform in the bureaucracy. The bill if passed would surely accelerate the process of reform which somehow get slow due to the ‘hurdle’ created by the bureaucracy. One thing should be noted here is that the hurdle is not created because of some goodwill prevailing in the bureaucracy but only because of their working style which demanded tip every time the file moved. An extra burden on corporate.

So what was in the bill that they wanted it to pass immediately? Unlike government’s bill, which wanted only higher bureaucracy to be investigated by the Lokpal, the Janlokpal Bill as suggested by the Team Anna wants to include total bureaucracy under the realm of the Lokpal Committee. The government’s bill could have worked well for the corporate but would have surely exposed the Team Anna. It could also have given space to the other political parties to take the initiative to make it an issue against the government which Team Anna wanted to avoid at any cost.

Now we come to question: why social movements and not political or why ‘civil society’ instead of political party? To answer this question first let us go back and re-read the history of India since 1991. It was in this year that the government of India agreed to the policy of reform in the backdrop of crisis ridden economy. The conditions for bailout as advanced by the IMF were heavy reforms which were against the idea of welfare state practiced since 1950. The pressure was built from both outside and inside. If the congress didn’t surrender to the demands the IMF would put it weight behind the neo-fascist group which had already demonstrated it might during Ayodhya ‘movement’ and had already committed itself for economic reforms. Along with this the national bourgeois also changed it class alliance. Unlike previously when it wanted restriction on the home market so that it could grow now it needed foreign capital and technology.[iv] The other important factor is during last ten years the imperialism had tried to project itself against fundamentalism and for ‘democracy’. This is because its honeymoon with fundamental during 1980s has not born desired fruits instead it has given it a negative image. In Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan the fundamental forces have threatened the same arrangement which they once promised to safeguard! So to put weight behind it could have boomeranged. Hence for corporate, as James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer suggest: … ‘civil society’ was seen as an agent for limiting authoritarian government, strengthening popular empowerment, reducing the socially atomizing and unsettling effects of market forces, enforcing political accountability, and improving the quality and inclusiveness of governance.[v] That is why we could see the emergence of multitude of NGOs in every corner of world which are funded and supported by the big multinationals. This alliance brings the same result without threatening the structure of the society.

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[i] Montek S. Ahluwalia, Economic Reforms in India since 1991: Has Gradualism Worked? Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2002

[ii] James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and State Power, page 10

[iii] Arvind Panagariya, India’s Economic Reforms What Has Been Accomplished? What Remains to Be Done?

[iv] Globalization and Development, Sunanda Sen page 28

[v] James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and State Power, page 10