Corruption and the ‘broom’

January 31, 2014

By Alok Bhattacharya

The ‘broom’ is out, out in the centre stage. Recent political news in the country is splashed with the phenomenon of corruption and the ‘broom’ that has emerged as the election symbol to shoulder the onus of driving corruption out of the country. In a distant simile, people familiar with the cartoons that came up just after October revolution in Russia in 1917 may recall a poster where Lenin was shown to drive capitalists out of the globe with a long broom in his hands. The current chief minister of Delhi obviously does not have such lofty preoccupation or volition – his declaration is much simpler to understand, he wants all corrupt people identified by one “Jan Lokpal” to be sent to jail. This is a more innocuous prescription than the thunder of the first prime minister of the country who fancied a new utilization of the lamp posts by hanging the corrupt onto them. Later, his worthy daughter during her prime ministerial tenure realized that corruption is a global phenomenon that needs adjustments starting from daily life of the ordinary to more serious state matters such as the so-called “Bofors scam” that came out during the time her elder son held the office of Prime Minister. The word “scam” became an integral part of political vocabulary of this country after the purchase of Bofors canons from the Swedish firm in late eighties. Now, we cannot even keep track of endless such scams such as “Coal Block scam”, “2G scam”, “CWG scam”, “VIP chopper scam”, “Tetra truck deal scam”, etc., etc., whose mind boggling figures in crores of rupees would make even the dead middleman of “Bofors scam” shy in his grave.

Still the broom is out in this world full of cynicism and nonchalance. It is out in the hands of people of Delhi who turned up in hordes to jam the polling booths of Delhi assembly election. Voting continued till late evening with a remarkable 72% of electorate casting their votes in a largely peaceful election to give ‘broom’ a chance to weed out corruption from Delhi’s public life. The impact of ‘broom’ in Delhi in national news is such that a three times elected chief minister from Madhya Pradesh who won convincingly on a social welfare plank for the poor or another feisty lady who ran through the fortress of election promises of previous government in Rajasthan have no presence in national news scene. Even their prime ministerial candidate whose daily calumny was always the first news in boldest headlines suddenly finds himself in the midst of new strategy planning sessions. His think-tank seems to have urgent need of refueling! It is now a fierce competition among the protégés and their proclamations – who will be the best actor in the drama of fight against corruption! “Catch the Delhi mood” is the current catchword of all political parties jumping in the arena of elections!

Like every mass upsurge, the events in Delhi have also a beginning – that is the parade of ordinary people of all walks of life in Ramlila Maidan in August 2011 centering around the fasting symbol of anti-corruption movement. The very image of an octogenarian fasting calmly with a firm resolve of demanding Lokpal to end corruption and graft in public life caught the imagination of common urban people. It is no denying that relentless and widespread coverage of the live scenes of fasting and speeches made at Ramlila Maidan along with organized presence and backing of right wing organizations galvanized the crowds in Ramlila Maidan, but that alone does not explain the momentum and nor was the principal reason behind gathering of people’s wrath. Suddenly people of Delhi discovered the language and expressions of protest, suddenly issues lying at the heart of people started finding new language of outburst. The institutions and symbols of power seemed easy to reach and near to be challenged. The mighty czars of power whose initial response was arresting the anti-corruption crusader on the eve of fast came to their knees when they started negotiating with complete outsiders to draft the provisions of Lokpal bill anew bypassing the parliament and the politicians therein. The parliament and state came to Ramlila Maidan for making peace with the octogenarian, government came to the stage of fasting with folded hands, and the urban civil society went back home sensing a moral victory over a Government that became synonymous with shielding the breed of corrupt politicians.

The fateful event of death of a young paramedic girl in December 2012 out of brutal rape by the scum of Delhi in a cold, wintry night in a private bus covered with all tinted glasses added a new dimension in the protestive mood of people. New motifs of protests erupted, young population in Delhi looked rebellious who even broke the barricades before the palace of President braving the chilly winter of Delhi, chased the then chief minister of Delhi away, in fact started questioning every mandarin of power, and targeted every “VIP”. For a brief interval of a week the sprawling lawns from India Gate to the seats of government power were filled with wandering hordes of youth whose wrath against police, administration, and politicians reminded the Tiananmen Square of Beijing, May 1989 or the very recent Tahrir Square of Cairo, February 2011. Most important, sensing the mood of protest the state machinery subsided to the role of a mere onlooker and an apologist knowing fully well that any repressive measure will bring the youth to a path of open revolt. The protests will no longer remain cordoned by the issue of security of womanhood in society; it will snowball towards open revolt against the insensitive, corrupt state machinery.

Both these two momentous events in quick succession paved towards political formation as a logical conclusion for the more confronting section of the civil society movement. The more aggressive section of the movement against corruption who demanded the “JanLokpal” sensed widespread disgust and vengeance of people of Delhi from all walks of life those are splurging out of the arena of traditional issue based civil liberty movement. The aspirations in the minds of people were asking for transparent answers to all burning issues of public life those cannot be sheltered only in TV debates nor could be couched only in sophisticated arguments and speeches against corruption by media experts. All these issues be it exorbitant and arbitrary power tariffs, scanty or no supply of water and widespread money making by musclemen out of water scarcity enjoying the protection of state, skyrocketing prices of daily vegetables, total insecurity of the millions living in shanties who thronged and barged in the capital in lure of livelihood were compounding, looking for somebody who can boldly declare “it is now enough – we need to have life”.

The “broom” seemed to be the most convincing symbol to these millions who switched traditional loyalties along caste, regional or communal lines by a huge swing of voting to reject soundly and convincingly the ruling dispensation in the throne of power for fifteen years in a row. It became voting not only against shielding the corrupt in public life, it became an assertion for the “aam admi” against the established norms of politicking when regular chest thumpers and brazen money bags had to eat the dust. The huge assemblage of people in the swearing in of ministers in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on 28th December 2013 probably had no parallel in Delhi. People were not ferried in hired transports of tycoons of political parties in the ceremony. They came spontaneously, lustily cheering the announcement from the new chief minister that the “aam admi” of Delhi became ministers on that occasion.

Here unfolded the true fallacy in the drama of public life! People went home from the public ceremony with the satisfaction that now “aam admi” will have say in governance – in fact, they were not looking at mirage. Within next two days came the announcement that water supply of 20 Kiloliters a month for all citizens will be free from the New Year till the end of financial year, next came 50% reduction in power tariff till the auditing of power supply companies are done by CAG. We may look for several such windfall announcements for the people of Delhi in the coming days demonstrating that Aam Admi Party (AAP) led government is working for the “aam admi”. People are made to believe that if a bunch of messiahs with strong intent come to power to serve and improve the basic issues of people’s living, it is possible to make the state machinery work for the people.

Old timers in Bengal will recall such good intention of protecting workers’ rights of trade union and living were proclaimed from the rotunda of Writers’ Buildings in 1977 and how the fate of industrial workers’ were sealed in the next three decades. Granting rights of tilling for the share croppers made waves in “operation barga” of 1978 those swept the panchayat elections of rural Bengal ushering the rule of so called “left front” for 35 years. Such lofty proclamations from the verandahs of power even in the new “paribartan” regime in Bengal are bitterly experienced among the landholders of Singur whose fate is now bitterly locked in lingering court room battles. The new Delhi government has a stiff challenge – they have a got a very small time window before the general election is announced for which green room rehearsals are now reaching at their peak for all the political parties to come out with all sorts of make believe promises. The current dispensation in Delhi government got evolved from a movement that lives closer to people’s daily needs and practices, therefore the pressure of expectations on the shoulders of AAP are also reaching astounding proportions for speedy and effective relief as they are now ambitious to be a big player in the theatre of general election.

But what is the fallacy there? What is wrong if a people’s movement outside the arena of corrupt and insensitive establishment can take on the establishment and try to orient the machinery of state towards the burning needs of the millions? What is wrong in the sudden change of gear of the debating experts of media that the rainbow of issues such as development and derivatives of growth rate, inflation and terrorism, uncertainty in the fluctuations of financial markets or insurgency in the north-east or Kashmir are no more topics of their burning debating points? All are riveted to the question whether the Delhi government be able to deliver its eighteen promises or not. It may not require lengthy explanations at least to the people of Bengal to answer the questions above. Suffice it to say that the color of flag does not matter when talking of reliefs to the people.

People in Bengal experienced the bitter shattering of dreams by allowing a dispensation to do this experimentation for more than three decades continuously and now going through the results of change for last two years where gimmicks are offered in lieu of reliefs. Quick announcement of relief from the current Delhi Government was possible not only because there is plenty in the coffers of Delhi state exchequer that states like Bengal could never boast of, but also because of the fact that being the capital of India the state government has very little to bear in terms of expenses. Otherwise it cannot be explained how the central government could grant such huge largesse for the commonwealth games held in Delhi in October 2010. When work on the Commonwealth Games began in 2006 the budget of the mega event was Rs. 22,000 crores. Four years later the budget was Rs. 30,000 crores. It was swollen by nearly 40 percent forcing the Delhi government to increase taxes and roll back crucial subsidies. Only the Commonwealth Village had a budget of Rs. 465 crores in 2004 and on the eve of the games it was Rs. 1400 crores showing how the budget of an international game event could jump by 40% as a fait accompli to brazen swindling by daylight.

Chorus of power tariff reduction is getting hoarser day by day from the vocal sections of the party who originally coined the ‘aam admi’ symbol seeing in horror that the plank is being hijacked by rank outsiders to the game of politicking. Government in the adjacent state of Haryana announced big reduction in electricity bill immediately after the announcement from Delhi state government followed by Maharastra state government. Lest we forget, free electricity for big kulaks in rural Punjab, for sugarcane lobbys in western UP or western Maharastra, free irrigation water are major planks of ruling parties of Maharastra and Punjab for so many years after the ‘green revolution’. In the granary of paddy cultivation of Chattisgarh state the three times winning chief minister is known as “Chawalbaba” for distribution of rice at Rs.2 a kilo even before the food security bill is passed in the parliament with great fanfare.

The biggest fallacy is all that the new Delhi government can afford to do is to subsidize the living cost of people. Even if they are able to implement their eighteen points program it would be no better than the so called “twenty point program” of emergency days or very recent slew of offerings from the central government. Therefore, in the competitive game of one upmanship in an election year the reliefs announced to the people of Delhi will soon get blurred in the cacophony of promises those will be made and will be claimed as results of implementation of pro-poor policies. They will soon turn out to be the same old blurred colors as like the first panchayat election in rural Bengal meant to be leverage of power to people soon metamorphosed in producing village musclemen holding and deciding the purse strings of government funds. In fact, the much touted story of India’s growth rate development in the last two decades is also the story of distribution of government funding in all sorts of social welfare measures starting from kanyadaan jojyana, free medicine distribution, free cycle distribution, free laptop distribution, free housing to the extent of free color tv distribution from various state governments. Each of these schemes of free distribution acts as local breeding pond of corruption among the distributors of such free bounties.

The other side of the story of development is that the central government had to bring in enormous amount of international finances to maintain and boast about the so called social welfare measures. The demands of international finance for unequivocal rights over the forestry, mineral resources, water resources, land resources and over the population by unbridled hike in inflation rates are now unbearable in terms of both natural and human resources. Therefore, the wrath of the people desperately now look for alternative avenues when it becomes public news that mandarins close to centers of power are able to make sunshine by their lobbying power and have a fair share of looting be it communication spectrum, coal, housing, power plants, steel plants, or whatever infrastructure be named. That alternative route may be taking guns in the jungles at one extreme or more assuredly by trying with AAP in parliamentary elections.

Let us take the issue of free water supply to hit more directly at the policies of AAP. It does not require more than common sense to realize that the tycoons of robbery living in palatial Delhi and the people living in the jhuggies of Simapuri or Trilokpuri who find it difficult to even arrange water after defecating in the open cannot have the same yardsticks of right to free water supply. Similarly, freedom and equality cannot have the same yardstick of application when talking of any of the basic social needs those are highlighted in the manifestos of AAP be it schooling of children, amenities towards healthcare, transport system of a metropolis. Even when one talks of corruption it is blatant hypocrisy to equate corruption of local traffic constable looking for weekly hafta that he sends through the channel of his superiors and the corruption of one of India’s biggest monopolists lobbying the prime minister for coal block allocation to his company. In the first case, being caught the constable gets suspended. In the second case, the whole spectrum of establishment starting from fellow monopolists to vocal commentators including the prime minister himself chide the so called autonomous agency of investigation for crossing the limit. The focus of attention for AAP is to obfuscate the very dichotomy of sky rocketing economic and social disparity that has grown enormously in the last two decades of urban growth of India. Their novel practice of bringing governance near to mohalla committees will not buy any better alternative than deciding municipal policies in the local congregation of people determined by the vested interests and the powerful in the locality.

It is important to emphasize that the media savvy vocal leaders of AAP never talk of corruption in defense purchases whereas this being one of the mothers of corruption in India’s economy – they only talk of corrupt practices of established political parties leaving one of the biggest chunk of corruption to continue under the garb of national security. They do not talk of the corruption of corporate lobbying, of the rule of middlemen operating through the special economic zones (SEZ), seizing vast tracks of forestry for the mining lobbies, power plant lobbies, automobile lobbies in the fear that may loose their “aam admi” support among the monopolists of India and international financial czars. Second, they never articulate what protection of living they will offer to the workers, say even in Delhi and Hariyana where vast sections of unorganized workers, migrant from their roots contribute significantly in the infrastructure developments while facing tyranny of their contractors in the workplace and of musclemen at their places of living. It is being widely touted that AAP are a strong contender of power in Haryana, a state government known for traditional highhandedness. What message can be understood about AAP’s total silence to the conditions of jailed, retrenched and ransacked workers of Maruti plant in Manser when it is publicized that the chief financial officer of Infosys or a big executive of royal Scotland bank, the owner of this country’s first cheap airlines Air Deccan are also now AAP protagonists!

Last three decades of practices of so many governments in so many states who come to power through popular mandate have shown those regimes very quickly take the position of being anti-worker and espouse anti-working class standpoint. It is important to show that political parties in the arena of elections have all sorts of promises for any number of strata of society specifically barring the workers with no promises to secure and uplift social conditions of workers. AAP is no exception in their attempt to offer a rainbow coalition of class interests as their electioneering agenda while of course continuing symbolic rejection of the trappings of “VIP culture”. In that sense, the current Bengal chief minister can readily boast of being more “aam admi” than her counterpart in Delhi while she continues to bring out most tyrannical dictations to the workers of Bengal including their organized sections in recent times. Even the fundamental rights of association of workers and employees in Bengal are now under threat, the leading members of its own government employees’ trade union association are forced to be transferred at different places in districts to keep them aloof from their trade union activities.

Is it then only another example of the more it changes the more it remains the same? This writing is not just to preach mere cynicism and indifference to a phenomenon that is now not only matter of talk shows but also is taking the shape of a national movement keeping the general election of 2014 in mind. It is important to underscore that AAP itself is a movement, the type of political discourse hitherto not seen in this country. In independent India’s past the movements of people particularly of urban youth were essentially guided by breakaway political parties, say the urban Naxalite movement of late sixties, the Navnirman movement in Gujarat, Bihar and other places in mid-seventies, or the anti-emergency underground struggles in urban India. Those were guided and led by people with long background in communist, socialist or right wing nationalist parties respectively. What we are witnessing is the outgrowth and extension of civil liberty movement that is trying to grapple with issues of statecraft and state policies those are essentially antagonistic and antithesis to the basic issues of urban working people particularly those living in the lower ladders of socio-economic strata. Irony is that the policies of the movement are guided by the same class interests those enjoy and nurture corruption and are intimately related to the same antagonistic economic and state policies.

The issues of living standards of workers, the issues of rights of working people, the issues of working class policy perspective in state and economic policies are shrouded and blurred in the amalgamation of class interests represented by the practices of AAP. The wave of support of urban youth to this “aam admi” movement who till now were flocking to right wing aggressiveness is a significant pointer to the basic failure of hitherto working class movement in India. It needs to be highlighted the even though all left parliamentary parties have their big headquarters in Delhi they could never get volunteers to articulate the aspirations of people living in the jhuggies of Simapuri like the way the winner of New Delhi constituency, the hotbed of the rich could do even though he and his party had no so called experience of leftism. On the other hand, it is also a pointer of education to them whose practice of democratization of India is centered in the armed training of jungle warfare, for them to realize that even contenders of civil liberty can sway, influence and carry forward the urban working people for forceful articulation of their expressions.

Somebody wrote in the early twentieth century, “theory is grey, green is the tree of life” – the movement inside AAP reflects fresh greenness of youthful activism that naturally tends to hit the establishment but as a fallacy actually strengthens the justification of existence of the establishment. It is rare and definitely a breaking ground when the chief minister of the city of the “powerful and elite” finds him powerless to confront the strong arm tactics of police, vouches to seize the seat of power by public demonstration of defiance to the system of which he and his government is very much part and parcel. The genuineness of protest against the corrupt, high handed, anti-social, arbitrary practices of policing in Delhi turns out to be an exciting street theatre as people witness practice of two –day governance on the street!

As natural fallout of stirring within the movement the cross currents of thoughts and divergence of views are widely coming out in the open from the leading lights of the party because the political party itself took birth out of articulation for changing the establishment. Witnessing the divergence of views that the movement within AAP can still withhold is a lesson for them who demand political parties to be monolithic goliaths away from the articulation and venting of people’s ire to the state machinery. That such articulation of divergence of opinion on policies does not weaken the confidence of youth in the party but rather encourages more to join the movement is a huge education to such hierarchically regimented political parties of establishment of both left and right wing varieties. The political parties of establishment have already started to ridicule the movement as “anarchy” fearing that all their edifices thoroughly weeded in hierarchical practices of exploitation may be demolished in the surge of public protest that they fear to the core. That such an urban movement could take a call over caste, region, linguistic or communal divides those long remained basic arithmetic for election considerations shows the inner urge of democratization in the society– but again taking route to the same institutions those nurture the most undemocratic practices in the country. The tall, vacuous urge of AAP is to gatecrash the parliamentary institutions for cleansing them from within remains itself the proof of litmus that these institutions remained practitioners of anti-democracy of horrific proportions. May be the belief is as much you try to come out of mud you have to enjoy the mud you are in!

The “aam admi” in AAP will not remain the same as it stands now. The flux will soon hit the wall of despondency that comes logically when expectations of immediate realization hit the hard ground reality of non-fullfillness. There is bound to be radicalization of the urban youth out of this movement that will look forward for a qualitative alternative to the establishment, alternative of the corrupt state, and certainly not for the apostles of beauty sharing the lap with rapist corruption. We would definitely look for that day of radicalization of the youth of working people, of young working class thinking and working for the real alternative like the giant demon leaping out of Aladin’s lamp that cannot be bottled up within the sterile and corrupt limits of establishment.

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