Corruption, an empty signifier: the need for a Bahujan Lokpal Bill

 

Khalid Anis Ansari

I agree broadly that a caste slant will not help much even when it is writ large in the agenda of the forces that are supporting Anna. This is out and out a populist movement and populism has coexisted along with formal democracies right since its inception. In a way populism is also the barometer of democratic functioning and its emergence signals the lacunae in the principle of representation. The basic problem is that peoples' concerns and issues are not finding expression in the formal democratic apparatus and so this movement is a reality check for the system and must pressurize it to deepen democracy by initiating and launching debates on electoral, judicial and other much needed reforms.

gandhi hazare parliament

 It is not only the mechanism of Lokpal which finds mention in the Constitution but other important features like the setting up of an All India Judicial Commission on the patterns of UPSC (Article 312), etc, are also there. Why a certain issue (corruption) becomes a matter of life and death and other equally relevant issues (Article 312, etc) are marginalized are political moves and are governed squarely by class/caste interests.

Obviously, corruption is a grave problem. But corruption is also an empty signifier and its meaning is fixed and produced through the hegemonic struggle. From the vantage point of dalit-bahujan politics the first task would be to contest Anna's articulation of corruption and then to indicate its superficiality and class/caste character. Then a counter-hegemonic bahujan populist movement can be launched that focuses on systemic reforms in a more substantive manner.

I cannot support this present movement by Anna Hazare. I am in favor of those populist movements that can pressurize democracy and create openings for reforms that benefit the subaltern. A supra-parliamentary Jan Lokpal and a very interventionist and unaccountable judiciary are a horror for the dalit-bahujan masses.

All said and done the legislature is most respectful of social diversity as far as the three organs of government are concerned. The executive is bad and the judiciary is the worst in this regard. So I am presently in favor of taking the 'political' route than the civil society one which is in any way a club of the chattering classes. And, the option of entering Anna's movement and hegemonizing it from within still looks a distant reality to me at present given the enormous corporate, media and civil society support to the movement.

I think the dalit-bahujan has remote chances in creating a discursive shift in the present Anna movement as the factors are structural and not merely subjective in nature. The caste-class antagonism is a structural feature of India's political economy and informs the social stratification in various direct and indirect ways. So I am in favor of a separate dalit-bahujan movement that can take up popular issues like corruption, electricity, schooling, etc.

The 'reservationist frame' dominant in dalit-bahujan politics has eclipsed that so far but in time the popular issues will have to be taken up the bahujan organizations as well. I think Anna's team knows exactly what they are doing. We should know what we can and what we should do!  Now it is time to introduce dalitbahujan clauses in the bill. We need to think further on this and develop meaningful strategies.

~~~ 

 

Khalid Anis Ansari is with The Patna Collective, New Delhi. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar

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