[Debate] What is right-wing about the anti-corruption movement ?

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Sun Aug 28 11:45:31 BST 2011


Sunday, 28 August 2011

What is right-wing about the anti-corruption movement ?

Saroj Giri

August 26, 2011


tags: Anna Hazare, anti-corruption movement, democracy, Lokpal Bill,  
popular classes, Saroj Giri

Posted by Nivedita Menon

Guest post by SAROJ GIRI

A draft for discussion
A ruling class contradiction is being played out as anti-corruption  
movement. It is however politically articulated as ‘a movement of the  
people’ with possibly a space for the left to intervene. Can the tide  
be turned against the right-wing upper classes?

“What we are witnessing (the anti-corruption movement) is nothing  
short of a revolution. Only on two earlier occasions in recent memory  
such grand scale people’s participation was recorded. The first was  
under Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan in mid-seventies. The second was  
during the Ayodhya movement, in the early nineties, propelled by L K  
Advani’s historic Rath yatra.” This is the RSS Organiser magazine  
(August 21-28, 2011).

“The anti-corruption movement must resist repression in every form and  
align itself with the struggles for democratic transformation in  
India. Only then can it defeat the UPA Government’s efforts to defend  
corruption and unleash repression, and expose the BJP’s false claims  
of championing democracy and resisting corruption.” This is the CPIML  
Liberation (ML Update, 07-13 June 2011)

“At our previous meetings, we have realized that lack of political  
awareness in the middle class often served as major bottleneck in the  
spread of communist movement and the time is ripe when the public  
outrage against governance evident today through the mass  
participation in the Hazare-Ramdev movement should be channelized in  
the right direction,” (Maoist spokesperson Manas in ‘Maoists lend  
support to Hazare mission’ Times of India, June 8, 2011)

Same movement. Different interpretations, different appropriations?

So is it a right-wing or a left-wing movement ? Or are there shades of  

Loads can be written about what is right-wing about this movement or  
why it is right-wing. But it is very clear that this movement is not  
at the same time like the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. No reasons had to  
be given why that movement was not a progressive movement – it was  
obvious. With the Anna Hazare movement, it is not that obvious. So  
people are giving reasons to show why this is right-wing too.

But the reasons given are mostly empirical and behavioral, relying on  
the acts of omission and commission of the movement or the imageries  
used and the slogans raised. So it will be told that this movement is  
not raising the question of corporate corruption for example, or that  
it is against social justice and opposes reservations. Arundhati Roy  
asks, why is Hazare not talking about Operation Green Hunt. Or one  
points to the overt display of Hindu right-wing imagery and symbols. I  
wonder why such reasons and grounds need to be given to prove the  
right-wing character of this movement – something we need not do for  
say, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

So what is the difference here? In providing such reasons it seems to  
me that one is trying to suggest that there is no essential right-wing  
character to this movement, that this movement can change its  
character if only it includes say corporate corruption or casteism in  
what it means by corruption. Those critiquing it (as well as the above  
two statements from left parties) tend to suggest that this movement  
has a progressive potential since the fight against corruption can go  
beyond what it presently is, that this movement’s right-wing character  
is not positivistically given but is contingent upon the balance of  
political forces that push it forward. This is like treating the anti- 
corruption movement as an empty signifier. There is a contradictory  
character to this movement – a contradiction which allows one to  
assume that the left can effectively intervene in it.

But then there are those on the left who do not see any potential in  
this movement and reject it as right-wing in a way that leaves no  
scope for a left intervention. While this position takes the right- 
wing character of the movement as fixed and definitive, it however  
still operates with the same empty signifier model. That is so since  
it does not locate the right-wing character at the level of a deeper  
logic but only in terms of the contingent balance of forces. Its  
difference with the other approach is only that it believes the RSS  
and its affiliates have fully taken over the movement and there is no  
way one can now challenge that. What both positions share is the  
refusal to identify the right-wing character at the level of the  
structural logic at work.

I propose that the right-wing character cannot be located in these  
contingent factors.

It is here that we see that this movement and particularly the stand- 
off between the government and the authoritarian upper middle classes  
is an expression of the balance of class forces in India today. The  
basic question here is the question of managing the class struggle –  
how to control the poor, the political mechanism and instruments of  
control of the poplar classes n the fact of increasing disparities and  
heightened exploitation pushed by the neoliberal regime. And here I  
propose that we must not be solely focused on only the RSS type Hindu  
right, but of the technocratic right-wing – market-friendly, global  
Indian, ID-loving kinds. We will come to that towards the end.

What is essentially a right-wing agenda is however politically  
articulated in terms of a wider process which touches a chord with  
vast sections of the poplar classes. This only means that the movement  
of the people, along with some kind of organization, can push the  
movement and the agenda of fighting corruption beyond its right-wing  
‘character’. Bt the fact that the right-wing character is more  
appropriately located not in the contingent factors of who is  
controlling it (RSS control) but in its deeper logic means that this  
movement of the people must be organised and well-directed, involving  
a conscious political intervention.

In short, there is no open-endedness at the level of the structural  
logic of the anti-corruption issue – that is, it has a definitive  
right-wing character to it. However in terms of the movement of the  
people it is displays contradictoriness and open-endedness. I will try  
to show below what provides this open-endedness in spite of the strong  
presence of the RSS and its affiliates. Then I show that the movement  
is controlled by the Hind right, the issue of corruption itself does  
not seem to be commnalised. Lastly I show how the conflict between the  
authoritarian middle classes and the democratic government is nothing  
but a reflection of ruling class contradictions about the right kind  
of strategies to be adopted for the containment of the popular classes  
under neoliberalism – the rite of passage for generalising Modi-style  
good governance, transparency and efficiency with UID and other  
instruments in tow. This is the political clearing of ground to clinch  
and consolidate the shift from democratic containment to technocratic  
of the popular classes.

Organic whole, internal divides

Let us here look at the question of right-wing character, particularly  
Hindu communal mobilization at the level of the movement of the  
people. And here I will point out how this movement does not lend  
itself to a full-scale Hindu right-wing appropriation. It is true that  
the movement is deeply nationalistic and macho. The reason why we are  
supposed to fight corruption is so that India can march ahead, a  
resurgent and powerful India and so on – here the hawkish, strong  
state and efficient India dream is unmistakable. But what constitutes  
this India, which is aggrieved, which is apparently the victim of  
corruption? I can imagine here the RSS can come up with a trope saying  
that just as Bharat Mata was once afflicted by Moslem invasion, then  
by pseudo-secularism, it is today afflicted by corruption. However  
there is a problem as this or similar narrative does not seem to be  
taking off.

The problem exists for such a right-wing appropriation partly since  
the very issue of anti-corruption as it exists resists that. Unless of  
course the Hindu right is able to show something to the effect that  
those corrupt are all Muslims, Dalits or immigrants. That clearly is  
not the case – which means while they might control the show, manning  
entry and exit to and from the movement, the issue of corruption  
itself is not communalized. This points to the contradictory nature of  
the issue at the level of movement of the people. But it must erect an  
enemy, it must invoke some divide in society, something which is  
afflicting organically homogeneous and harmonious Mother India from  
the outside (or an external enemy inside). My understanding is that it  
is failing in erecting any such image in the context of the anti- 
corruption movement.

The deeper problem for the Hindu right is that any serious focus on  
the anti-corruption issue means complicating its story about an  
organic harmonious whole called Hindu Rashtra being attacked by an  
external enemy. Instead this issue points to internal divides,  
internal contradictions – netas and babus or taking of bribes. Or it  
points to those whose black money is stashed away in Swiss banks –  
also internal. Anna Hazare’s otherwise problematic slogan too points  
to the internal divides: he often repeats that it is not just the  
external enemies we fight but also the traitors within. He shows a  
scar on his forehead from his time in the army and says how he has  
fought the external enemies of the country but now it is time to fight  
the internal enemies – the point is that there is no link essential  
connection or nexus drawn between this internal and the external  
enemy. The internal enemies are actually internal.
The usual right-wing move is to show that the traitor within is  
somehow linked up with forces outside, some Pakistan or ISI connection  
or infiltration from across the border, or Muslim invasion and so on –  
instances which preserves the idea of a pure and homogeneous organic  
whole from time immemorial. Now this narrative is not working here.  
Instead in a strange twist it is the other way round – the Indian anti- 
corruption movement is infiltrating across the border to Pakistan! The  
Pakistani right-wing and the corrupt establishment are more fortunate  
– they can more effectively resort to the right-wing tactic of  
declaring the anti-corruption movement there as ‘foreign hand’ out to  
give Pakistan a bad name!

Out here then the anti-corruption issue so far resists appropriation  
by the RSS brand of right-wing politics – it does not resist though  
the appropriation by the technocratic right, which then points to the  
larger dynamics of the anti-corruption issue. This is not to deny the  
presence of RSS and its organizations – including ‘volunteer  
organizations’ and NGOs. In fact it is more than a presence – the RSS  
most likely controls and keeps a close watch on all the happenings.  
However in terms of communalizing the very notion of corruption, this  
does not seem to have happened.

Rich and poor divide

If you look at the divides around which the Anna Hazare movement  
mobilizes people then the rich and poor divide is quite central. And  
the Ramdev phase is crucial here as it marked a transition of sorts  
from the Anna Hazare stage 1 movement to the present stage. It is in  
the Ramdev phase that the movement went outside its narrow upper  
middle class base and got people from the lower middle classes and the  
poor – without, let us be clear, losing its basic upper middle class  
right-wing orientation. What was the centerpiece slogan around which  
this broadbasing took place?

This centerpiece slogan was the one on kala dhan – black money stashed  
away in Swiss banks. This kala dhan was to brought back not just to  
give a blow to corruption in the country – but it was told that this  
was to be done in the interests of the poor. The dream that Ramdev and  
others peddled to the poor was that if only that money is brought  
back, there will be no more any poor in this country. This story is  
more refined now. Big boards at the Ram Lila Maidan today give you a  
detailed breakup of how much money each district and village and even  
each person will get once the black money is brought back – so we will  
all get rich. The approach here to poverty is of course extremely  
superficial and populist – not very different from what was propagated  
by the pro-market Chinese communist party after Mao: ‘it is good to be  

In a sense then the rich-poor divide underpins the fight against  
corruption – this is what appeals to the popular classes. Being poor  
is not a natural state of affairs. There is a reason behind it and we  
can perhaps do something about it. A collective effort can be made to  
counter it and bring about some kind of change. The grip of the stats  
quo and business as usual loosened a bit – does this not open the  
space for the left to now intervene?

Authoritarianism versus democracy?

The contradictory picture for the Hindu right then is that while it  
attempts to save Bharat Mata from the scourge of corruption, the issue  
of corruption itself is not communalized. Hence the popular classes  
are getting mobilized not against a racialised or ethnicised enemy or  
against Muslims or immigrants but against the corrupt – who here  
happens to be politicians, minister, bureaucrats and so on. Bharat  
Mata’s patently communalized Hindu identity seems less pertinent if  
she presides over a nation where the central divide is not between  
Hindu and the (enemy) non-Hindu, but between the rich and the poor, or  
between the corrupt and honest.

Thus the Hindu right-wing domination of the anti-corruption movement  
is riven by internal tensions and huge gaps that cannot be overlooked.  
But this does not of course mean that this ongoing anti-corruption  
movement is not essentially right-wing. And here we most do some  
structural analysis and need to focus on the question of the balance  
of class forces and the efforts of the ruling classes to contain the  
popular classes – and Modi’s techno-fascism as the active subconscious  
of the anti-corruption movement (see my piece in the Economic and  
Political Weekly, June 25, 2011). This is what explains why the upper  
middle classes, who are anyways mired in corruption, suddenly find it  
so important to fight it at this juncture today.

First what is the authoritarianism versus democracy struggle all about?

As I have argued elsewhere this fight is about the hawkish middle  
class telling the government to shed off the democratic garb and tone  
down mass politics and instead usher in ‘clean governance’,  
technocratic rule and fast growth. Thanks to Parliament and its  
democracy and social justice the dangerous classes are coopted and  
included enough to no longer require reservations, rights, social  
justice, mass democratic politics and the like. How long will  
inclusive democracy, reservations and so on continue? If democracy and  
reservations continue beyond what is necessary to contain the poor and  
the marginalized, then these policies become part of corruption:  
vested interests, vote banks, appeasements and so on. We should  
therefore shift from democratic containment to technocratic  
containment of the masses – enter UID.

Social justice is equal to corruption. That is the equation the right- 
wing middle class is trying to establish. Hence the best way to fight  
social justice and push the free market agenda is to say merely that  
you are against corruption. Those opposing NREGA is not going to tell  
you that they are against the poor or that they are against social  
justice. They need only self-righteously say that they are against  
corruption and that will do the trick. For, isn’t it established, the  
argument goes, that NREGA leads to corruption, vested interests, and  
ultimately to vote bank politics?

The crucial upshot: the poor can not only be deprived of the benefits  
of social justice policies but can also be mobilized for the same, all  
in the name of the apparently just cause of fighting corruption! So if  
the popular classes are so coopted, so internalized and included in  
democracy, then why bother with social justice and representative  
democracy and so on. Bring about Modi style technocratic rule all over  
the country with high growth, public amenities, and a happy people  
with asmita about to transform India into another Hong Kong or  

In other words, replace democratic containment with technocratic  
containment – this to me seems to be the overall logic of this  
process. Should we not locate the right-wing logic at this level  
instead of only at the level of the RSS Hindu right? Which only means  
that even without the Hindu right, that is, even if this movement and  
the struggle for Lok Pal Bill were to be led by Modi-hating impeccable  
leftists, the right-wing logic to it would not go away. Hence the  
struggle against the right-wing has to be located keeping this in  
mind. The authoritarians are calling for technocratic containment  
while those for democracy are calling for democratic containment –  
hence there are no sides to be taken here and one must align against  
this very terrain of false divides. Democratic containment leads to  
too many market distortions and inefficiencies (isn’t corruption a  
market distortion?) – all this will be straitened out by technocratic  
rule, by techno-fascism if you please.

Popular classes defending Parliament?

Clearly then we cannot narrowly restrict the right-wing designation  
only to the Anna Hazare movement or only to the RSS or to the upper  
middle classes – that is we cannot restrict ourselves only to opposing  
technocratic containment but also must include democratic containment,  
carrot and stick, authoritarian ‘civil society’ and ‘democratic  
government’. But talking about democratic containment, will the  
traditional recipients of social justice benefits, reservations and so  
on rise up to defend the Indian parliament and democracy against the  
anti-government upper middle classes? Shouldn’t they? Sorry to sound  
rhetorical, but why are the popular classes not rising up in defence  
of the democratic government? ((http://sanhati.com/excerpted/4049/)

Some Dalit leaders and left activists have rightly denounced the right  
wing core of this movement but they stop short of defending the  
government. Perhaps here we have the most decisive indictment of  
Indian democracy and its progressive avatar. And it is difficult not  
to conclude from this that the basic orientation of the government’s  
social policies for the poor and the marginalized were to contain them  
and their resistance in order to ease the passage of neoliberal  
policies. Instead of any real politicization of the popular classes,  
these policies seem designed to at best prop up interest groups and  
pro-state factions within deprived or marginalized communities –  
social movements too were so focused on getting this or that  
progressive social policy passed, as is the case today where the Left  
is supposed to back the best version of the Lok Pal Bill. It helps  
mentioning that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has an  
interesting way of not reducing the popular classes to mere recipients  
of benefits but of keeping them politicized, so that they have their  
own political subjectivity. Hence they fight right-wing upper middle  
class mobilizations, defending Chavez and the government often with  
great militancy.

In India however the popular classes have sensed that the Parliament  
and the political dispensation here (precisely in its democratic best)  
is more interested in democratic containment than any real  
‘empowerment’ of the masses. Even if the democratic spaces provided by  
Parliament can be sometimes used to further develop the progressive  
movement, the government’s basic orientation is to favor a right-wing  
agenda. Moreover, Indian democracy has been opportunistic right since  
its inception in and around 1947. It can be shown for example that it  
was really to contain the demand for separate electorates that  
secularism for minorities and reservations for Depressed Classes were  
adopted. Today the proponents of Indian democracy talk about  
secularism and reservations as though they emanated from a singular  
and definitive commitment to these ‘values’. Similarly it is only to  
defuse the situation after the Telangana armed struggle that bhoodan  
(land redistribution) is carried out. More recently you have for  
example the Home Secretary saying that Forest Rights Act is necessary  
in order to contain the attraction adivasis have for the Maoists. So  
it is not entirely inexplicable that the popular classes rally behind  
the so-called authoritarian upper middle classes than defend the  
present Parliament and its democracy.

And yet, were the dangerous classes to assert themselves, the right- 
wing middle classes will most likely go over to gang up with the  
Parliament and the government – the default mode. They are extremely  
chummy on intensifying Operation Green Hunt, on the question of  
terror, privatization, relations with the US-Israel axis and so on.  
That is, both ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘democracy’ would be on the same  
side – no real divide between the two. This shows that this divide  
cannot be sustained in any real sense. It is only when the dangerous  
classes lie low that the dominant classes enter into internal conflict  
and disagreements even though their fundamental class interests are  
the same.


Thus, the so-called authoritarianism of the middle classes is merely a  
continuation of the authoritarianism of the Parliament and the ruling  
classes. The struggle from the perspective of the left therefore  
cannot be merely about bringing in the democratic Lok Pal Bill as  
against the authoritarian Jan Lok Pal Bill. Nor is it about merely  
rejecting the Anna Hazare movement as right-wing and fighting for a so- 
called progressive Indian democracy and Parliament. The  
authoritarianism versus democracy conflict is no more than the ruling  
classes trying to resolve the question of how to manage class  
relations, how to keep the popular classes in place, particularly in  
the period of neoliberalism where even the minimum protection is not  
available to labour and the working classes, where accumulation  
through dispossession takes place against the ‘rural proletariat’. The  
technocratic right-wing is up against democratic containment as a  
strategy of rule – this has strong elements of a ruling class  

On the other hand, in the manner in which this ruling class  
contradiction is getting articulated politically as the fight against  
corruption, we have here a movement where the participation of the  
popular classes cannot be fully contained by the right-wing (both  
Hindu and technocratic). But this can be ensured only through  
conscious and organised left intervention. Further it is not merely a  
question of filling up the empty signifier of anti-corruption by a  
left-wing content – passing a democratic Lok Pal Bill, or defending  
the democratic government and so on. The right-wing we target must be  
understood in terms of its deeper logic and wider reach – and here the  
balance of class forces in the period of neoliberalism, the class  
struggle to be precise, is what is instrumental.


Jai Sen

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