Thursday, June 11, 2015

Development cola, served chilled


                                                                                                     by John Samuel

When development goes corporate and global, the spirit of voluntary action goes straight out the window


Irony is the hallmark of our times, the organising chord of political and institutional discourse. When the army is directly involved in confronting militant groups or in situations of civil war, it is supposed to be involved in `peace-keeping' (remember the IPKF in Sri Lanka?). And when a country explodes nuclear devices or weapons, it is also in the name of `ensuring peace'. When the government wants to move out of the health or education sector, the official justification is that government wants to increase `people's participation'.
It's the same with voluntarism or voluntary action. When we say ours is a voluntary organisation, does it really mean that the organisation is run by voluntary action or the voluntary spirit? Isn't it obvious that anyone who chooses to be an activist has made a voluntary decision to do so? Isn't it ironical that an organisation with an annual budget of tens of millions of rupees, with professional staff drawing salaries at `market rates' and with corporate structures, should  call itself a voluntary organisation? In fact, one needs a microscope to look for anything `voluntary' in most organisations that apply that term to themselves.

The spirit of voluntary action is as old as civilisation. It formed the basis of social ethics and community living. And all great civilisations and cultures emphasised the virtue of voluntary action,  the act of going beyond oneself or one's immediate self-interest  to live for or serve a  larger cause. The essence of spirituality as practised by almost all religious streams encompasses an element of voluntary action. When the Bhagvad Gita says "Find full reward of right in doing right, let right deeds be thy motive, not the fruits thereof," when the Koran prescribes Zakat as an essential part of pious living, or Jesus says "You are the salt of the earth", the underlying spiritual essence is more or less the same. The Buddhist notion of Dhamma, the Confucian idea of Jen or the Christian idea of Charity encompass elements of voluntary human and social action.
The notion of Jen suggested by Confucius is particularly relevant. Variously translated as goodness, people-to-people benevolence, it is best rendered as human heartiness. Jen involves a simultaneous feeling of humanity towards others and respect for oneself, an indivisible sense of the dignity of human life wherever it appears. Jen implies everything that distinguishes human beings from beasts and machines and makes people distinctively human. Confucius says, "The man who possesses Jen, wishing to establish himself, seeks also to enlarge others."

The idea of voluntary action has very clear ethical and spiritual connotations. One's resolve to dedicate a part of her/his time, resources or life is a subjective choice, which each individual expresses in various ways. There are shades of voluntary action: right from giving food to an impoverished child, to helping an accident victim, or giving a contribution for the well-being of the poor, fighting injustice or being a political activist protecting the interests of the marginalised. As long as this is an individual choice or a subjective decision based on an individual's value system, there is no problem. But it becomes difficult when a subjective choice based on ethical principles gets institutionalised. This is because institutions are often governed by institutional interests and power relations. When individuals with strong personal convictions or voluntary spirit come together to form an institution, eventually there can be conflict between the institutional interests and the voluntary spirit/personal convictions of the people within the institution.

The tension between the spirit of voluntary action and the process of institution-building is evident in the voluntary sector. With the increasing flow of funds and the subsequent corporatisation of the voluntary sector, there is a growing crisis in the very ethos of voluntarism. It's inevitable, given the paradoxes involved in institutionalising a set of beliefs and values. There seem to be four crises, viz: crisis of values and ethics; crisis of legitimacy; crisis of leadership; and crisis of language.
There was a time when people got involved in social change initiatives or voluntary action primarily because of strong ideological or ethical convictions. There were religious missionaries, Gandhians, Marxists, socialists, liberals etc who influenced the social ethos with a strong sense of idealism and an ability to sacrifice personal comforts. Such voluntary activists inspired others and formed organisations for a larger cause. We have many inspiring examples, right from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Birsa Munda and from Pandita Ramabhai to Verrier Elwin. Many of them became pathbreakers for larger social reform movements. The entire freedom struggle acquired a social reformative function because of the spirit of voluntary action. Even after independence there was a strong stream of reformative voluntary action, led  by leaders like Vinoba Bhave and others.

Now, however, social work has become more of a profession and less of a personal commitment. From the '70s, voluntary organisations began to be seen as agents of  development. The mandarins and the experts in the international donor agencies not only funded them but also `streamlined' these institutions. Many of them felt that their `development' mission is too important a task to leave to committed voluntary activists. Professional skills began to take precedence over social commitment or personal conviction. In the late '60s and '70s social work colleges sprang up across the country. Management institutes began to realise the virtues of rural development. By the time we reached the mid-'80s, there were more professionals with the right skills and right language and less voluntary activists. Voluntary activists as a species were either transformed into `development managers' or faced extinction in the `professionalised' voluntary sector. Comrades working hand in hand for reformation and revolution disappeared into the melancholy of the '70s and '80s.

When we reached the '90s, `development' itself got corporatised and globalised. What is best for the third world is charted out by a set of `development experts' through a series of concept papers, strategy charts and country papers prepared and discussed in New York, Washington, London or Amsterdam. Once the blueprint is ready, they directly or indirectly hire or fire professionals to put their development blueprints into operation. Thus development becomes a packaged or designer `product' to be served almost like a hot beverage or chilled cola to the people. And social marketing became the `in thing'. In fact, this product-centred orientation made many of the international development organisations develop their own pet `brands'.

In the development market, people became consumers of development aid and `targets' to be covered. From time to time, the World Bank or UN mandarins will evaluate the macro performance and prescribe new medicines and operations for old ailments such as poverty, inequality, deprivation, environmental degradation etc. Many of the international aid and support organisations began to market and sell the `development' medicine prescribed by these worthies. Thus, many of these organisations were transformed into wholesale or retail agents of a development paradigm designed by a set of experts who are culturally, socially and mentally alienated from the so-called target population.

The erstwhile activists and community workers have gradually been replaced by line managers who will monitor development. In their enthusiasm to deliver the goods, somewhere along the way, values and ethics took a back seat. Viability, sustainability (read survival) and pragmatism took the front seats. People with any `ideological hangovers' or `ethical dogmas' became anathema to the proponents of a top-down development paradigm.

In the new scheme of things, ideas like participation, decentralisation and democracy have become strategies or tactics rather than ethical principles. In the course of the hyper-institutionalisation of social action, voluntarism itself ceases to become an ethical principle based on the subjective choice of individuals. Voluntarism has become an institutional strategy to strengthen the `outreach' mechanisms.

While in the '60s and '70s, an individual's convictions determined the choice of his career, in the '90s, career options and priorities determine commitment and personal convictions. Such a reversal of  meaning and process makes voluntarism more an irony and less of an   ethical choice. This would eventually lead to the privatisation of the development sector and make it a cosmetic corollary to the corporate sector. The ongoing crisis of values and ethics of voluntarism will undermine the very raison d'etre of voluntary social action.
The crisis of legitimacy and leadership are the direct result of the crisis in values and ethics. The gap between the self-perception of the voluntary sector and public perception is increasing in an alarming way. Though there are hundreds of genuine voluntary social change initiatives, the corporatisation of mainstream development organisations tends to create an entirely different image. Such a public perception may not be necessarily true. The substantial change in the public perception happened partially because of negative and sensational press coverage and partially because of tremendous change in the lifestyles of erstwhile voluntary activists and present-day development managers.

Till the early '80s there was a convergence between socio-political movements and voluntary organisations. Leadership of the voluntary sector emerged out of the larger social reforms and political movements. Many of the leaders of social action opted for constructive work through voluntary action rather than power politics and party dynamics. This meant that there was broad social legitimacy for voluntary organisations, as the majority of activists and workers represented the social and community ethos of their time. They identified  themselves with the community and the people with whom they were working. They came from the communities and lived and worked with the people. This gave these organisations and leaders the moral authority to represent the larger interests of the people.

While the earlier generation  of social activists learned from the communities directly, the new generation of development managers learned their lessons from books and figures. They derived their legitimacy from their professional pedigree and social locations.

While the activists of the '60s and '70s derived their power from the people and grassroots support base, in the '90s, development leaders derived their power from the institutional infrastructure and the extent of clout in international development circles.
The power of conviction, integrated with the power of the people and power of knowledge, was potential enough to challenge dominant power relations. That is why tens of  thousands of young people responded to Jayaprakash Narayan's call in 1974. When leaders fail to inspire people with their lives, deeds and words, the organic link between society and leadership ceases to exist. The role models of top-ranking development professionals are not Jayaprakash Narayan or Niyogi or  Safdar Hashmi. The visible urban-centric leadership in the corporatised development sector has begun to look more like vulgar imitations of the corporate executives of big industrial houses or transnational corporations. We cease to have leaders in the proliferation of managers driven by enlightened self-interest. That is what can be termed as the crisis of leadership.
The alienation of development professionals from real life situations and the deprived sections is partially responsible for the crisis of legitimacy faced by the voluntary sector. When someone writes a wonderful paper on the public distribution system, without ever being anywhere near a ration shop, it somehow fails to relate with real life needs and situations. Real life experiences and insights are increasingly being replaced by research studies conducted by `development tourists' from the the western hemisphere.

We are living in a time when experts derive their experience and perception through dehumanised institutional systems --proposals, reports, memos, charts, seminars etc. The Internet may be an effective means of communication, but it is far away from the sight of the deprived millions. There seems to be no more space or time for great sorrows and little happiness in an increasingly dehumanised development machinery. While the values of voluntary action are rooted in the micro-level everyday experiences of an individual, the logic of international development institutions is driven by macro trends and the sheer demand for and supply of funds. This contradiction is at the root of the identity crisis faced by many of us in the social change sector. Because as long as the people at large do not own the process of social change, the question of representation becomes very tricky.

The erosion of legitimacy is also because the people and communities have begun to see themselves as the beneficiaries or consumers of the development programmes, rather than seeing themselves as the changemakers. Unless people at large feel a strong sense of belonging to the  social change initiatives, the long-term social viability and legitimacy will be in peril.

The internal contradictions within the development sector are often glossed over by cleverly manipulating words and their meaning. The progressive-looking words become the most effective tactics and strategy to subvert the value and spirit of voluntarism. When words become deceptive, meanings become elusive. Such elusiveness provides an intellectual shade for the subversion of values, experiences and beliefs in a corporatised world of development. The co-option of words is used to pave the way for the co-option of  individual activists. It is far easier to interpret the crisis than to change the course of the ongoing subversion. What we need is a reinvention of  the values and ethics that make voluntary social action a truly humanist endeavour.




Thursday, May 28, 2015

Public Advocacy in the Indian Context

                                                                                                                                             John Samuel


Public Advocacy is a mode of social action. The nature and character of Public Advocacy, to a large extent is shaped up by the political culture, social systems and the constitutional framework of the country in which it is being practised. The definition and a theoretical understanding of Public Advocacy can only be derived from the varied practices of influencing decision making and public policies by public interest or social action groups in different sociocultural and political contexts. It is the practice which makes the theory of advocacy and not vice versa. But the way we perceive and practise Public Advocacy is determined by the ideological inclinations, historical settings and the value system of the proponents. One of the difficulties in getting clarity about the term advocacy is the fact that it is being widely and broadly used to signify a sweep of practices ranging from public relations, market research and report writing to lobbying, public interest litigations and civil disobedience. Though the process of advocacy encompasses one or more of such components, mistaking the use of one component to public advocacy is to miss the woods for the trees.

 It is those ones who practise public advocacy, decide whether it is a permutation and combination of skills and strategies or it is a value driven political process that will make policy influencing more effective and efficient. The practice of Public Advocacy can be seen from three perspectives viz. political, managerial or technical. While effective efforts of public advocacy integrate all these aspects, the emphasis of different aspects will depend on the beliefs and background of the proponent. For instance, a social or political activist would perceive public advocacy basically as a political process, that may involve some professional approach or technical understanding of the appropriate devices and skills. But, some one with a managerial perspective may see it as the effective use of technical devices and skills and professional practices, with or without some political component. Since the term is in current circulation in the social change and development discourse, most of the international development agencies either try to use the term with a broad coverage to project their research and publication agenda as a part of Public Advocacy or straitjacket the very definition of advocacy to suit their immediate institutional needs and strategic roles.

Hence there is a need to develop a long term political and historical perspective about the concept and practice of Public Advocacy; its relevance for advancing a more humane, just and equal world. This paper attempts to locate and understand the concept and practice of Public Advocacy in the Indian context.

The concept and practice of Public Advocacy in India can be located from three different streams; firstly, from the history of socio-religious reforms movement and nationalist struggle for the Indian independence; secondly, from the dynamics of political culture and social systems prevailing in the country for the last fifty years. And finally, the prevailing practices of Public Advocacy by non-party political formations, social action and public interest groups. The entire 2 arena of Public Advocacy becomes functional and meaningful in relation to the constitutional framework, character of the State and the operating political culture. In the Indian context, the process of public advocacy can be better understood by locating it in the historical, political and social practices and analysing it in relation to a representative parliamentary democratic constitutional framework.


 Understanding Public Advocacy : A political perspective 

It is essential to spell out what do we mean by Public Advocacy before attempting to locate it in the Indian context . As it has been pointed out earlier, the definition of the term can not be a universal one, as it is being perceived and practised differently by different set of actors or proponents. Here, the attempt to define advocacy is primarily based on the perspective of many of the politically oriented social action groups and social change agents in India. Public Advocacy is a planned and organised set of actions to effectively influence public policies and to get them implemented in a way that would empower the marginalised. In a liberal democratic culture, it uses the instruments of democracy and adopts non-violent and constitutional means. The purpose of public advocacy is to advance social and economic justice, human rights, public interest and to make the governance accountable and transparent. It is being perceived as a value driven political process. Public Advocacy is considered as a political process because it seeks to question and change existing unequal power relations in favour of the socially, politically and economically marginalised sections. In the Indian context, grassroot organising and mobilisation become means for rights awareness and assertion, and lend credibility, legitimacy and crucial bargaining power to Public Advocacy.

Advocacy involves :
 ⇒ resisting unequal power relations (like patriarchy) at every level
 -from personal to public -
from family to governance

engaging institutions of governance -to empower the marginalised
creating and using ‘spaces’ within the system -to change it
strategising the use of knowledge, skills and opportunities - to influence public policies
 ⇒ bridging the micro-level activism and macro level policy initiatives

From a people centred political perspective, advocacy is not merely a permutation and combination of skills and strategies or a substitute for grassroots mobilisation or organising.

In India, one of the major thrust of Public Advocacy is the implementation of existing social justice legislations and social security programmes. Though there are number of progressive legislations such as Equal Remuneration Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Bonded Labour 3 Prohibition Act or Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act, there is a large lacuna in the implementation of such Acts. This is primarily because of two reasons. Firstly, the lack of political will and administrative efficiency to implement such legislations. And secondly, the incompatibility between the libertarian or liberal constitutional values and the traditional socio-cultural practices (like caste) and religious values (like fatalism). For instance, deep-rooted caste and class prejudices or patriarchal practices get into the way of implementing any progressive social justice legislation. Hence, from a holistic social change perspective, Public Advocacy should ideally go beyond mere public policy influence to the larger arena of influencing societal attitudes and practices so as to transform oppressive value system to a more just and humane worldview. Thus, the awareness and assertion of the rights and social responsibilities of citizens become almost a pre-requisite for a people-centred public advocacy. From such a perspective, Public Advocacy is a mode of social action that leads to the empowerment of the people with less conventional economic, social or political power.

There cannot be any public advocacy in vacuum. Issues of deprivation, injustice and rights violation precede the process of advocacy. Without an issue, what will one advocate for. In other words, there is nothing like advocacy as such in isolation. There has to be an issue or a cause to advocate for. We use the term Public Advocacy to signify a set of planned, proactive and organised actions to address issues of injustice, marginalisation and rights abuse in a more effective and efficient manner. Since in a liberal democratic framework, public policies play a very important role in determining the directions of social justice, political and civil liberties and the long term interest of the environment and people at large, the primary focus of advocacy is the arena of influencing policy formulation, change and implementation. But public policies are a function of the dominant political equation at a given space and time. Hence to effectively influence public policies, one has to influence the existing power relations in a way that would shift the power relations in favour of the marginalised. Influencing power relations is not a oneway traffic or a linear process. It is a complex process, wherein various interest groups confront and negotiate to advance their particular interest. The challenge for Public Advocacy or social action groups is to advance the rights of the marginalised and voiceless, with the minimum financial, institutional and human resources available with them. To effectively influence power structures of government or corporate interest, one needs other sources of power. In the context of Public Advocacy, five major sources are : the power of people or citizens, the power of information and knowledge, the power of constitutional guarantees, the power of direct grassroots experience or linkages and the power of moral convictions. In an effective advocacy, it is not only important to have information. It is more important to transform such information into knowledge by interpreting the former with a set of values.

Advocacy in India : A historical understanding 

The history of public advocacy can be reconstructed from the social and political practices of public policy influencing for the last two hundred years. The history of conscious and organised socio-political actions for public policy change can be divided into four phases. The first phase is that of socio-religious reform movement from 1800 to 1857, the second phase from 1857 to 1920s is that of the emergence of a nationalist movement for the Indian independence, the third 4 phase from 1920 to 1950 is that of a mass based political movement for freedom struggle; and the fourth phase is from 1950s to the emergency period of 1977. All these phases constitute the process of the establishment of a liberal democratic order based on a representative parliamentary constitutional framework. The ongoing phase of Public Advocacy in its present form emerged as a post-emergency political process from 1977 onwards. The different phases of history of Public Advocacy is marked by a substantial change in the nature and character of the polity and concurrent changes in the political system and institutional framework. The character of Public Advocacy and the use of various methods changed from time to time, depending on the changing institutional structures .

Advocacy as a practice is not nascent in India. The tradition of influencing public policy, for eradicating social evils, goes back to the nineteenth century social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The legacy of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar gives significant insight into the indigenous and effective advocacy methods practised during the preindependence period. Here it would be interesting to note the influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods on Martin Luther King, whose legacy still prevails in various social justice movements in the USA. As David Cohen (1994) pointed out, “the legacy of Gandhiji and Luther King is not just non-violence but non-violence to achieve social justice and with that a fundamental re-ordering of power relationships within the society.”

In India, there have been advocacy efforts on issues related to environmental degradation, rights of the dalits and tribals, women’s rights and civil rights, nuclear installations, land alienation of tribals, child labour, unorganised working sector, drug and forest policies and many other issues. While voluntary organisations and activist-groups have been active in social, developmental and political interventions at micro level, occasional efforts by such organisations or groups to influence the formulation or implementation of public policies remained by and large fragmented or isolated in the larger context of the country. Even within such a context, some of the successful advocacy campaigns like the Silent Valley Movement in Kerala and Amniocentesis Campaign in Maharashtra point to greater possibilities of organised advocacy efforts. Advocacy efforts by the social action groups played a crucial role in the making of government policies such as the Abolition of Bonded Labour Act (1976) and the Primary Health Care Policy (1977). It is true that many a time initiatives of grass-roots organisations to intervene at a macro level for influencing the public policies were not sustained and systematic enough to bring out the desired results. This was also due to lack of adequate knowledge and skills to deal with various systems that determind the making and unmaking of public policies. At a time when grassroots reality of the country is increasingly being affected by economic liberalisation and structural adjustment policies, there is a growing realisation among the social action groups about the necessity of empowering the people to influence the public policies for ensuring socio-economic, environmental and distributive justice to all.

 Advocacy Methods in the Indian Context 

The isolated `murmurs of dissent’ can be amplified and channelised by using appropriate advocacy methods This would enable the organisations and activist-groups to influence the (5 )policy makers more effectively. For this, it is imperative to develop advocacy methods and models within the context of an Indian situation. It is also necessary to understand the possibilities as well as limitations of using advocacy as a tool for social change in India. There is much to learn from the experience of the activist-groups that made use of organised advocacy methods. Some of the successful social advocates (Vivek Pandit - Advocacy workshop, Nirmal, October 6th and 7th, 1993) rightly pointed out the need to evolve an integrative approach that would make use of various advocacy components (like legislative advocacy, media advocacy, judicial devices, dealing with the bureaucracy, framing the issue, coalitions and grassroot mobilisation) simultaneously and optimally according to the context and nature of the issue. In many of the relatively effective advocacy efforts, mass mobilisation, improvised methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion, public interest litigation, legislative advocacy, lobbying the bureaucrats and media advocacy were strategically and simultaneously used to build up an effective public argument. In some of the ongoing campaigns like Save Narmada Movement, grassroots mobilisation was combined with other advocacy strategies such as activating global pressure through international advocacy groups and development lobbies (Srinivasan 1992).

Advocacy is a means and not an end in itself. In India, advocacy without mobilisation may prove to be more of a vanity. Grassroots mobilisation and advocacy efforts should be complementary. While there are various elements or components of influencing public policies or public opinions, it is important to advance advocacy initiatives with holistic perspective about the social change process. The use of any one component, such as mobilisation or media relation in isolation may not lead to effective public advocacy. In the Indian context one should also think of an advocacy model that would enable us to deal with the system at different levels such as Central, State, District and Taluk. Since the political culture prevailing in different states of India varies considerably, the strategies of advocacy also may change accordingly from one state to another. A proper advocacy model should be able to address long-term goals in the larger context of the country and short-term goals with in a given space and time. The credibility and the socio-political legitimacy of advocacy efforts in the Indian context would largely depend on the consistency and compatibility of means and ends. As it has been pointed in one of the earlier studies (Srinivasan, 1992), the public advocacy movement in India seems to be more concerned about the fundamental power relations and processes in the society than its American Counterparts (especially anti-smoking campaign, prochoice campaigns and the likes). Whether this difference in advocacy priorities is “a function of economic well-being of a society or the degree of anarchy in civil society is worth considering”. In parliamentary democracy like India, the avenues for lobbying through the legislative committees is rather limited as most of the legislations are initiated by the cabinet (executive) itself, which usually commands the support of the majority party in the parliament. In the absence of strong party whips, it is relatively less difficult to persuade the senators or the congress men in the USA. There is a wide spectrum of ideological shades that is associated with the party politics in India and lobbying the parliamentarians, who are generally bound to follow party whips, may not be as effective as in the USA. But the proper use of ‘Question Hour’ in the parliament and legislative assemblies through legislative lobbying is one of the effective advocacy strategies. In the Indian context, grassroots support and constituency is the most 6 important factor that determines the credibility of the lobbyist rather than his/her professional background or expertise. It seems that activists with adequate level of expertise and mass support were proven better lobbyists in India than any professional expert.

 Major challenges 

The major challenge for the Public Advocacy in India would be that of safe-guarding and extending the political space for effectively advocating the cause of the marginalised sections. It is equally important to resist the agenda setting mechanisms of the multinational corporations and the vested interests operating through various kinds of fundamentalism.

Access to information is a pre-requisite for any advocacy initiative and a sustained campaign for repealing the Official Secrets Act is an indispensable step towards a more effective Indian Advocacy. Another danger of an increasingly ‘professionalised advocacy’ is the dilution or marginalisation of real issues in the ‘labyrinth’ of strategies, tactics and skills.

 If the Public Advocacy initiatives are not rooted in the grassroots reality and is practised only at macro level, there is a danger of appropriating the voice of the marginalised by a set of urban elites, equipped with information and skills. The challenge is to constantly be sensitive to the grassroot situation and organically bridge the gap between citizens and the policy change, without appropriating the voice of the marginalised and without being co-opted by the dominant system. A potential threat to the credibility of the advocacy practitioner is the alienation from mass-based movements that could happen when activists get more interested in lobbying and the powers related with it and or in the process? themselves co-opted by the power structure or get lost in the maze of vested interest politics.

 Reference

• David Cohen (1994) : Key-note Address at the National Workshop on Indian Advocacy, NCAS, Pune
 • Srinivasan S. (1992) : Content and Context of Advocacy in India DISHA, Ahmedabad. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

D O T C O M D E L U S I O N S

 by  John Samuel
   The new mantra is `Information is power'. But who is being empowered by the dotcom revolution? The consumers who are rushing for their daily online fix? The thirsty  villagers who have access to neither technology nor plastic money? Or the merchants and brokers of information, money and images?
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There's tonnes of information floating around the information highways these days. And there are hoards of Internet junkies swimming around in dotcom waters. But what does this information do for the hungry child or the thirsty village? How much of this information can fill  an empty stomach? My concern is not about the validity of information, but that this contagious information fever is eclipsing reality. All of a sudden all of Mumbai was filled with dotcom hoardings promising instant information nirvana for any problem under the sky: from dating to dancing, from soyabeans to salvation, from cars to cricket, and from houses to headaches. The message was that you would not be able to survive without a dotcom connection for your daily fix of information. This was the direct outcome of the climbing sensex and the boom in the infotech sector. The important thing to consider here is not the newfound enthusiasm for information.

The important thing is that there's a process at work here in which information, image and  money become more vital than the ideas, reality or resources they are supposed to represent. There is a connection between the predominance of finance capital or the money market, the high-pitched information market and the emerging politics of images. The connecting link is that all these three new protagonists of the market are not real but something that represents the real. In other words money, information and image are signifiers of something else.

 Money in itself is useless unless it represents other resources. Money cannot fill the stomach or quench thirst unless someone is ready to exchange the real resources (ie food, drink, clothing, commodities etc) for money. Money is not wealth. It is something which signifies wealth, consisting of material things and services necessary for the survival and improvement of living conditions. It is the same with information. Information becomes important because it tells us about something else that exists in reality: about things, processes, situations, people, contexts etc. An image is some visual or perception that represents something else: a person, a situation, an idea etc. They are all in a sense mediums of exchange. In any society, social, political and economic exchanges and negotiations happen through these signifiers that serve as the medium of exchange. The story of each civilization is also the story of different kinds of mediations that serve social, political and economic functions in a given society at a particular time. From ancient rock paintings and pictograms, indigenous modes of social exchange and barter systems of exchange, socio-cultural history evolved to innovate mediums and modes of exchange. The barter system gave way to metallic forms of representation like coins and later paper money, and then plastic money, which is giving way to the concept of info-money.

One can trace a parallel socio-historical process that has helped to collate information from local specificity and utilities to a broader arena of dissemination. This happened in the case of images as well, starting with images of the divine, going on to those of the king, and later becoming a broader socio-cultural phenomenon.

So what is so peculiar about the present predominance of the three key signifiers --- information, money and images -- in our lives? It has, after all, been a fairly long historical process. The key difference is that earlier there was a very strong and balanced link between the signifier and the signified; between paper money and the resources it signified; between information and the reality the information sought to convey; between the image and the situation or the person behind the image. With the dotcom revolution, the free-floating money market and image merchandising, this vital link has been considerably strained. In the process money has taken precedence over resources, information has taken precedence over real life, and image has taken precedence over reality. When the medium itself becomes the message, those who control the `mediation' become powerful. That is why Rupert Murdoch becomes more powerful than citizens or even political rulers. Because it is not the what and why of information that matters, it is the how of information delivery that defines the information itself. When the means itself becomes an end, the end becomes redundant. Why has the sensex all of a sudden turned so sexy? Because the sensex operates on money, information and images.
If there is a comparative advantage of market information and corporate image, the money market is influenced. In the early-'90s, there was a lot of money market euphoria over the image boost of the `tiger' economies. The image of skyscrapers, hi-tech flyovers and swanky cars in Bangkok and Jakarta propelled the money market to new heights. But the hi-tech image of Bangkok concealed the ugly face of poverty-stricken villages in northern Thailand. Information about macro-economic growth in terms of GDP and GNP said little about the increasing vulnerability of the rural masses.

Image, information and the money market reinforced each other. The high sensex ratings did not have a strong connection with real productivity, natural resources and the distribution of services. For instance, during the financial boom in Thailand, agricultural production actually declined and the manufacturing sector was more or less stagnant. The magic sensex euphoria had more to do with the pattern of spending money in the consumer market than the pattern of productivity that creates real material wealth. Eventually, the `tiger' turned out to be so much market bubblegum.

 In India recently the sensex rating of infotech companies rose to magical heights, creating a whole string of dotcom dreams. The dominant images of infotech companies and the favourable information flow helped increase the vigour of the money market. Here the problem is that finance capital gets value addition without a corresponding increase in real assets or productivity. The ever-growing finance capital market is increasingly becoming a global casino driven by information and images. Speculative strategies and money laundering are akin to gambling. When the link between money/currency and the productive assets/resources it seeks to represent is broken, the economic foundations of a society become precarious. With the mind-boggling growth of a pure money market, the very future of the so-called global economy is on shifting sands.

The so-called movement of international capital is more a movement of magic numbers in the computer system and on the information highways than a real movement of commodities, services and goods. In a traditional economic setting, the creation of money is intrinsically linked to the creation of real wealth or productive assets. Money is created in balanced proportion to allow for the effective exchange of goods and services. Under finance capitalism, driven by a sort of monetarism, this vital link between money and real material resources is broken. As a result, one can create financial assets through market gambling, without making any real contribution to the creation of wealth. In this process those who have a comparative advantage over information and image can manipulate money market, with more claims to wealth but without actually creating any wealth.

Such a delusion of wealth in fact further marginalises the bargaining power of the real wage-earners, labourers and entrepreneurs who are involved in the creation of real wealth. In the stock market, the money that is invested to buy a new issue of a company is what is used for productive assets. Other stock transactions are not always linked to the creation of productive resources. One study on US corporations shows that in terms of the money that corporations use to support the expansion of their production, only 4 per cent comes from the share market; most of the money comes from the retained earnings and the lion's share of the rest comes from borrowings. In a sense the ongoing dotcom euphoria is a corollary to finance-driven sensex capitalism.

In a speculative market, one expects high returns. It has been reported that in recent years, the highest investment returns in the US were in the finance sector. Similarly, the high-pitched images of dotcom money-making kids propelled a gold rush to the information highways. As the dominant image of quick returns is in favour of the finance and information sectors, a large number of highly qualified and high-calibre people jumped from the real process of asset creation to that of a much quicker process of making money in the finance and information sector. Hence, the visible boom in the finance and information sector may also undermine the real validity of actual resources. As a result, those who control the mediation of finance and information become much more powerful than the real producers of material and social resources.

This will create development delusions based on the well-being and welfare of a section of visible people, wonder stories and magic entrepreneurs. We may be thrilled about the fact that anything can be ordered through the Internet, provided you have access to plastic money through credit cards. But we may also conveniently forget that the dotcom revolution will bring food, water and sex to only a privileged few who have access to technology and plastic money. The dotcom revolution will not bring food to a hungry child or water to a thirsty village. Because they neither have access to the technology nor to plastic money, though they contribute more than the info-entrepreneurs to the real production of real material and social resources.

That is how the signifiers actually swallow the signified. That is how the mediators of information, money and images become more powerful than the creators and producers of real material or social assets. These days the frequently quoted one-line rationale for the marketing of information is that `Information is Power'. So get dotcommed and get empowered. It's as simple as that! In that case, all that we need to empower the people of the world is to ensure that like water, electricity and telephone connections, everyone will have dotcom connections as well. But alas our problems are more complex. They will not be wished away with online mantras. If information is indeed power, why has the ongoing information revolution not brought about a socio-political revolution? Why is it that wider information dissemination manages to inform but fails to empower ? Why is the right to information failing to check corruption in governance?

The questions we need to ask are: In whose hands does information become powerful? Who controls, disseminates and mediates information? What is the difference between data, information and knowledge? Who controls the production and dissemination of knowledge? Such questions will ensure that we are not carried away by the dotcom syndrome. Such questions are age-old questions that arose at every historical juncture and political transition. What we need to realise is that information in itself may not have intrinsic value. Information derives importance because of the fact that it helps us understand something else in a given context. It is the `mediation' process of information that makes information powerful. Hence, it is not necessarily the consumers of information who get empowered, it is the merchants, traders and brokers of information who get empowered. By controlling information they can control the market as well as power politics. When an election survey is commissioned by a major newspaper or a popular newsmagazine, it is not the readers of these magazines who become powerful, but the editors and owners of the newsmagazines.

This comparative advantage of `mediating' and `brokering' information is what makes them the power-brokers who bargain their way to ministerial chairs and the backdoor of parliament. One of the biggest information banks is controlled by the financial banks which control plastic money--Citibank, Standard Chartered, American Express etc. They know who buys what, when, where and how. By interpreting their data the bank can also know why a particular group of people buys a particular product. Yes, in the hands of media empires, software companies, market enterprises and political power-brokers, information becomes powerful; because they are in the business of mediating and controlling information. Meanwhile, the consumers of information have only the illusion of empowerment.

We have to make a distinction between data, information and knowledge. Data byitself does not necessarily convey much. For instance, if one has the data on primary school enrollment, one does not necessarily get a picture of primary education in the country. When one contextualises the data in a particular situation, the data becomes information. If one contextualises the data of primary school enrollment in a particular district or state in the overall context of literacy levels, social development etc, that data makes sense. When you interpret the data with a particular political, ideological or analytical framework, information is transformed into modules of knowledge. Hence the interpretation of information on primary school enrollment may be different for people with differing ideological or analytical perspectives. Knowledge is often value-loaded. That is why the leftists, rightists and liberals interpret historical information in entirely different ways. That is why fanatical Hindutva elements were worried about the `knowledge' propounded by an Amartya Sen, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra or Irfan Habib. The actual powerplay is not in the information market but in the production and dissemination of knowledge. In a way, Ignatius Loyola is one of the most powerful visionaries in history; precisely because he identified the power of disseminating knowledge through the institutionalisation and control of education.

In fact, colonisation was not merely about the extraction of goods and resources, it was about the production and creation of a market for the knowledge system that ensured hegemony through creating consent. All of history is recorded and interpreted in order to sustain political power. The dotcom revolution is going to lead to even more information anarchy.

The global information order will thrive on the confusion propelled by that anarchy. Information anarchy and information order are in fact two sides of the same coin. At the receiving end there will be so much information output that one will find it difficult to know what is useful and what is junk. One will have no time to interpret such information and transform it into a strong knowledge base. On the contrary, the information explosion via your dotcom receiver can create a sort of information-immunity wherein the information will fail to affect your feeling, thinking and action.

 Now there is so much information about corruption, people are no longer shocked by any scams; they have got used to it. It is not because of lack of information that Dalits are still burnt alive in India, but because information about atrocities and arson no longer shocks you; you have got used to it. The emerging information order, finance market capitalism and image-driven politics will in the
long run create more social and political insecurity in real life. Because the delusions of development,wealth and participation they create will not effectively change the ground realities of inequality, mistrust, social paranoia and moral degeneration. When a signifier eclipses the signified and the link between them is broken, it will create a crisis in the very process of socio-political and economic exchange. In the new age, it is the comparative advantage of technology and time that determines the `mediation' process of money, information and images. However, the overemphasis of such technology-driven mediation can in effect adversely affect the real creative and productive potential of human beings. Such a scenario calls for an urgent rethink on the present information euphoria.

Orginally published in the Human Scape Magazine in  June 2000.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

ആം ആദ്മി യുടെ രണ്ടാം വരവ് - വാഗ്ദാനത്തിന്റെയും പ്രത്യാശയുടെയും രാഷ്ട്രീയം - Part 1

ആം ആദ്മി യുടെ രണ്ടാം വരവ് - വാഗ്ദാനത്തിന്റെയും പ്രത്യാശയുടെയും രാഷ്ട്രീയം - Part 1

അധികാരവും വീക്ഷണങ്ങളും തമ്മിലുള്ള ബഹുതല ഇടപെടലുകളിലൂടെയാണ് രാഷ്ട്രീയം കളമാടുന്നത്. ഒരു ദേശരാഷ്ട്രത്തിൽ ഭരണകൂടത്തിന്റെ രാഷ്ട്രീയവും ജനങ്ങളുടെ രാഷ്ട്രീയവും തമ്മിൽ,വാഗ്ദാനങ്ങളെയും നിർവഹണത്തെയും ജനങ്ങളുടെ നിരീക്ഷണങ്ങളെയും സംബന്ധിച്ച നിരന്തരമായ സമാലോചനയിലാണ് .ഒരു സര്ക്കാരിന്റെ നിലനില്പ്പ് സാധുവാകുന്നത് അത് നല്കിയ വാഗ്ദാനങ്ങളും അവയുടെ നിർവഹണങ്ങളും തമ്മിലുള്ള ജൈവിക ബന്ധത്തെ ആശ്രയിച്ചാണ്;അഥവാ ജനങ്ങളിൽ പ്രതീക്ഷ വളർത്തുകയും അവ നീതിയുക്തമായി നടപ്പിലാക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നതിനെ അടിസ്ഥാനപ്പെടുത്തിയാണ്.അധികാരത്തിന്റെ നൈതികത ,ഭരണത്തിന്റെ മൂലതത്വങ്ങൾ,ഭരണ മികവ് എന്നിവയാണ് ഈ സോഷ്യൽ കൊണ്ട്രാക്ടിന്റെ അടിസ്ഥാനം.പുതിയ സാഹചര്യങ്ങളിൽ ഈ സാമൂഹ്യ കരാറിൻറെ നിയമ സാധുതയിൽ ഉത്തരവാദിത്തം,സുതാര്യത പ്രതികരണക്ഷമത,സാർവജനീനമായ ഉൾക്കൊള്ളൽ,പങ്കാളിത്തം എന്നീ നിബന്ധനകൾ കൂടി ഉള്പ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്നു.തത്വങ്ങളും വാഗ്ദാനങ്ങളും പ്രവർത്തനവും ജനങ്ങളുടെ നിരീക്ഷണങ്ങളും തമ്മിൽ വിയോജിപ്പ് ഉണ്ടാവുമ്പോൾ രാഷ്ട്രീയാധികാരത്തിന്റെ യുക്തി ചോദ്യം ചെയ്യപ്പെടുന്നു.ഇത് തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് പ്രക്രിയയിൽ പല രീതിയിൽ പ്രകടമാവുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നു.
ദില്ലി നിയമസഭ തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് ഇന്ത്യൻ രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിലും ജനാധിപത്യത്തിലും ഉണ്ടായിരിക്കുന്ന കാതലായ ചില മാറ്റങ്ങളുടെ സൂചകമാണ്.ഒരു കക്ഷിയുടെയോ ഒരു പ്രത്യേക പാർടിയുടെയോ പ്രകടനം അവിടത്തെ നിലവിലുള്ള സാമൂഹ്യ രാഷ്ട്രീയ പരിത സ്ഥിതികളിൽ സമ്മതിദായകർ കൈക്കൊണ്ട പൊതു വികാരത്തെയും നിലപാടുകളെയും കാണിക്കുന്നു.അത്തരം ജനവിധികളുടെ സ്വഭാവവും പ്രകൃതിയും നിശ്ചിത സമയത്ത് ഒരു സമൂഹത്തിലെ മാറുന്ന വീക്ഷണങ്ങളെയും അധികാര ചലനങ്ങളെയും കൂടി സൂചിപ്പിക്കുന്നുണ്ട് .കഴിഞ്ഞ 50 വർഷങ്ങളിൽ ഇന്ത്യൻ രാഷ്ട്രീയവും ജനാധിപത്യവും തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് പ്രക്രിയയിലൂടെ അധികാരവും വീക്ഷണവും തമ്മിലുള്ള ഇടപാടുകളിൽ സംഭവിക്കുന്ന അത്തരം പല മാറ്റങ്ങൾക്കും സാക്ഷ്യം വഹിക്കുകയുണ്ടായി .


                          


കഴിഞ്ഞ ദില്ലി തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പിലെ ആപ്പിന്റെ(AAP)അട്ടിമറി വിജയം എന്താണ് കാണിക്കുന്നത് ?ശൈശവാവസ്ഥയിലുള്ള ഒരു രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷിയുടെ അഭൂതപൂര്വ്വമായ വിജയത്തെ കുറിച്ച് നിരവധി വിശകലനങ്ങളും വീക്ഷണങ്ങളും പുറത്തു വന്നിട്ടുണ്ട്‌ .ആവേശം, ആഘോഷം, കരുതലോടെയുള്ള ശുഭാപ്തിവിശ്വാസം വിമർശനത്തോടെയുള്ള മതിപ്പ് 'അവിശ്വാസം,മുറുമുറുപ്പ്,തുറന്ന തള്ളിപ്പറയൽ -അങ്ങനെ വ്യത്യസ്തവും സമ്മിശ്രവും ആയ പ്രതികരണങ്ങൾ .വ്യവസ്ഥാപിത കക്ഷികളും സഹയാത്രികരും ചക്രവാളത്തിലെ ഈ പുതിയ വെല്ലുവിളിയെ മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ ഗൌരവ ശ്രമം നടത്തുന്നുണ്ടെങ്കിലും ആശങ്കകൾ മൂടി വെച്ച് അവിശ്വാസം പ്രകടിപ്പിക്കാനാണ് താല്പര്യപ്പെട്ടത്.നിലവിലുള്ള രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാർടികളുടെ കേന്ദ്ര വ്യാപാരത്തെ തകിടം മറിക്കുന്ന ഘട്ടം വരുമ്പോൾ പുതിയ കക്ഷിക്കെതിരെ പുതിയ രാഷ്ട്രീയ നീക്കങ്ങളുമായി അങ്ങാടിയിലെത്തുക സ്വാഭാവികം.അത് കൊണ്ടാണ് വ്യവസ്ഥാപിത പാർടികൾ ആപ്പിന്റെയും അതിനോട് ബന്ധപ്പെട്ടവരുടേയും കുറ്റവും കുറവും കണ്ടുപിടിക്കാൻ വ്യഗ്രത കാണിക്കുന്നത്.ആപ്പിന് വ്യക്തമായ പ്രത്യയ ശാസ്ത്രമില്ല എന്നാണ് ചിലരുടെ വേവലാതി.മറ്റു ചിലര്ക്ക് ഇത് വന്നും പോയും ഇരിക്കുന്ന അസ്ഥിര പ്രതിഭാസങ്ങളിൽ മറ്റൊന്ന് മാത്രം.ആപ്പിനു പ്രവർത്തിക്കാൻ കഴിയില്ലെന്നും താമസിയാതെ അത് ഇതരകക്ഷികളെപ്പോലെ ഒന്നായി പരിണമിക്കും എന്നുമാണ് വേറെ ചിലരുടെ കണക്കുകൂട്ടൽ.ഒരു വലിയ വിഭാഗംആപ്. RSS ന്റെ ബി ടീം ആണ് എന്നും നാഗ്പൂർ പരിപാടി പ്രകാരം രൂപം കൊണ്ടതാണെന്നും കരുതുന്നു ചിലർ. ആപിൽ സവർണത്വം കാണുന്നു.മറ്റു ചിലർ സ്ത്രീ/ ദളിത്‌ വിരോധവും .ഈ പ്രതികരണങ്ങളിൽ പുതിയതോ അപ്രതീക്ഷിതമോ ആയ ഒന്നുമില്ല.. എങ്കിലും ആപ് ഭിന്നിച്ചു ക്രമേണ അപ്രത്യക്ഷമാകുമെന്ന് പ്രവചിച്ചവർക്ക് ഇപ്പോൾ അവരുടെ വോട്ടു ബാങ്കുകളും തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് വിപണികളും ശക്തമായ ഒരു പുതിയ ഭീഷണി നേരിടുന്നു എന്ന് ആശങ്കയുണ്ട്.
രാഷ്ട്രീയം, പ്രത്യേകിച്ചും തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് രാഷ്ട്രീയം,കുഴഞ്ഞു മറിഞ്ഞ ഒരു പരിപാടിയാണ്.ഒരു മാതൃകാ സമൂഹത്തിൽ അത് നാം പ്രതീക്ഷിക്കുന്നത് പോലെ നവ മൂല്യങ്ങളുടെയും ആദർശ ങ്ങളുടെയും ജനോന്മുഖമായ തത്വാധിഷ്ടിത പ്രഖ്യാപനങ്ങളുടെയും ക്ലീൻ സ്ലേറ്റ്‌ .ആയിരിക്കാം.എന്നാൽ .ന്യുനതകൾ നിറഞ്ഞ യഥാർത്ഥ ലോകത്ത് സമൂഹത്തിന്റെ ആശങ്കകളും ഒത്തു തീര്പ്പുകളും ആഗ്രഹങ്ങളും അഹന്തയും, മുൻവിധികളും എല്ലാം ഈ രംഗത്തും പ്രതിഫലിക്കുന്നു .


                  


ആപ്പിന്റെ അഭൂത പൂർവമായ വിജയം ഒരേ സമയം പ്രതീക്ഷയുടെയും നൈരാശ്യത്തിന്റെയും രാഷ്ട്രീയമാണ് .നൈരാശ്യം ഉടലെടുക്കുന്നത് ഏകാധിപത്യ പ്രവണതകളോടുള്ള വ്യാപകമായ അസംതൃപ്തിയിൽ നിന്നും വാഗ്ദാനങ്ങളും പ്രവൃത്തിയും തമ്മിലുള്ള വിടവിൽ നിന്നും ,സംസാരവും യാഥാർത്ഥ്യവും തമ്മിലുള്ള വ്യതാസത്തിൽ നിന്നും ന്യുനപക്ഷങ്ങളുടെ അരക്ഷിത ബോധത്തിൽ നിന്നും ആണ്.ശുദ്ധവും അഴിമതിരഹിതവും കൂടുതൽ ഉത്തരവാദിത്തം ഉള്ളതും എല്ലാ വിഭാഗങ്ങളെയും ഉള്ക്കൊള്ളുന്നതുമായ ഭരണത്തെ സംബന്ധിക്കുന്ന കാര്യപരിപാടികളാണ് പുതിയൊരു പ്രതീക്ഷക്കു വക നല്കിയത്.പാര്ശ്വവൽകൃതർക്കും ദരിദ്രർക്കും നല്കിയ വാഗ്ദാനങ്ങൾ-, പ്രത്യേകിച്ച് വൈദ്യുതി, വെള്ളം, ആരോഗ്യം, വിദ്യാഭ്യാസം തുടങ്ങിയ അടിസ്ഥാന ആവശ്യങ്ങളുടെ കാര്യത്തിൽ - തികച്ചും ആശാവഹമായിരുന്നു.ആപിന്റെ രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തെ കുറിച്ച് എന്തൊക്കെ വിമർശനങ്ങൾ ഉണ്ടായാലും അതി ന്റെ വിജയം ഇന്ത്യയിലുടനീളം കോടി ക്കണ ക്കിനു സാധാരണക്കാരുടെ ഇടയിൽ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിലുള്ള പ്രതീക്ഷ പുനരുജ്ജീവിപ്പിക്കുന്നതിൽ വിജയിച്ചു.
ഇന്ത്യൻ രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിൽ വരുന്ന ദശാബ്ദത്തിൽ സംഭവിക്കാവുന്ന മാറ്റത്തെയും പുതിയതായി ഉരുത്തിരിയാവുന്ന ശക്തികളേയും നേതാക്കളെയും കുറിച്ച് സൂചന നല്കുന്ന മൂന്നു അടിസ്ഥാന പ്രവണതകൾ എന്തെന്ന് നോക്കാം.
1.നിലവിലുള്ള കക്ഷികളുടെ ബാഹ്യവും ആന്തരികവും ആയ സംഘർഷങ്ങളും തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ വ്യാപാരവൽക്കരണവും .
2.നൂതനമായ ജനകീയരാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെയും നിരീക്ഷണവിധേയമായ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിന്റെയും ആവിര്ഭാവം.
3.ഉയരങ്ങൾ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നവരും മാറാൻ തയ്യാറുള്ളവരും ആയ ഒരു നവ മധ്യവർഗത്തിന്റെ വരവ്.
ഒരു വശത്ത് വന്കിട കോർപറേറ്റുകളും രാഷ്ട്രീയ മേലാളന്മാരും തമ്മിലും മറുവശത്ത് കോർപ്പറേറ്റ് വിധേയത്വമുള്ള മാധ്യമങ്ങളും രാഷ്ട്രീയ നിരീക്ഷണങ്ങളും തമ്മിലും നിലനിൽക്കുന്ന ആഴമുള്ള കൂട്ടുകെട്ടിൻറെ പശ്ചാത്തലത്തിലാണ് ഈ പ്രവണതകളെ വിലയിരുത്തേണ്ടത്.ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥരും സാങ്കേതിക വിദഗ്ദ്ധരും ആസൂത്രണ ത്തിന്റെ തലപ്പത്തിരിക്കുന്നവരും ചേര്ന്ന ഒരു സംഘം ഭരണ നടപടികൾ കയ്യാളുമ്പോൾ ,വികസനത്തിന്റെയും സൽഭരണത്തിന്റെയും മറവിൽ ദരിദ്രരും പാര്ശ്വവല്കൃത സമുദായങ്ങളും കൂടുതലായി അവഗണിക്കപ്പെടുകയാണ് ചെയ്യുന്നത്.
രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷികളുടെ പ്രതിസന്ധിയും തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ വ്യാപാര വൽകരണവും .
ബഹുകക്ഷി സംവിധാനത്തിലൂടെയാണ്തി രഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് രാഷ്ട്രീയം പ്രവർത്തിക്കുന്നത്.ഒരു ജാനാധിപത്യതിന്റെയും രാഷ്ട്രീയ സംവിധാനത്തിന്റെയും ആരോഗ്യാവസ്ഥ പ്രധാനമായും ആ രാജ്യത്തെ രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷി വ്യവസ്ഥയുടെ ആരോഗ്യത്തെ ആശ്രയിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നു.സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിനു ശേഷമുള്ള ആദ്യത്തെ 50 വർഷം ഇന്ത്യൻ നാഷനൽ കൊണ്ഗ്രെസ്സ്,ഇടതു പാർടികൾ,പ്രാദേശിക പാർടികൾ,ജന സംഘ് / ബി ജെ പി എന്നിവയാണ് രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷികളുടെ സ്ഥാപിത ഘടനയിൽ പ്രാതിനിധ്യ ജാനാധിപത്യത്തിൽ ഇടപെട്ടത്.പക്ഷെ ഒരു വ്യവസ്ഥാപിത രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷി അധികാര സ്ഥാപനം ആയപ്പോൾ വ്യക്തി താല്പര്യങ്ങളും വിശാല ആദർശങ്ങളും തമ്മിലുള്ള ഇടർച്ചകൾപ്രശ്നമായി. ആര്ജ്ജിതമോ സ്വന്തമോ ആയ വിഭവങ്ങളും അധികാരവും സ്വാധീനവും കൈ മുതലായുള്ളവർ രാഷ്ട്രീയ ക്രമങ്ങളിൽ ആധിപത്യം ചെലുത്താൻ തുടങ്ങി.അന്ഗത്വം നല്കി,വൻ ജനപങ്കാളിത്തത്തിലൂടെ പടുത്തുയർത്തിയ സാമൂഹ്യ -രാഷ്ട്രീയ പ്രസ്ഥാനങ്ങളായാണ് മിക്ക രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷികളും രൂപം കൊണ്ടത്‌. പക്ഷെ നവ ഉദാരീകരണ യുഗത്തിന്റെ വരവോടെ വിപണിശക്തികൾ പൊതു നയങ്ങളേയും ,സമൂഹത്തിന്റെ അഭിരുചികളെയും മാധ്യമങ്ങളെയും സ്വാധീനിക്കുന്നതും അത് വഴി ജനങ്ങളുടെ വീക്ഷണത്തെ നിയന്ത്രിക്കുന്നതും ആണ് നാം കണ്ടത് . എന്തിനേറെ ,വോട്ടു കളുടെ ചന്തയിൽ ഒരു ഉൽപ്പന്നത്തെയൊ ബ്രാണ്ടിനെയോ ഒരു ബിംബത്തിനെയോ വില്ക്കുന്നതിലേക്ക് രാഷ്ട്രീയം ചുരുങ്ങിയിരിക്കുന്നു.അംഗങ്ങളുടെ ശൃംഖലയിലൂടെയല്ല ,വോട്ടുകൾക്ക് വേണ്ടി വലവീശുന്ന പരസ്യമാമാങ്കങ്ങളിലൂടെയും കെട്ടുകാഴ്ചകളിലൂടെയും ആണ് ഇന്ന് തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് പ്രചാരണങ്ങൾ സന്ഘടിപ്പിക്കപ്പെടുന്നത്.

                     

  
സമ്മതിദായകരുടെ വീക്ഷണത്തെ പരുവപ്പെടുത്തി വോട്ടു സമാഹരിക്കുന്നതിനായി നടപ്പിൽ വരുത്തിയ തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ വ്യാപാരവൽക്കരണം ക്രമേണ പാർടികളുടെ നിലവിലുള്ള ഘടനയെ അടിയിൽ നിന്ന് ദുര്ബ്ബലപ്പെടുത്തുവാൻ തുടങ്ങി. മുകളിലെ നേതാക്കന്മാർക്കുവേണ്ടി വിദഗ്ധർ രൂപകൽപ്പന ചെയ്യുന്ന പരസ്യപ്രചാരണ പരിപാടികൾ നടപ്പിലാക്കൽ മാത്രമായി സാധാരണ അംഗങ്ങളുടെ പങ്ക് തൽഫലമായി .അവരുടെ പ്രവർത്തക സ്വത്വവും അവകാശബോധവും അപഹരിക്കപ്പെട്ടു..
തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പിന്റെ വ്യാപാര വൽക്കരണത്തിലൂടെയും മുകളിൽ നിന്നുള്ള നിയന്ത്രണത്തിലൂടെയും തങ്ങളുടെ മുൻ‌തൂക്കം നിലനിർത്താൻ കഴിയുമെന്നു വ്യവസ്ഥാപിത പാർടികൾ കണക്കുകൂട്ടി. ഏതൊരു ഉൽപ്പന്നത്തിന്റെയും,രീതിയുടെയും സ്ഥാപനത്തിന്റെയും വിപണി മൂല്യം നിലനിർത്തുന്നതിനു പണവും നിക്ഷേപവും ആവശ്യമാണ്‌.നവ ഉദാരീകരണ ലോകത്ത് വൻകോർപറേറ്റുകളും ബിസിനെസ്സ് കുടുംബങ്ങളും തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പിലും,രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷികളിലും നേതാക്കളിലും വൻ നിക്ഷേപം നടത്താൻ അങ്ങനെ വഴി തുറന്നു. എന്പതുകളുടെ അവസാനത്തിൽ തുടക്കം കുറിച്ച ഈ പദ്ധതി കഴിഞ്ഞ 25 വർഷങ്ങളിലൂടെ രാഷ്ട്രീയ നേതൃത്വവും വൻകിട ബിസിനസ്സും ചേർന്ന വളരെ പ്രവർത്തനക്ഷമമായ ഒരു ശക്തിയായി പരിണമിച്ചു.
തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പുകൾ വോട്ടുകൾക്ക് വേണ്ടിയുള്ള ചന്തപ്പോര് ആയി അധപ്പതിച്ചപ്പോൾ മാധ്യമങ്ങൾ രാഷ്ട്രീയ മേലാളന്മാരുടെയും ബിസിനസ്‌ നിക്ഷേപകരുടെയും സേവകരായി.പാർടികൾ അധികാരം ലക്ഷ്യമാക്കുന്ന മാനം നോക്കികളെക്കൊണ്ട് നിറഞ്ഞു.അങ്ങനെ കക്ഷി രാഷ്ട്രീയം വിപണി, മാധ്യമം , നേതൃത്വം എന്നിവയുടെ ചൊല്പ്പടിയിലായി.വിപണിയിലും മാധ്യമങ്ങളിലും നേതൃത്വത്തിലും സ്വാധീനമുള്ളവർ മിക്ക രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാര്ടികളുടെയും ഘടനയിലും കേന്ദ്ര സ്ഥാനത്തും കയറിക്കൂടി. കഴിഞ്ഞ 20 വർഷങ്ങളിൽ അംഗ ത്വ വര്ധനയും താഴെതലത്തിൽ നിന്ന് തുടങ്ങുന്ന ധനസമാഹരണവും കുറയുകയും വൻ കോർപരേടു ലോബികളിൽ നിന്നുള്ള പണമൊഴുക്ക് ക്രമാതീതമായി വര്ധിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നതാണ് നാം കണ്ടത് .ബിസിനസ്‌ കുടുംബങ്ങളുടെയും സാമ്പത്തിക നിക്ഷേപം നടത്തുന്നവരുടെയും അനുഗ്രഹമുള്ളവർക്ക് സീറ്റും രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാർടികളിൽ പ്രമാണിത്തവും കൈവന്നു.കോടീശ്വരന്മാർക്കു നിഷ്പ്രയാസം രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാര്ടികളുടെ തലപ്പത്തേക്ക് പ്രവേശിക്കുവാനും വേണ്ടിവന്നാൽ പാർലിമെന്റ് സീറ്റുകൾ തരപ്പെടുതതുവാനും കഴിയുമെന്നായി. നവ ലിബറൽ യുഗത്തിൽ രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാർടികൾ നയപരമായ ആനുകൂല്യങ്ങളും നികുതി ഇളവുകളും ലക്‌ഷ്യം വെച്ചുള്ള നിക്ഷേപ ഉരുപ്പടികൾ ആയപ്പോൾ രാഷ്ട്രീയം തന്നെ ഒരു കച്ചവടമായി.
                      


രാഷ്ട്രീയം' വരവ്,ചിലവ് ,നിക്ഷേപത്തിന്മേലുള്ള ആനുകൂല്യങ്ങൾ, മാദ്ധ്യമ പിൻബലം ,വിതരണ സംവിധാനം ,സൃഷ്ടിച്ചെടുക്കുന്ന മേൽവിലാസം എന്നിവയെല്ലാം തികഞ്ഞ വൻ ബിസിനെസ്സ് സ്ഥാപനമായപ്പോൾ അത്തരം യോഗ്യതയും തന്ത്രങ്ങളും കൈമുതലായുള്ളവർ തലപ്പത്തെത്തുകയും ശൈലി മാറ്റത്തിലൂടെ അത് 1990 കളോടെ നവസാങ്കേതിക വീദഗ്ധരായ ഒരു പുതു തലമുറ മാനേജർമാരുടെ വരവിലേക്ക് നയിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ സംരംഭവൽക്കരണവും 'മാനേജർ' മാർ തീരുമാനമെടുക്കുന്ന രീതിയും ചേർന്നപ്പോൾ മിക്ക രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാർടികളും ചുരുക്കം ചിലരുടെ ഉടമസ്ഥതയിലുള്ള സ്വകാര്യ കമ്പനികൾ ആയി പരിണമിച്ചു.ചില പാർടികൾ' കുടുംബം വക ' സ്വകാര്യ രാഷ്ട്രീയ സംരംഭങ്ങളാവുകയും .മറ്റു ചിലത് പൊതു മണ്ഡലത്തിൽ തന്നെയുള്ള അധികാര കേന്ദ്രത്തിന്റെ ഉടമസ്ഥതയിൽ ഉള്ള സ്ഥാപനങ്ങളാവുകയും ചെയ്തു. .ബിസിനസ്‌ ലക്ഷ്യവും ഉൽപ്പന്നങ്ങളും അതിനു വേണ്ട മാര്ഗ രേഖകളും ഉള്ള സംരംഭക ശൈലിയിലേക്കുള്ള ചുവടുമാറ്റ ത്തോടെ മിക്ക മുഖ്യധാരാ പാർടികളും അ രാഷ്ട്രീയവൽക്കരിക്കപ്പെട്ടു.ആദർശങ്ങൾ മേൽവിലാസം മാത്രമായി അവശേഷിച്ചു..മുതലിറക്കിയവരുടെ നേട്ടങ്ങൾ മുന്ഗണന നേടി.മുദ്രാവാക്യങ്ങൾ പിറക്കുന്നത്‌ അണികളുടെ നെഞ്ചിൽ നിന്നല്ല ,മുന്തിയ പരസ്യ സ്ഥാപനങ്ങളിലെ കൂലി എഴുത്തുകാരിൽ നിന്നായി. ജനമധ്യത്തിൽ തങ്ങളുടെ പ്രതിച്ഛായ മോടിപിടിപ്പിക്കുന്നതിനും നിലനിർത്തുന്നതിനും അത് വഴി വോട്ടു ബാങ്കുകൾ സുരക്ഷിതമാക്കുന്നതിനും വേണ്ടി നേതാക്കൾ പബ്ലിക്‌ റിലേഷൻ ഏജന്റുമാരുടെ സേവനം തേടുന്ന രീതി വ്യാപകമായി .
70 കളിൽ തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് ചെലവ് താഴത്ത് നിന്ന് തുടങ്ങുന്ന അംഗ നിരയുപയോഗിച്ചു ജനങ്ങളിൽ നിന്ന് പിരിച്ചെ ടുക്കുകയായിരുന്നു പതിവ് .എന്നാൽ 90 കൾ മുതൽ പരസ്യപ്രചാരണത്തിലൂടെയും പിരിവിലൂടെയും ഫണ്ട് സമാഹരണം മുകളിൽ നിന്ന് കൈകാര്യം ചെയ്യുന്ന രീതി വന്നു.അതായത് സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിനുശേഷമുള്ള 30 വർഷങ്ങളിൽ രാഷ്ട്രീയ പ്രവര്ത്തനം എന്നാൽ വ്യക്തിതലത്തിൽ പല സുഖങ്ങളും ഉപേക്ഷിക്കുകയും പാര്ടിക്കും അതിന്റെ ലക്ഷ്യങ്ങൾക്കും വേണ്ടി തന്നാലാവുന്നത് സംഭാവന ചെയ്യുകയും ആയിരുന്നു.എന്നാൽ കഴിഞ്ഞ 20 വര്ഷങ്ങളായി പാർടിയിൽ നില്ക്കുന്നത് കൊണ്ട് എനിക്കെന്തു കിട്ടും എന്നതായി അടിസ്ഥാന താല്പര്യം.പ്രചാരണം പരസ്യ മാമാങ്കങ്ങളും റിയാലിറ്റിഷോകളും ആയപ്പോൾ താഴെ തലത്തിലുള്ള അംഗങ്ങൾ പ്രവര്ത്തനത്തിന് വിലപേശുവാൻ തുടങ്ങി.സ്ഥാനാർഥികൾ പ്രവര്ത്തകരുടെ വിയര്പ്പിനും സമയത്തിനും പണം നല്കി സംരക്ഷിച്ചുപോന്നു..അങ്ങനെ തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പുകൾ ചിലവേറിയ ഏർപ്പാടാവുകയും സാധാരണക്കാർക്ക് അഥവാ ആം ആദ്മിക്ക് അപ്രാപ്യമാവുകയും ചെയ്തു. കോർപറേറ്റ് സംഭാവനയുടെ രൂപത്തിൽ ഒഴുകിയ കള്ളപ്പണത്തിന്റെ ആധിപത്യം ജനാധിപത്യരാഷ്ട്രീയതിന്റെയും രാഷ്ട്രീയ കക്ഷി പ്രസ്ഥാനത്തിന്റെയും ഗുണ മേന്മയും മൂല്യവും ശോഷിപ്പിച്ചു.
കഴിഞ്ഞ 20 വർഷങ്ങൾക്കിടെ കേന്ദ്ര രാഷ്ട്രീയവും പ്രാദേശിക രാഷ്ട്രീയവും തമ്മിൽ വ്യക്തമായ വേർതിരിവുണ്ടായി.73,74 ഭേദഗതികളിലൂടെ അധികാരം പങ്കുവെക്കുന്നതിന്റെ വ്യക്തമായ ഒരു മാര്ഗ രേഖ തെളിഞ്ഞു .അത് പ്രകാരം .പ്രാദേശിക പ്രവർത്തകർക്കും നേതാക്കൾക്കും പ്രാദേശിക സ്വയംഭരണ സ്ഥാപനങ്ങളിലേക്ക് തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെടാനുള്ള അവസരം ലഭിച്ചു . .ഒപ്പം ചില അധികാരങ്ങളും സിറ്റിംഗ് ഫീ, വാഹനം ,തുടങ്ങിയ ആനുകൂല്യങ്ങളും സ്ഥാപനങ്ങള്ക്ക് ഗണ്യമായ പദ്ധതി വിഹിതവും ലഭിക്കുന്നു.സ്ഥൂല തലത്തിൽ ലോകസഭയിലേക്കും നിയമസഭയിലേക്കുമുള്ള സ്ഥാനാർത്ഥി നിർണയം മുകളിലുള്ള കുറച്ചു പേരുടെ തീരുമാനമനുസരിച്ചാണ് നടപ്പിലാക്കുന്നത്.വിജയ സാധ്യതയും,പ്രയോജനമൂല്യവും കൂറും ആണ് അവിടെ സ്ഥാനാർഥി നിർണ്ണയത്തിൽ പരിഗണിക്കപ്പെടുക.ഒറ്റ നോട്ടത്തിനു പാര്ടിയുടെ കേന്ദ്ര -പ്രാദേശിക ഘടകങ്ങൾ തമ്മിൽ ഉള്ള ഈ അധികാര / ആനുകൂല്യ വിഭജനം മെച്ചപ്പെട്ട ഒരു സംവിധാനം ആയി തോന്നുമെങ്കിലും ഫലത്തിൽ അത് പാർടികളുടെ ജനകീയാടിത്തറയും ആദർശത്തിൽ വേരൂന്നിയ രാഷ്ട്രീയ നിലപാടും ക്രമേണ ഇല്ലാതാക്കി.


                          
പാർടികൾ കച്ചവട - സംരംഭക സ്വഭാവം ആർജിച്ചപ്പോൾ അവയുടെ ജനകീയാടിത്തറ നഷ്ടമായി .നേതൃത്വത്തിനോട് പ്രഖ്യാപിത കൂറ് പുലർത്തുന്നവർക്ക് പ്രത്യേക പരിഗണന ലഭിച്ചപ്പോൾ താഴെ തട്ടിൽ ഉള്ളവർ പാർടിക്കുവേണ്ടി ജന മധ്യത്തിൽ നടത്തിയ പ്രവർത്തനങ്ങൾ അവഗണിക്കപ്പെട്ടു.ക്രമേണ അവർ ജാതി,വംശ ,മത സ്വത്വങ്ങളിൽ ആശ്രയം തേടി. മറു വശത്ത്, അടിത്തറ ഇളകി ശിഥിലമായ രാഷ്ട്രീയ പാർടികളും ജാതി / സ്വത്വ സ്ഥാപനങ്ങളിലൂടെ തങ്ങളുടെ വോട്ടുബാങ്കുകളെ സ്വാധീനിക്കാൻ ശ്രമിച്ചു.
തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പ് രാഷ്ട്രീയം ഉയര്ന്ന വേതനം പറ്റുന്ന വിദഗ്ദ്ധരുടെ event management ആയപ്പോൾ ഭീമമായ മുതൽമുടക്ക് ആവശ്യമായി വന്നു. ഒരു സ്ഥാനാർത്ഥിയുടെ വിജയം അയാൾ സ്വരുക്കൂട്ടി ചിലവഴിക്കുന്ന പണത്തിനോട് ബന്ധപ്പെടുത്തി കാണുന്ന നിലവന്നു.പാര്ടിയുടെയും സ്ഥാനാർഥിയുടെയും "വലുപ്പം " കൂടുന്നതനുസരിച്ച് വിനിയോഗിക്കുന്ന തുകയും വര്ദ്ധിച്ചു.ഇത് പ്രത്യക്ഷത്തിൽ തന്നെ രാഷ്ട്രീയക്കാർക്കിടയിലെ അഴിമതിക്ക് വഴിവെച്ചു
വാഗ്ദാനം ചെയ്യപ്പെട്ട നയങ്ങളും സാമ്പത്തിക പുരോഗതിയും വെറും വാചാടോപങ്ങൾ ആയി അവശേഷിക്കുകയും ഇന്റർനെറ്റ്‌ യുഗത്തിൽ അഴിമതികഥകൾ ജനങ്ങളിൽ നിന്ന് മറച്ചു പിടിക്കുക അസാ ധ്യമാവുകയും ചെയ്തപ്പോൾ സാധാരണ ജനങ്ങൾക്കിടയിൽ അതൃപ്തി വ്യാപകമായി.തങ്ങൾക്ക് രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിൽ ഒരു പങ്കുമില്ലെന്നും.തങ്ങൾ വെറും സമ്മതിദായകർ മാത്രമാണെന്നും സർക്കാർ വെച്ച് നീട്ടുന്ന സേവനങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ട് തൃപ്തിപ്പെടെണ്ടവർ ആണെന്നും ഉള്ള ചിന്ത അവരെ നിരാശപ്പെടുത്തി.
സാധാരണ ജനങ്ങൾക്കിടയിലെ ഈ അസംതൃപ്തിയാണ് സാധാരണക്കാരന്റെത് എന്ന മേൽവിലാസത്തിൽ പുതുതായി രൂപം കൊണ്ട ആം ആദ്മി പാർടി തങ്ങളുടെ ശക്തിസ്രോതസ്സായി കണ്ടത്. അത് കക്ഷി രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിൽ വ്യത്യസ്തമായ ഒരു ധാരക്ക് തുടക്കം കുറിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നു കഴിഞ്ഞ 20 വർഷങ്ങളിൽ മുഖ്യധാരാ പാർടികൾക്ക് നഷ്ടമായ സന്നദ്ധ പ്രവര്തനത്തിന്റെ അടിത്തറയിലാണ് അവർ പ്രസ്ഥാനം പടുത്തുയർത്തുന്നത് .യുവ ജനങ്ങളുടെ ആശയങ്ങളും മികവും ഭാവനയും മുതലാക്കിയാണ് ആപ് മുന്നോട്ടു നീങ്ങുന്നത്‌.ഇന്ത്യൻ നാഷണൽ കൊണ്ഗ്രെസ്സും ബി ജെ പി യും ഒഴിച്ചിട്ട രാഷ്ട്രീയ സാമൂഹ്യ അനിശ്ചിതത്വത്തിലേക്കാണ് അവർ പ്രവേശിക്കുന്നത്.അത് കൊണ്ട് ആപിന്റെ വിജയം വ്യവസ്ഥാപിത പാര്ടികളുടെയും അരാഷ്ട്രീയതയും യാന്ത്രികശേഷിയും മേല്ക്കൈ നേടിയ ഭരണ സംവിധാനത്തിന്റെയും അന്ത:സംഘർഷങ്ങളുടെ സൂചകമാണ്.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Indian Political trends - Part III. Demographic shifts and emergence of an aspiring Indian middle class.

                                                                                                                   John Samuel
For a generation born after the 1980s, there is less patience for the ‘long-term’ promises or for that matter an ‘analytical’ paradigm that would bring ‘long-lasting’ changes.   The generation that emerged in the late eighties and nineties got a different set of expectations and many of them do not have the ‘nostalgia’ of the idealists and principled political leaders who emerged through the freedom struggles or grew up in the ‘nation-building’ phase of the ‘free’ India. The generation of the 1990s was less inclined to look at the past-struggles or the nostalgia of the ‘great Indian’ variety as they grew up in an era of new aspirations of the neo-liberal era. In the last twenty five years, globalisation of media, communication and information also raised the level of aspirations and young people wanted better paid jobs, and wanted to exploit the new opportunities like the latest technology, travelling and other consumption options that money offered.  It is during the last twenty five years, that the nature and character of education and campus politics too shifted. 

So a whole range of new aspirations and expectations emerged in different band-width ‘income’ groups. Those third or fourth generation graduates aspired to become well-paid professionals in the global market for high-skilled labour. However, the first generation graduated or semi-skilled workers have few opportunities to climb the income ladder, even though their level of aspirations has also increased due to the exposure to information, consumer market as well as consumer choice. Many of those in the relatively low-income segment (earning less than twenty five thousand in a month) also found that the new urban housing or high rise buildings are way beyond their economic capacity. For them, a decent housing, electricity, water, petrol price and a stable job mattered more than long term promises of ‘revolution’ or ‘egalitarian world. 

The aspiring lower-middle class has significantly increased during the neoliberal era. They have migrated from villages to small towns and small towns to big cities in search for better opportunities. The two decades of economic growth played in multiple ways. On the one hand it provided new opportunities for the middle-class to move in to the high income group and for the vulnerable poor better options for education and employment opportunities. However, the very same economic growth model also deprived the very same aspiring lower-middle class population of the chance to live out their aspirations as their there has been a disjunction between their aspirations, hopes and the real income.  As the economy growth slowed down and large corporations and stock-market driven economic paradigm began to dominate, many of the small and medium scale industries began to suffer, creating new insecurities and vulnerabilities within the aspiring lower middle class.  With more access to information (TV, Internet, Mobile), there is an increasing awareness about the increasing gap between rhetoric and reality; promises and performances of government

Most of the political leaders who grew up on the ideological framework of the nineteenth or twentieth century often could not understand or appreciate the anxieties, expectations and discontent of a significant majority of young people from middle class and aspiring middle class. Many of them saw politics as ‘dirty’, politicians as ‘thieves’ or politics as a career to amass wealth and power.  Political parties were seen as gangs of criminals that consisted of only the rich and the ‘babas and babies’ of the ‘political’ families. While the relatively younger class felt an aversion towards political party establishments and the ‘rich and powerful’ that controlled the political party establishments, they were aspiring for a new politics of assertion, aspirations and performance.  It is the political discontent as well as the political cynicism of the upper-middle class that the AAP tried to mobilise through anti-corruption initiatives, ‘clean’ politics and post-ideological politics. The traditional left completely failed to capture the mood of the younger generation that grew in the neoliberal era. While the left made fantastic ideological critiques and managed party establishments where they managed to retain the governmental power, the traditional left completely failed to engage and negotiate with a pan-Indian aspiring middle class and address policy and political initiatives.

The key issue has been that political party establishments paradoxically become too top-heavy with lots of baggage of power and paraphernalia to be flexible to the emerging generational shift and situation.  Most of the aspiring middle class or middle class professionals found it extremely difficult to deal with ‘closed-spaces’ and ‘insulated leadership’ of political party establishment. The top-heavy leadership of political parties ‘interacted’ with ordinary people only during elections and that too from the large podium or from a ‘comfortable’ and ‘safe’ distance. Those young political leaders in many political parties emerged due to their kinship or lineage rather than their quality or leadership competence.  There is hardly any space for the politically aware middle class people to join the political party establishments as they are still in the old mode driven by old structures.

It is in this space AAP as a new political party with fresh faces from the aspiring middle class emerged and the innovative ideas and political imagination helped them to outsmart the traditional modes of organising, campaigning and communicating used by the established political parties.  This was evident in the entirely different modes of campaign tactics and communications strategies between AAP and established political parties such as BJP and congress.   While AAP reclaimed the voluntary spaces of activism and contribution at the grassroots level, established political parties operated on top-down management of campaigns managed with funds largely raised from corporate business interests. The perceived dominance of crony capitalism, and the huge distance between rhetoric and reality as well as promises and performance created a set of new discontent among the electorate in Delhi.  However, it is the promise of a clean politics and responsive, inclusive and performing government devoid of corruption that captured the imagination a large number of people. Now the key challenge for the leadership of AAP is to transform the huge positive energy that it derived from an unprecedented electoral verdict into governance with integrity, imagination as well as performance to make a real difference in the lives of the poor and marginalised. The question is whether the second coming of the Aam Aadmi party  be able to herald a new era of politics of promises and hope and whether they will be able to keep the promise for change?


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Indian Political Trends: Part II.Emergence of Civic Politics and Monitory democracy.

                                                                                                                    John Samuel
The last twenty five years have witnessed a paradigm shift in the political process. Till the early eighties, politics was to a large extent driven by a state-centric discourse, where the primary stakeholders were the political executive and an entrenched bureaucracy.  Media did play a watch dog, though the print media itself operated largely based on the available information or information supplied by the state.   

The emergency, during 1975-1977, for the first time demonstrated the perils of a state-centric politics and how the powerful bureaucratic -political cartel could subvert democracy and suspend fundamental rights. In a sense the emergency was a wake-up call to the citizens and civil society that Indian democracy could not be taken for granted.  Emergency was in many ways a shock-treatment to the Indian political process, unleashing new political forces and consequent emergence of number of political parties and actors. The period between 1977 and 1982 witnessed dramatic shifts in the Indian political process in a number of ways and one of the major shifts was the emergence of an active civil society process.  The emergence of PUCL, environmental and citizen activism of KSSP( Kerala Sasthra sahitya Parishat) and the publication of the first citizen’s report on environment etc were harbingers of a new civic politics in India. While the Congress party itself faced internal challenges, the Janatha experiment got reincarnated into number of new political parties and actors and the BJP too emerged during this phase in its third incarnation after Jansangh and Jantha party  phase.

The civic politics combined active social action through social mobilisation and public policy advocacy through knowledge, research and policy proposals. While Gandhian organisations organised civil society and civic spaces in the 1940s and 1950s for political and social actions, by the late 1950s most of the Gandhian organisations got sucked in to the periphery of the state and began to work as para-governmental organisations and networks.  However, the revitalised civic social and political spaces, in post-emergency era were informed by Gandhian ethics as well as left and left- of centre perspectives. While political scientists like Prof. Rajni Kothari recognised the relevance and the need for non-party political process, established political parties with strong left as well as right ideological inclinations questioned the emergence of social action groups and new social movements. While the proponents of the left political party establishment accused them of being ‘handmaids of imperialism’, the right-wing sangh parivar saw this as a ‘western conspiracy’ to covert India. Both the traditional right-wing and left-wing political party establishments were sceptical of any ‘politics’ beyond the ‘state-centric’ discourse. One of the major issues of contesting the political and social legitimacy of these formations was the role of ‘foreign funding’ – and it is due to the active protest against the emergency regime that the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act was introduced in 1976. In spite of political party establishments questioning the intentions, integrity and political legitimacy, there has been a resurgence of civic action and political process in different parts of India. 

These formations ranged from networked middle-class organisations such as the KSSP, to movements of adivasies, slum dwellers, environmental networks and the emergence of a number of new knowledge-research institutions. Their work included providing direct services and support to marginalised groups, social mobilisation, research and advocacy. A majority of these formations were inspired by Gandhian modes of social action, social democratic streams and politics of new social movements. In spite of vehement criticism and opposition, over the last twenty five years, an active civic political space emerged through social movements against displacement, environmentally disastrous projects and against bonded as well as child labour. A broader human rights movement for women’s rights, child rights and rights of the marginalised groups also emerged.  The right to education, the right to health and the rights of minorities etc got accentuated in the public sphere and political discourse through civic social and political action along with policy advocacy.

 The issues of environment, women’s rights, human rights, rights of adivasies and dalit communities etc. were brought into the centre of main-stream political discourse by a new generation of civic activists who were doing politics beyond the established political party framework and electoral politics.  The continuous and consistent work of civil society formations, civic activists and civic social movements also created a new culture of monitoring governance and public policy. 
The advocacy for most of the progressive legislations and public policy first began in the civic political and social space. Advocacy for the right to information, right to education , right to health, right to work and campaign to stop violence against women etc eventually created political demand for legislations, policies and programme.

With the emergence of Television, new media, social networking and a revolution in communication, knowledge-advocacy and monitoring of governance and governance institutions became more effective.  The right to information and information revolution through internet and social media created a new generation of civic politics and civic activists.  Unlike the traditional NGOs or highly institutionalised entities, the new network of citizens with more access to information and more technical competence and professional credentials began to engage in civic politics as active citizens. This new generation of civic activists and proponents of civic politics made significant change in the way politics operated in India. They began to be more and more vocal about corruption, the gap between rhetoric and reality and the gap between promises and performance. They have widely made use of the right to information and technology to reach out a large number of citizens. They have outgrown the traditional print and TV Media.

This generational shift in civic politics beyond the conventional political parties, NGOs or even new social movements influenced the Indian political and policy making process in number of ways.  The new proponents of civic politics have been professionals with income and drawn largely from the urban-middle class background.  Their global exposure and better access to information and technology gave them an edge over the previous generation of civil society organisation and civic activists.  Since main-stream politics have been dominated by political party establishment and the entry was restricted largely through traditional feeder mechanism or horizontal cooption through family or interest network, many of the new generation of politically aware young people chose to be active in civic politics by monitoring governance and actively questioning the legitimacy of established political elites. Campaign against corruption mobilised a large number of young people concerned about the subversion of electoral politics through the excessive use of money and muscle by the political party establishments.

The emergence of a new generation of civic politics in the last few years was partly a response to the crisis of the traditional political party establishment and partly due to the shift in the mode of information, mode of technology and thus the consequence was a mode of paradigm shift in communicative action. Political parties or even the government could no longer ‘control’ and ‘manage’ information- and the new generation of civic activists made strategic use of information, knowledge and technology to challenge the claims of government or to question the gap between the promises and performance of political class.

Due to the shift in access to information, shifts in modes of communication and more informed citizens,  politics is no longer about ‘selling dreams’ or  making promises or managing perception. Today a large majority of people in the urban settings or in small towns have access to mobile devices and far faster modes of accessing as well as analysing information. So with a generational shift in the demographic pattern the ‘old media’ mediations do not work; and people expect promises to be translated in to performance that has implications in their practical life and choices.

 The representative democracy is no longer enough to derive ‘legitimacy’ in a new era where there are more options and opportunities to get access to information to constantly monitor the performance of a government. Rhetoric no longer works beyond a few months as the information can no longer be controlled and people have learnt how to see through the bluff