Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Many Shades of Democracy

There is a raging debate going on in India regarding the practice of democracy. Primarily stoked by the temporary success of the Anna Hazare led movement for the passage of a strong ombudsman bill in India. The orthodox liberal democrats have criticised the way in which this movement seeks to sideline the electoral democratic process and devalue the power of the elected lawmakers. Instead of mobilising people in the streets these critics aver, the civil society leaders should fight elections and get enough of a majority in the legislative bodies to get their agenda passed. Some people have even gone to the extent of saying that Anna Hazare has resorted to blackmail by going on a hunger strike in full media glare. The legitimacy of electoral politics, these critics claim, has been reinforced by the fact that just after this civil society movement, in the elections being held in four states and one union territory, mass voter turnouts of higher than 75% have taken place and in West Bengal this has even crossed 80%.
Matters have been compounded for the civil society activists by the fact that their panel for the deliberations with the government on the draft of the Lokpal Bill had the father son duo of Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, no representative from the Dalits and Adivasis and no woman. It was an arbitrarily constituted panel. Given that there are a number of deficiencies in the Jan Lokpal Bill draft that these people prepared there was criticism that others should have been included. Furthermore, there was a campaign to discredit the Bhushans with allegations surfacing that they were involved in bribing judges and in shady land deals. Even though the allegations regarding the integrity of the Bhushans have subsequently turned out to be false the debate regarding what is democracy still continues to rage.
There is no doubt that electoral democracy is robust in this country and the people participate in it with the belief that it provides a legitimate medium for addressing their life goals. Nevertheless there is also an underlying current of dissatisfaction with the way things are going and especially with the way the government and its agencies operate. Corruption is endemic and at almost every step the common people have to pay bribes. This is basically because the elected representatives have to spend huge sums of money to get elected and then they recover this money and earn a profit through corruption. That is why there is a reluctance on the part of the government to bring in a strong Lokpal Act and also to implement the many other good legislations that are there in the law books.
The problem basically is with the majoritarian system of first past the post elections that is currently in place in this country. Any civil society movement for an end to corruption always faces tremendous opposition from the vested interests. That is why it is difficult for such a movement to gain a large enough mass base to be able to win elections. This is the case in all countries following the first past the post system like the UK and the USA. Under the circumstances it is quite natural that people aggrieved by corruption or by development policies that affect their livelihoods should resort to extra parliamentary modes of political expression and take to the streets. Not only in India but in the USA and the UK also such mass movements are going on all the time. After all this is an integral part of the democratic process and is guaranteed through the right to the freedom of expression and the right to form associations. Eventually movements like these, including the one led by Anna Hazare try to influence the legislators and the government to govern justly. Thus, there may be criticism of the Jan Lokpal Bill movement for its strategies but it cannot be labeled as being undemocratic. In fact by mobilising the middle class to come onto the streets in such large numbers it has done a great service to making democracy more robust in this country.
Things might improve considerably if the system of proportional representation is adopted. Then it will become possible for smaller political associations to garner enough votes from many different small mass bases to make it to the law making bodies. This is so in Germany where the Green Party has made considerable inroads into the legislatures on the strength of a higher vote share. In fact for the first time a Green Party leader has become the Minister President of the German State of Baden Wurttemburg after the party emerged as the senior partner in the March 2011 elections in coalition with the Social Democratic Party. Not that the influence of money power in elections is completely wiped out, but at least this gives the marginal political actors a better chance of making it to the legislatures.
The other solution obviously is to take advantage of the institutions of local governance. Over the past two decades or so since the passage of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993 establishing the third tier of governance the political participation of the citizens has increased considerably. Especially so in rural area where the constituencies are very small. Even though money power plays a role here also it is possible for small mass organisations to impose the will of the people on the government. In Tribal areas where special provisions have been made to empower the village general body or Gram Sabha it is even possible to defy the state and central governments as has recently been proved by the rejection of the proposal to establish a wildlife sanctuary in the Katthivada forests in Alirajpur.
Ultimately democracy will be strengthened to the extent that the impunity of the state functionaries is curtailed. Also the development path that is to be taken by the country and globally too has to be decided in a more participatory manner than is being done at present. The financial-industrial-military complex holds sway globally and there is little that common people can do to break this stranglehold. Legislatures are not going to follow more sustainable modes of development on their own without substantial people's pressure. Thus, there is need for more such civil society movements to add a few more shades of colour to the practice of democracy in this country and worldwide.


2 comments:

Preeti said...

Documentary - "NREGA: People's Alert" is all about National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which is an Indian job guarantee scheme, enacted by legislation on August 25, 2005. The scheme provides a legal guarantee for one hundred days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work related unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage of
120 (US$2.66) per day in 2009 prices. The Central government outlay for scheme is 40,000 crore (US$8.88 billion) in FY 2010-11. Rajasthan is the state where NREGA was first framed to see how in five years, the very state that led the movement is now undermining the act by not allowing the act's corruption safeguards to function.

To watch please visit - http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/4066

Rahul Banerjee said...

the situation is similar in most states and especially so in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. There are many small organisations throughout India trying to make the NREGA work but the level of corruption in the system is so huge that the impact of this activism is minimal.