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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Socialists Who Never Came in From the Cold

India has had a strong social democratic presence from the time of the freedom movement. The second largest party by way of votes won in the first three parliamentary elections after independence was the Socialist Party. However, in 1951 despite the Socialists getting ten and a half percent of the total valid votes they got only two and a half percent of the seats while the Indian National Congress got just forty five per cent of the votes and yet garnered seventy five per cent of the seats. Similarly in 1957 the Socialists once again got ten and a half percent of the votes but only three and a half percent of the seats. In the 1962 elections the two separate Socialist Parties together got nine and a half percent of the votes and only three and a half percent of the seats. The Congress on the other hand won forty eight percent of the total valid votes and seventy five percent of the seats in 1957. In the third general elections of 1962 the Congress won forty five percent of the total valid votes and got seventy three percent of the seats. 
This skewed victory in the number of seats won for the Congress was possible because of the kind of electoral system that was chosen purposely by the wily Congress leaders in the Constituent Assembly. Ideally the Indian electoral system should have been based on proportional representation to accommodate the vast diversity in the socio-economic characteristics of the population. In this system political parties are allotted seats in the legislature in proportion to the votes that they get and so even small local parties who can get votes higher than a specified threshold can find representation in the legislature. There would thus have been scope for a thousand schools of thought to contend and bring to fruition a much more vibrant and diverse democratic culture than had obtained in British India. Instead the first past the post system introduced by the British was adopted after independence in which the candidate getting the most number of the valid votes cast in a constituency is declared elected. This latter system was to the advantage of the Congress party which could get to rule unhampered on its own without the pulls and pressures of coalition governance that a system of proportional representation usually gives rise to and would certainly have in the diverse Indian context. So the first past the post electoral system of the British and American democracies, which the British had introduced to suit their own agenda of keeping the unruly masses at bay, was retained after independence giving the Congress an undue monopoly of power in the crucial first decade and a half of governance under the leadership of Nehru.
Right from the first general elections in 1951 money power, muscle power and the state machinery were used to vitiate the sanctity of the electoral process in such a way that there was little chance of an ethical person being able to win elections. The Socialists lost out because of this in most areas except in a few niches where they were in such great mass strength that they could effectively counter the electoral mal-practices of the Congress. Losing out on State power in a poor post-colonial country like India with an underdeveloped economy and civil society and an over-developed state apparatus meant losing out on everything as the State was the main collector and commander of resources and distributor of largesse. Control of State power also provided the Congress with the opportunity to get massive financial contributions from the industrialists - the nascent Indian capitalist class in exchange for policies and programmes favourable to them. This further reduced the chances of the Socialists of winning elections. Even when in one instance the Communists despite mountainous hurdles did manage to cobble together a government in Kerala, the first democratically elected Communist government in the world, Nehru threw all political scruples to the wind and dismissed the government in 1959 to impose Central rule in the state. Defections were engineered with the dangling of sops to win away elected representatives and their supporters. Thus there was a continuous exodus of workers and leaders from among the Socialists to the Congress. 
A patron-client relationship was set up beginning with Nehru at the top and a whole sycophantic pyramid going down to the lowest workers at the grassroots level all trying to dispense state favours. Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi, who followed Nehru as Prime Minister after a brief interlude after his death when Gulzarilal Nanda and Lal Bahadur Shastri were at the helm, pursued these corrupt practices and perfected them into an art. Finally, the mass movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, which reached the verge of forcing a general election, challenged this covert subversion of democracy by the Congress party. Indira Gandhi then went to the extent of declaring an internal emergency and overtly curtailing democratic freedoms in 1975.
The long incarceration in jail during the emergency must have given the opposition leaders of all hues an opportunity to review the reasons for their electoral marginalisation and they probably realised that winning elections and being able to cut and distribute the developmental cake were crucial to effective operation in the Indian democratic system as it had evolved under the Congress. So when the  Socialists finally made their way to power at the centre and in the states following the historic elections of 1977 after the internal emergency was lifted, they too began treading the corrupt trail blazed by the Congress. Winning elections and staying in power became the driving goal and ideology began taking a back seat as Jayaprakash Narayan's ideas of total revolution too were floated down the Ganges with his funeral ashes as Gandhi's ideas of autonomous village republics had been earlier. The Socialists with a few hiccups in between, have at present surpassed the Congress in the art of rigging elections, garnering resources illegally and misusing the State machinery and so have done much better than the latter in their traditional strongholds in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Nowadays all political parties, and there are many to accord with the varied diversity of the people across the spectrum from the left to the right and from the bottom of the social order to the top, that take part in elections, have recourse to unfair electoral practices prior to winning and dubious parliamentary practices after that. Indeed the Bahujan Samaj Party of the Dalits, which had given a clarion call for cleansing the dirty politics of the "Manuvadi" upper castes when it first began participating in elections, too has gone the corrupt way of the other parties. All parties have also duplicated the patron-client relationship on which the Congress is based and are all top down parties centred around single leaders or a small group of leaders. No wonder then that hardened criminals who have both power and pelf in the local settings have begun winning elections in embarrassingly large numbers and dictating what little is left of party policy. Since winning elections and staying in power have become ends in themselves rather than being the means for social transformation and people oriented governance, both electoral and legislative practice have been reduced to being a theatre of the absurd with bizarre goings on these days and the Socialists are no exception to the rule.
However, one set of Socialists has remained steadfast to the ideals of people centred mass politics regardless of their marginalisation in the corrupt hurly burly of first past the post electoral politics. This is the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP). A few socialists, led by the late Kishan Patnaik, who had won the election to the Lok Sabha in 1962 from Sambalpur in Orissa, refused to join the corrupt mainstream and established the SJP in 1995 to pursue people's democratic politics. Earlier they had formed the Samata Sangathan which practised only non-electoral mass agitational politics. However, later they decided that they must try and gain State power through participation in elections. The SJP has relied on mass support to fight elections abjuring dubious funding whether foreign or Indian in toto. However, as one of its senior activists, Sunil, has admitted, this has not got them very far because the voters in general like to vote for candidates who they feel will stand a chance of winning. So, even if they realise that the SJP candidates are honest and who have helped them in times of trouble, they nevertheless vote for the candidate of some mainstream party or not at all.
Thus, the SJP has remained out in the cold of electoral marginalisation unlike the other Socialist parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal, which these days participate wholeheartedly in the corrupt electoral politics and so pursue the interests of the Capitalists and Global Neo-imperialists rather than that of the people. The Madhya Pradesh unit of the SJP, to which Sunil belongs, is particularly active and carries out militant struggles but even so it has not been able to make a mark electorally above the level of the Panchayats. This is in fact the fate of most small people's movements which have strong local bases in a few Panchayats but cannot pull their weight in legislative or parliamentary constituencies. The only solution is to try and change the electoral system to one of proportional representation. Pressure has to be built up for this otherwise all such organisations including the more visible ones like India Against Corruption, a faction of which is now preparing to form a political party, the National Alliance of People's Movements and the Ekta Parishad which is about to launch a long walk to the Capital to press for land rights after having earlier come a cropper in elections, will continue to flounder in the political margins.
Thus, once again this brings out the futility of the slogan of "The Power of We". Unless the power of the centralised behemoths are neutralised there is little chance of the power of the masses flourishing.

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