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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Elusive Holy Grail of Empowerment

The past month has seen the public release of two documents that purport to empower the powerless. The first was the draft Vision Document of the proposed political party that is to be formed by the erstwhile India Against Corruption Movement (IAC). The second was the pact reached between the Jan Satyagraha Movement launched under the aegis of the Ekta Parishad (EP) and the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. Since various movements in the past have not been successful in achieving their goal of mass empowerment it is necessary to analyse these documents and see whether they will indeed help the IAC and the EP to do so.
The IAC document, without mentioning it, basically trots out the well known "principle of subsidiarity" which was first mooted by the Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century as a mid way solution to the then emerging conflict between capitalism and communism. Briefly the principal states that as many social decisions as possible should be taken at the local level and only those that are impossible to take at this level should be delegated to a higher level. The basic idea being that society should exist for the development of the individual and not vice versa. It is a dynamic principle in that as the individual at the grassroots is more and more empowered she is able to take more of the social decisions and so the need for centralisation is obviated. However, the principle itself was officially mooted at the very top of the Catholic Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. While it has since led to their being in each diocese an organisation for doing social work the structure of the Catholic Church remains to this day a highly centralised one and the principle is followed more in the breach. Thus, the crucial difference between the principle of subsidiarity and anarchism is that the former assumes a centralised system and talks of devolution of powers within it while the latter negates all centralisation and roots for small autonomous decentralised societies.
In the Indian context this principle was popularised on a very large scale by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi under the name "Oceanic Circle" in his seminal treatise "Hind Swaraj" which has been named as the Sarvodaya Manifesto. He conceived of a society that was not pyramidal as centralised state systems are but as a set of concentric circles of waves in an ocean where the highest energy is at the epicentre from where the waves originate and this epicentre was to be the villages of India. The oceanic circle analogy is an anarchist one but like the Pope, Gandhi too propagated this analogy from the helm of the centralised Congress Party without in any way trying to change the structure of that party from a pyramidal to an oceanic circle one. Consequently neither the Congress Party nor the independent Indian State have ever followed the oceanic circle model.
Now this tension between a pyramidal centralised party structure and a professed adherence to the principle of subsidiarity is there in the IAC vision document also. The IAC movement started off with the demand for a centralised Jan Lokpal to deal with corruption. This demand was not raised after an intensive mass campaign but by a group of activists who later with unexpected media support succeeded in giving it mass currency. The main problem with the Jan Lokpal Act is that like any other law against corruption that preceded it, including the latest Right to Information Act it can be subverted by a pyramidal system that is manned by corrupt people. Anyway the corrupt powers that be succeeded in stymying the enactment of the Jan Lokpal because the media enthused initial temporary mass support for the IAC vanished later on when people realised that the fight against corruption requires dedication and sacrifice over long periods of time and cannot be accomplished just by pressing the like button on Facebook. If the Jan Lokpal had been a demand of the masses then the movement would not have petered out so soon. The Vision Document which upholds the principle of subsidiarity once again does not have mass support.
To come up with a document and then canvass mass support for it is a sure recipe for it to be consigned to the waste paper basket of history as the Catholic Encyclical on the principle of subsidiarity and Gandhi's Oceanic Circle concept have been. To sincerely implement the principle of subsidiarity one must work at the grassroots negating totally the centralised system. The IAC tried to do so immediately after the release of the document by starting a campaign in Delhi asking people, especially the poor people, not to pay electricity bills and to restore their electrical connections if they had been severed for non-payment. However, after a few days in which they got some publicity in the media this radical anarchist programme was abandoned instead of escalating it to the point where it would have led to a confrontation with the state and inevitable incarceration. The IAC then switched back to targeting high profile corruption through the media.
What is most disturbing is that the IAC vision document is totally ahistorical. It does not mention even once the huge power of the financial behemoths that rule the global economy and which had brought it  down to its knees in 2008. These same financial institutions which were earlier parroting the virtues of the free market then shamelessly begged for government bailouts to keep afloat pleading that they were too big to fail. Today no country in the world is free of the influence of the huge economic and financial power that is concentrated in these financial institutions. To talk glibly about empowering the people at the grassroots without any concrete plans for countering the immense power of this kelptocratic clique is nothing short of useless dream mongering. The masses do not even know that their lives are controlled by these financial institutions. So what is needed first is a massive awareness campaign to make the masses realise this basic fact of the current global political economy and then build up a movement from the grassroots of refusing to pay taxes, bills etc to paralyse the centralised economy. A hard task no doubt but one that will have to be undertaken if any real improvement is to be made in the lives of the poor.
The Ekta Parishad on the other hand is a grassroots organisation. Along with many other organisations throughout India it is fighting locally for securing the right to land for the marginalised poor. However, given the power of the state and the local vested interests it is very difficult to achieve much by fighting isolated battles at the local level. That is why from 2006 on wards the EP concentrated on bringing all these local struggles together to put mass pressure on the Government of India. Twenty five thousand people marched from Gwalior to Delhi in 2007 demanding the implementation of the various land reform legislations and other pro-poor laws with regard to livelihoods and social protection. The upshot was that a National Land Reforms Commission was formed with the Prime Minister as the Chairperson to ensure that land was indeed given to the poor. However, not a single meeting of this Commission was held and so nothing was done on the ground.
The EP once again started mobilisation in 2011 to launch another march to Delhi. This time over 50,000 people congregated in Gwalior from all over the country to march to Delhi. After dilly dallying initially, the Government finally decided to sign the above mentioned pact in Agra and so the march was called off with the proviso that if the pact was not honoured within six months then the march would be resumed from Agra to Delhi.
The EP too is not doing anything new. The Communists, Socialists and Gandhians, notably Vinoba Bhave have all fought tenaciously to get land reforms implemented. In fact even the liberal democratic dispensation within the Congress led by Nehru have done their best to enact and implement land reforms because these form the bedrock of capitalist development by freeing the serfs and bonded labourers and providing cheap labour to industry and also creating a market for land. However, since the feudal elements in Indian society were very strong at the time of independence and constituted a significant portion of the politicians, bureaucracy and judiciary, so land reforms have always been implemented more in the breach. Specifically, Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan movement, despite formal Government support was not able to implement land reform in any significant way.
The pact reached recently between the Government and the EP is a red herring. All it says is that the Central Government will initiate the process of formulating a National Land Reforms Policy and will exhort the State Governments, who, under the federal structure of the Constitution, are charged with the management of land, to ensure the implementation of land reform legislation that has already been enacted and also provide homestead land to the homeless. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh even went to meet the marchers in Agra and promised that he would ensure that land was given to the poor and all complaints were addressed including the withdrawal of criminal cases against those agitating for land rights. Since governments over the years has made many such assurances to many movements both verbally and in writing, most notably to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and has always reneged, there is every likelihood of its doing so again and almost inevitably the EP will have to recongregate in thousands to renew the Jan Satyagraha in six months time.
The EP too like the IAC does not have any critique of the control of the global political economy by the financial institutions. These institutions have now begun to direct their funds into speculation in agricultural land and food futures. Land has now become one of the scarcest commodities and so there will always be pressure on governments to give it free or at hugely subsidised rates to the capitalists by depriving and displacing the poor. Many of those walking in the march for land have in fact been so deprived and displaced. Under the circumstances the failure on the part of the EP to target the global financial institutions in their political formulation is a serious lacuna.
Over the last year and more, there have been huge demonstrations across the world, including the mature liberal democracies in North America and Europe and yet the stranglehold of the financial kleptocrats on global policy making has not been eased even by a little. So while these mass protests in India and their documents deserve commendation for keeping up the pressure on centralised pyramidal systems, the quest for true empowerment of the masses must perforce remain as elusive as that for the Holy Grail. The Power of the We remains a chimerical goal in the face of the massive power of the Financial Kleptocrats who currently rule this world.
As an epilogue the role of the capitalist media needs to be put under the scanner. While many social movements have raised the issue of people centred governance earlier they never got the kind of media coverage that the IAC has. The crucial difference is that unlike the earlier movements which had clearly called for anti-capitalist measures, the IAC initially restricted itself to targeting High Profile Corruption and the solution of instituting a Jan Lokpal to tackle it. Corruption is something that affects capitalism adversely also and has been the target of the media ever since the 2008 meltdown. And obviously it affects the articulate and TV news watching middle class in India also. Therefore, media focused on this simple solution of bringing in a Jan Lokpal to tackle corruption and glorified the movement to a very high level. However, the media seeks newness all the time because any news becomes stale within a week these days. Therefore in their next forays in public demonstration the IAC were not able to muster the same media support. That is why now the IAC has concentrated on targeting high profile corruption to remain in the news all the time, instead of building up a mass based movement from the grassroots which is obviously unpalatable to the media.  The media have thus successfully blunted the revolutionary potential of the IAC. Nevertheless, overall both the IAC and the EP have no doubt shaken up the establishment and provided inspiration for  the million mutinies that are emerging in various parts of the country.

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