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.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Liberalism going to the Grassroots

The Aam Aadmi Party has won 28 of the 70 seats in the New Delhi Legislative Assembly elections held recently and its national convener Arvind Kejriwal won by more than 25000 votes against the incumbent Indian National Congress Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. This is a very good performance by a political party formed less than a year ago from the social movement India Against Corruption. Given the difficulty that our own Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has faced in winning in Panchayat elections in its areas of influence over the past three decades I had been sceptical of the AAP being able to get more than a few seats at the most let alone come close to forming a government on its own and dethroning the Chief Minister. 
However, this exceptional performance by the AAP has been met with derision by some people from the social activism sector saying that the AAP does not have any ideology apart from its campaign against corruption and its promises of providing cheap electricity and free water, education and health. There is a need on the part of social activists to realise that the scenario in this country is changing as it is across the world. Instead of saying that the AAP has no ideology it would be better to acknowledge that they have understood the ideology of liberalism very well, moulded it to the situation prevailing in this country and taken it to the grassroots where people can understand it. 
Currently liberalism is the dominant ideology throughout the world and parliamentary democracy is the form of government through which this ideology rules over most countries. One important component of liberalism is the "Rule of Law" - that there will be just laws and the State will be tasked through its elected representatives and salaried staff to uphold these laws. Corruption broadly defined in this framework is a violation of this rule of law by the elected representatives and the salaried staff who are tasked with upholding it and so if a political party says that it is going to wipe out corruption and ensure the rule of law then it is a votary of classical liberalism and does have a pretty robust ideology. At a higher level corruption can also mean the enactment of laws that are not just and in that respect also if a political party says that it will repeal such laws or bring in laws that will remove corruption then too it is following the liberal ideology.
Secondly since liberalism has been more or less coterminous with capitalism it has had to contend with the ill effects of the laissez faire variety wherein capitalists concerned with earning more and more profits do not pay attention to the costs that this imposes on society in the form of unemployment, underemployment, less than subsistence wages, lack of crucial social services like education and health and on the environment in the form of unsustainable extraction of natural resources and pollution. Therefore, liberalism as it has evolved has increased the role of the State beyond the upholding of the rule of law to the regulation of capitalist economic activity, regulation of the environment and the provision of social services and security. Thus, if a political party says that it will regulate the electricity companies operating in Delhi to ensure that they are not over charging and if it says that it will improve the functioning of the water supply and sanitation systems by cross subsidising the poor and if it says that it will spend much more on the provision of free education and health services instead of on building flyovers and hotels from government revenues then too it is following the path of liberalism as it stands today in the most advanced liberal democracies. 
The crucial thing here is that the AAP has been able to convince the ordinary voter in Delhi whether from the slums or from the more well heeled residential colonies that they will be able to do all this. Over the past eight months or so they have carried out a grassroots campaign and drawn support from the people of Delhi. They have been able to convince Indians across the country and all over the globe that they are sincere about their programme of action and so they have garnered huge financial and human resources compared to what grassroots social movements normally are able to do and broken the jinx that strangles such social movements - the inability to convince voters that they will indeed be able to come to power through elections and carry out a truly liberal programme of action and so they would not be wasting their vote by voting for them. And it is clearly a major groundswell in Delhi at least. The AAP has remained steadfast to its pre-poll decision not to form a Government in alliance with others and it would prefer to force a re-poll in case of a hung assembly. Such is the pressure created by popular perception that the BJP too has announced that it will not try to do horse trading and cobble together a government but would prefer to go for a re-poll. If this happens then that in itself will be a game changer for electoral politics in this country.
There is not much weight in the criticism that the AAP will not be able to carry out what it has promised to do even if it comes to power because its programme is highly idealistic and will face many hurdles. This kind of criticism applies to all radical social change programmes not only to liberal ones. Socialist programmes of action carried out through either revolutionary or parliamentary means have all failed to achieve their goals. However, no one is criticising them for that. In theory liberalism is as good as socialism is and the problem is that like for the latter it is difficult to implement it in practice. The AAP has been able to mobilise common people in a principled manner and with very efficient marshalling of limited resources and it has to be commended for that. One should keep one's cynicism at bay and instead hope that something good will come out of this despite the huge challenges that the AAP will invariably face going forward in a world dominated by Corporate and finance capital. 

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