Let’s move back to our socialistic moorings, which is the overwhelming, underlying theme of protest movements across India. Look beyond the obvious and the visible – the demand for ‘Lokpal’ by Team Anna and the call for the repatriation of ‘black money’ by Baba Ramdev, for example – and listen deeper into the speeches made by the new-age reformers from several platforms. All of them are making unequivocal noises about an equitable society based on socialist-welfarist ideas.
The poor, the farmers, the tribals and the villages dominate the conversation of the reformers. There’s talk of social disparity, economic inequality, damage to rural life by industries and exploitation by a limited powerful few of the silent majority. Listen sharper, there is also a clear disapproval of the process of economic reforms and its inherent emphasis on the business classes. The protests are scattered at the moment, with each one raising a different concern, but put in one basket they provide a picture of ideological coherence. It’s Nehruvian socialism all of them vouch for.
Interestingly, the set of urban intellectuals advocating faster and deeper economic reforms and inducement to the business classes for faster economic growth also support the protests that are intrinsically against reforms and market-friendly forces. The contradiction – or should we call it hypocrisy — is hard to miss. The group would raise high hell over the energy crisis in the country but it would have no qualms in supporting former Army chief General VK Singh when he supports farmers’ movement against nuclear plants. It would support Baba Ramdev knowing well that his agenda in the long-run is against its core interests.
The argument could be: ‘we support Anna’s fight against corruption only and Ramdev’s fight against black money only. Both are big issues, of national interest’. Point taken, but do you also subscribe to and approve of the ideological roots and possible direction of both the movements? One cannot de-link the process from cause while supporting a goal. Processes ultimately unleash social forces with much bigger agendas than achieving the short-term goal.
While on the subject of processes, it’s worth discussing Team Anna’s decision to participate in politics. Once the Team shapes up its ideology, which given its supporting civil society constituents would be populist and socialistic, it’s likely to exclude many of its original supporters. No political party can function on a singular plank, the anti-corruption crusade in this case. Team Anna would try to be inclusive in its ideology but it would still end up alienating people. During its movement, it has unleashed expectations and it has to live up to those. What about the middle class and upper middle class supporters of the movement? They could lose interest.
This is probably the reason social protest movements collapse when they become too ambitious. The leaders confuse support for a particular cause as total popular endorsement of the entire process. Under the present circumstances, it’s safe to predict that the move of Team Anna would lose steam after a point. With Baba Ramdev competing in the same social and ideological space, there’s a possibility of conflict between the two. It is highly unlikely that both groups would operate from the same platform while vying for the attention of the same constituencies. Leaders from both sides would require a great deal of skill to co-habit in peace. So far, they have offered no indication that they have the skill to negotiate.
Let’s come back to the original question: Is it possible for the intellectuals to lend moral support to the spate of movements across the country without worrying about the consequences? The Left-leaning intellectuals have it easy here. Things are moving their way and the protests are in a way the stamp of approval for what they have been warning as ill-effects of reforms. But what about the right-leaning groups that are passionate about economic growth and swift progress? They might find it difficult to disentangle themselves from the contradiction between the process and the cause of what they supported. They could have, inadvertently, let loose the genie from the bottle. They would find it difficult to push it back now.