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India Against Corruption: Social enterprise or cult?

Jul 25, 2012 16:04 IST

#Anna Hazare   #Arvind Kejriwal   #cult   #kiran bedi   #Team Anna   #ToTheContrary  

by Vishy Kuruganti

India Against Corruption (IAC) is on its next anshan with a marketing blitz. A lot has been written about IAC – opinions ranging from the messianic (second-coming-of-Gandhi) to the castigating (what-is-he-smoking). As a social enterprise and religious cult watcher, here are the questions that fascinate me - is IAC a social enterprise? A religious cult?

Is the movement a cult? Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar today. Naresh Sharma/ Firstpost

In my earlier column, I gave some examples of successful social enterprises. Let’s now turn to our favorite search engine and examine the different definitions for social enterprises.

Social enterprise

1. Social enterprise is a social mission driven organization that applies market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose.

2. Social enterprise is a company that uses social and collaborative tools to get work done, supported by a culture of openness.

Obviously, it’s the first definition that’s relevant so let’s decompose it step-by-step. The IAC is unambiguously a social mission driven organization since ridding a country of endemic corruption cannot be anything but a social mission.

Q: Does IAC apply market-based strategies?

A: Could emotional blackmail and fast-onto-death strategies be classified as ‘market-based’? An IAC fanboy might make the case that India’s citizens and their emotions constitute the ‘market’. A bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

Gee! I wonder what the experts have to say on this topic. The Skoll Foundation President (Sally Osberg) and a management guru from Toronto (Roger Martin), weigh in with the case for a rigorous definition of social entrepreneurship which identifies three components:

 (1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own; (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude, thereby challenging the stable state’s hegemony; and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.

The definition comes across as Newton’s Law of Social Entrepreneurship (on steroids) but it is certainly rigorous.

At first blush, IAC’s mission and modus operandi seem to jive perfectly with Osberg and Martin’s definition.

Not so fast.

In a bid to tighten the definition further, the authors go on to exclude two groups – social service provision and social activists.

Instead of taking direct action, as the social entrepreneur would, the social activist attempts to create change through indirect action, by influencing others – governments, NGOs, consumers, workers, etc. – to take action… Successful activism can yield substantial improvements to existing systems and even result in a new equilibrium, but the strategic nature of the action is distinct in its emphasis on influence rather than on direct action.

In  a nutshell, India Against Corruption (a highly media-savvy coalition of social activists) is employing social activist strategies and is therefore not a social enterprise. My complete analysis of the Osberg-Martin definition (which includes two points of disagreement) can be found here.

Got cult?

A friend once commented that joining and organised religion of cult is akin to outsourcing your intellect. Unsurprisingly, our favourite search engine yields the following definitions for a cult.

cult

1. A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

2. A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

Just drop the word “religious” from above and the definitions could easily be describing Anna Hazare / Team Anna. Not convinced? Ok – let’s see how the IAC stacks up against some of the prominent ‘patterns’ of religious cults.

Special unique leader

By definition, cults have special unique leaders - persons of great personal magnetism with a flair for attracting large numbers of people. They have an air of authority and command that instills confidence in their followers.

Anna Hazare is a cinch for this job description.

New revelations of truth

Most cults have a familiar line that they have a "new" revelation or interpretation of the truth.

In the case of IAC, the ‘truth’ is a tweaking and rebranding the languishing-for-decades Lokpal bill into a plenipotentiary anti-corruption government wing to investigate and prosecute corruption (at all levels of government).

My way or the highway

Either you are a member of the cult or are doomed to eternal damnation.

This has been a consistent refrain from Team Anna and its supporters. If you are against Jan Lokpal, it must mean that you are against the anti-corruption movement, ergo you must be corrupt yourself.

Flexing of doctrine and scripture

Very conveniently doctrine can often be adapted to suit new situations, new problems as they arise, or to suit the whims of the leader.  He/she has of course a "God given right" to change and interpret at will.

In the early days of the movement, IAC was secular (to a fault), taking great care to not be associated with religious leaders like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. A year later, Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare unite for fight against corruption and Arvind Kejriwal tweets “I have the utmost respect for Swamiji (Ramdev).”

Group think replaces independent thought

Critical analysis is discouraged and group think is paramount. The pressure is not to understand or analyze but to accept.

With Arvind Kejriwal as the chief strategist, Anna Hazare as the public face, Kiran Bedi as the voice-on-Twitter and chief rabble-rouser at fasting venues, Manish Sisodia as media strategist, and Prashant Bhushan as Arundhati Roy’s mole in Team Anna, is it surprising that there isn’t room for any more leaders/independent voices? Two members of Team Anna’s core committee (Rajendra Singh and PB Rajagopal) resigned in Oct 2011 in protest against Kejriwal’s autocratic style. Justice Santosh Hegde (perhaps the only remaining Team Anna member outside Delhi), has publicly disagreed with the decision to campaign against Congress in the Hisar by-election and has, more recently, disassociated himself from corruption charges levelled by Team Anna against 15 Union Ministers including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

While India Against Corruption is not a social enterprise, there is little doubt that it indeed is a cult. I rest my case.

Disclosure: If IAC/Team Anna were publicly traded stocks, the author would be shorting them. He has previously opined on these topics here, here and here.

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