ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Anna Phenomenon

Should the anti-corruption struggle be defined in terms of a virtuous "civil society" versus an "evil" State?

The hoax of a virtuous “civil society” pitted against an evil, leviathan “State” has been making the rounds since the 1980s. The collapse of the Berlin Wall ensured its political durability, emboldening the “new right” to go global in spreading its way of legitimising capitalist relations of exploitation and domination and obscuring the social problems that capital, in its ruthless drive to accumulate wealth by any and all available means, brings about. In India, as a result of the new right’s neo-liberal programme, corruption has hit the roof. But the new right prescribes more of the same medicine. For its programmers, Anna Hazare, the self-styled authoritarian “Gandhian” from Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra best fitted the bill to be the messiah who would walk all over “corruption”. With god-men like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in tow, and with a bishop and a maulvi thrown in, faith-based power was guaranteed to attract the middle class in the numbers that are so essential to a favourable outcome of any crusade. Hazare’s fast-unto-death was to be the catalyst that would ignite the moral outrage of “civil society” against the corrupt representatives of the immoral State.

But what is it that is meant by “civil society”? To our friends in the foundation and/or government-financed non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the word “civil” provides the key. It denotes well-bred, gracious, refined, civilised and decent, and it is they who fit that category. For they are the ones, the “social entrepreneurs”, who via their NGOs, create and accumulate “social capital”; in their own estimation they are the ethical motors that power society to becoming “civil”. Groups that seek power in the State are excluded, especially those who are interested in acquiring political power, that is, the political parties. In this NGO view, while “civil society”, the State and the market are the three spheres that interface in the making of democracy, it is “civil society” and the market that have to cut the big bad State down to size to realise this ideal. What is required, the typical NGO intellectual proffers, is a “civil society onslaught”. We are all girded to get on board the “civil society bandwagon” to create “social” power in order to combat “political” power.

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