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Media and the fight against corruption




Many years ago I decided that I will not pursue the French tradition of literary criticism and political theory, because at that time it seemed to me (and still does to an extent) that the French tradition is riddled with hair splitting that is probably counter productive to any meaningful strategies of social and political action.  Of all the people in the French tradition my greatest contempt has been for Jean Baudrillard whom I have seen as nothing but a wizard with words, somewhat like Jacque Derrida, but more pointedly so.  Time and life have compelled me to revisit this position of mine many times but I have been surprised by an obduracy that has only grudgingly accepted some of it as relevant but ultimately condemning the tradition as futile.  Yet again, I am somehow forced to revisit this position, by my memory of what I had studied. Which would prima facie mean that there is validity of what the tradition says and does, so what if people like Jean Baudrillard appear like nihilists (sometimes) and Derrida seems like a merchant cleverly selling his words and Foucault like a magician who conjures concepts that seem to be real but probably are not.  My relationship with Foucault (as his reader) has been less ambivalent, but I have always found it difficult to accept him in toto.  But by stretching this introduction so long I am probably wasting your time, but I crave your indulgence because even I do not know which way this post will go and how it will end.  It is my hope that I will clarify many of my own confusions and uncertainties as I write.  So all this is a defence of what may come up has contradictions in thinking or lack of authenticity in statements that I make and maybe even the total lack of any clarity.


I am sure that the header that I put is a dead give away of my intentions.  And if you dear reader are assuming that this blog is a space that I use to flog to death issues circulating in the public sphere you are right.  But me being whoever I am cannot resist this fatal temptation and therefore time after time I gladly succumb to it.  As a small little preface to this piece let me go where no social scientist has gone before, to look at the intentions of the person who started this whole thing.  I am trying to understand Anna Hazare's intent and by that I don't mean that I am searching for his motivations in taking up his fast and if there was something more than meets the eye, something sinister which is being camouflaged this larger fight against corruption (there are enough conspiracy theories floating around and there is no need for me to add to those, though I can tell you honestly that I do not have one).  I am looking at the actions that he chose and the target of his actions.  His action is undertaking a fast against corruption, and his target the government which is doing nothing about corruption and is in fact most times the perpetrator of this corruption.  So Hazare takes up a fast in Delhi since that is where all the action is with the help of a few supporters and friends such as The Bhushans, Kiran Bedi, Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, Baba Ramdev etc.  This is where I ask myself a question.  Did Hazare even want the popular surge that happened or did he even anticipate it?  If his actions after the breaking up of the fast are taken into consideration and they should be, the answer can be not necessary.  Let me elaborate.  Can way say that Hazare wanted a revolution, a change of guard, a replacement of the present form of governance?  It doesn't seem that he wanted something like this.  His idea was to create this office of the Jan Lokpal who would watch the government and its agencies with an eagle eye and provide redressal for grievances when faced with corruption. His actions in choosing members of his support group as members of the drafting committee shows that his notion of "civil society" is not broad based but is confined to a few.


So where does this leave the normally phlegmatic middle classes' enthusiasm for this fight against corruption?  What of all the posts on Facebook, articles such these on blogs, candle light vigils, silent marches, celebratory rock shows and token fasts that the middle classes took to?  The brutal reality is that it is all a side show, a mere accessory to the main story and sometimes not even that.  Facebook, the blogosphere,. TV, newspapers are all media.  While the first two are the darlings of the self conscious literati the latter two are driven by the urge to be relevant and sell for better ratings.  So what started off as an activity perhaps of the few (and I say this confidently because apart from a perfunctory thanks, Hazare did nothing more) gained huge proportions like a swelling.  I have said Hazare did nothing more than extending thanks because there was no attempt made by him to enlarge the group of people from "civil society" (do we presume that the rest are uncouth and uncivil).  The only addition to the group has been people representing the government, people such as Kapil Sibal and Digvijay Singh.  For me this is a party of two groups slugging it out with each other for the formulation of a bill which will later on be imposed on the rest of the population and it will have to be accepted as manna from heaven.  I am not sure if this is what I want.  Anyone who has been reading my blog will know that I have been championing the cause of deliberative democracy which is broad based and this does not fit that bill.  But please treat that as an aside since that is not the main purpose of this post.


What I am trying to look at here is the role of the media.  The question is does the media facilitate a revolution or does it actually quell it?  When this question came up in my mind, the answer came up from my memory of the afore mentioned French tradition.  Let me take you to the now famous uprising in France in the year 1968 and also to Baudrillard's characterization of it.  For Baudrillard this uprising which seemed to be the unity of workers and students was anything but that and that is why it failed.  He talked about how the purpose of the workers was different from that of the students who were only looking for better quality education and other conditions that could not be made sense of by the workers. In his book entitled "For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign" wrote a chapter which he called "Requiem for the Media" in which he said and I quote " a given time in a given place, an act of radical rupture was invented - or..a particular response was invented there, where the institutions of administration and pedagogical power were engaged in a private oratoria and functioned precisely to interdict any answer".  That is quite eloquent and it needs no further assistance from me.


However, I will take this to yet another concern of mine which has been articulated through this blog.  When trying to understand the "student revolution" for a separate Telangana which was as much a media thing one will have to take the same arguments into consideration.  What if even that is just private engagement which will only let down the aspirations of the students?  I suspect it is just that and it will undoubtedly let down the aspirations of the students.  The students are fighting not just for a separate state but also for their livelihood and survival.  The education system has let them down drastically in not preparing them for employment and better life.  They will be marginalized in the "oratoria" between politicians and will function for politicians while functioning to interdict any meaningful gains for students.  That is why I am pessimistic and deeply suspicious of anything involving the media and here I rest my case.