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If spring comes can winter be far behind?: Protest in Delhi

By       Message Shreesha Udupa     Permalink
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Governing (from) the Streets:

Virtually for more than thirty hours, the provincial government of the capital city of India was being run from the streets: it was a moment when a ruling government had taken recourse to protests. The cabinet had met on the pathways; the chief minister had slept on the roads of a city that he governed.

This becomes a significant event as it was a government that emerged from activism with a section of it entering the electoral mode in order to legitimize itself within the discourse of representative democracy. From occupying the streets one was moving to occupy the administration while following the rules of the game. It could be seen as yet another manifestation of the "spring spirit", and should be viewed critically along with the retrospective analyses of its outcomes in last three years in Tunisia and Egypt as well.

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Subjectification via Desire:

In the entire discourse that the Jan-Lokpal protest has produced one can see from the beginning the massive desire of an universal, of the West, as Alain Badiou calls it. Rather than appropriating the local to formulate the discursive force, it began with the appropriation of the universal. The discourse was being developed along the lines of the conceptual paradigm produced outside and the attempt was to root it in the form of desire into oneself. In the outsourcing logic of late capitalism, desire is always the desire of another. Desire with an uppercase D is the mode of subjectivity.

Corruption was one of the threads added to the grand narrative of democracy that was being used. Even at the symbolic realm, what was out there was being invoked rather than an inward turn of the focus. This was one among the several key differences that made its claim for resemblance with Gandhi's satyagraha an impossibility. Anna Hazare was enthusiastic of re-enacting it for the second time, but he could do it only as a farce, a farce produced en masse with the considerable support he had gained. This support could be seen more as an outpour at the new outlet gained with the momentum rather than a committed concern.

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There was such a concern for its transformation in Kejriwal's attempt to turn the activism into a political force: it was done with the formation of a group called Aam Admi Party (a party of the Commoner) that was fundamentally a non-party party.

Kejriwal was approaching what Badiou calls as inexistent of the world, those people who are present in the world but are absent from its meaning and decisions about its future. Desire with an uppercase D is least relevant here. So there was a need to transform the mode of subject formation; a fraction of the group underwent this change in order to gain the agency. This alteration did not have fragmentary effect over the party due to its non-party status. One of the key features of such organizational structure is the kind of space it provides for the prevalence of heterogeneity.

After the engagement with the inexistent of the world, the pronouncement of a change can be called real only when these come into existence in the same world with maximum intensity: one can see these efforts in the way how AAP dealt with the problems of slum dwellers living the ex-chief minister's own constituency and who were the conventional vote bankers of the former government, to the step taken to provide shelters to the homeless in Delhi immediately as a protection from winter: nobody in the government even thought about the wretched life they were living till now.

The Doublebind:

But can we take everything at its face when every act is political within the dynamics of its practices? This is where one has to differentiate among at least three models that have been surfaced in the post-Janlokpal movement of 2011. First one was the seemingly non-political Anna Hazare model with its self-declared apolitical stance which was clearing the space for right-wing politics. It is a stand taken by most of the middle class that is within the comfort zone in India today, who are not ready to take any stand. It is interesting to notice how media was calling this apolitical outbreak as "Indian Spring" modeling it after the Arab Spring that was deeply political. Jantar Mantar had become India's Tahrir Square in the newsrooms. Bourguiba Avenue was being found in Jan Path (people's way) and Raj Path (ruler's way), one running perpendicular to another, thus extending the significatory functions into a discourse as well.

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Second one can be seen in the model of ex-bureaucrats, Kiran Bedi being the chief actor in the frame: there is absolutely no difference between administration and politics here. Or rather they voluntarily prefer to substitute one for the another as a solution to all the problems. This is a class that has entered into its comfort zone with experience of taking part in running the state machinery, hence advocating to transform the political-state into an ultra-commercial corporation.

The third one can be called as AAP model, Yogendra Yadav and Aravind Kejriwal being its representatives, who were trying to turn the so-called apolitical wave of activism into active politics, a crucial step to gain the agency of action rather than either being counter-active all the time or restraining oneself to the symbolic realm. But this radical step was simultaneously an act of walking into, as Badiou calls it, a trap of electoral artifice. The awareness of this double-bind makes every act to integrate the possibilities of governance and potentialities of resistance: if the government of Delhi has come into the streets today and the chief minister is holding his cabinet meeting on the roads, this double-edge is active behind this event, and it couldn't have been different given the nature of the system in which it has emerged.

The movement tried to claim itself as a  blend, with getting supports from various grounded activists across India, of it being a consumerist carnival as well as of outburst of the excluded - the later for the validity while the former for the relevance, to prove its practicality for the post-idealist majority. The movement acquired the intensification by positing itself in this gray area.

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Shreesha Udupa is a writer, researcher who lives in Mangalore, India. He is currently a research student at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India.

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