In search of a Bernie Sanders in India

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

As we all know by now that the democratic national convention held in Philadelphia has officially declared Hillary Clinton as the democratic presidential candidate for the presidential elections in November. And the discussion in American political sphere as well as elsewhere revolves round the personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But let us go a few months back…

And that tells us that in spite of an unprecedented churning witnessed during the campaign for winning the delegates on his side, Bernard (Bernie) Sanders was not able to win the democratic nomination. The big corporations, the big banks and the ones who control the levers of the American arms and ammunition lobby as well as the captains of the wall street  indeed took a big sigh of relief after months of anxiety on account of the wave that Bernie was creating in major parts of America where the working populace only manage to eke out a meagre living; where the “people of colour” are still made to feel the vestiges of white supremacist thinking; where the middle classes are forced to fall in the honey trap of big banks; and where immigrants accost a glass ceiling in spite of the promise of a liberal and accommodative America. In a context where economic and social inequality is tending to overpower, Bernie made America dream of the possibility of an egalitarian society. Bernie’s dialogue with thousands of citizens across the width of the country made them aware that in all these years they had merely been reduced to being human robots, whose vocation was to consume, both ideas and product, which largely travelled down from above. In the beginning of his campaign he recounted that living in the richest country in the history of the world was only a sham because in reality this wealth was controlled by a tiny handful of individuals. And therefore a situation where the top ten per cent of Americans owned much more than what the bottom ninety per cent possess could not remain a jigsaw puzzle under the predictable scrutiny of the economists whose very locus standii was being controlled by the same ten per cent of the haves. Going further, he passionately appealed to the inscrutable Americans that this unimaginable wealth and income inequality needed to be contested not only as a political or economic concern, but more importantly as a moral imperative. Bernie went on to exhort the American people to share what they already knew, and that was that in order to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s idea of democracy, they needed to guard the system against the unbelievable influence of ‘big’ money and even ‘bigger’ corporations. According to him, a vibrant democracy could not afford to watch the gradual rigging of its electoral process, resulting in almost predictable outcomes in the name of peoples’ choice. Bernie’s progressive campaign included; decent paying jobs, improvement in working conditions, fighting racial justice, a humane immigration policy, and strengthening and expanding social security, to name just a few. While he changed the way corporation funded campaigns were used to create a spectacle in US elections, it was for the first time in recent decades an American white- male-old time politician generated so much curiosity and interest among very diverse constituencies. The passion and commitment with which he highlighted the issues which affect an average American household across colour, class and sexual preference was as unprecedented as the issues themselves.

Sad it is therefore that in all likelihood, the same big money which he called a nuisance for American democracy has ensured that Bernie Sanders does not march ahead as the democratic claimant to the White House. Even as he departs from the scene, he has left certain vital ideas for democracies everywhere, including India. It is certain that if the points and concerns highlighted by him are released on the Indian streets, even without knowing that there is someone called Bernie Sanders, ordinary Indians shall not fail to be impacted by the resonance of his ideas. Needless to share that some of the images of the general and state elections in India in recent times have conveyed the same horrifying message that our democracy is rapidly moving into the custody of big money. This is a proposition which is much more horrifying than what America experiences, in view of the increasing evidence of absolute poverty and unparalleled level of structural inequality that India confronts. The perpetuation of ideas like brand making and brand building and the leader as a brand in public memory is the unsavoury creation of a neo-liberal conglomeration of economics and politics which aspires to create an establishment which is only accountable to the market and not to the populace. Contrary to the widespread fear amongst the workforce, it wants the much desired labour reforms to be perceived as being in the best interests of the state and the society. It wants the state to adhere to a premeditated location and operate within a limited sphere of influence, as far as the macroeconomic interventions and initiatives are concerned. Suffice it to say that the mystique of the well-guarded growth story is indeed a euphemism chosen to hide the larger reality which could have exposed the crude images of the marginalisation of three-fourth of the population. The role of the media is as questionable as the issues that it chooses to obliterate. The well-designed black out by the corporate controlled media of those evidences and images which can disturb the conscience of the nation are no longer a hidden affair. Questions and answers by devious anchors of news channels are carefully crafted in such a manner that the nation gets to know only what the medium desires the viewer-citizens to know. Mainstream political parties tout growth and development almost in chorus, without ever bothering to unpack what they de facto contain for the people and communities on the lower rungs and on the margins. Even for the sake of rituals, they do not scrutinise what this growth really means to the peasants and labourers in Vidarbha, Marathawada and Bundelkhand! They do not even begin to fathom how this growth story has impacted the lives of the workers who find themselves placed within constricted spaces of negotiation under the MGNREGA. They do not enlighten as to how someone like Rohit Vemula can manage to cope with a brazenly discriminatory and omnipresent institutional mechanism or how the countless people at the bottom fail to align with this growth phenomenon when they find virtually no access to health, education and employment.

Alas, if we had our own home grown Bernie Sanders! Not only for the millions of the subaltern, for whom he could be an uncontested messiah, even the fictitious middle class in India needs a Bernie Sanders to reveal to it the deep wounds inflicted by the fairy-tale neoliberal boom story. Which political party or media house has asked as to what happened to the Right to Food legislation? Concerns such as these are not raised because neoliberal politics has an extraordinary capacity to produce the deafening consensus of silence across the political spectrum. However, if in the holiest of the sanctuaries of neo-liberal economy and politics, Bernie Sanders, by his sheer grit, imagination and commitment to the ordinary Americans could show a full size mirror to the big money and the big corporation to demonstrate that their success story is only at the cost of fundamental values cherished by the founding fathers, then one can only speculate about the sheer impact that the power of his ideas could create in a context like ours, where hope is rapidly dwindling. The colossal absence of a resisting force in the form of a Bernie Sanders has led to the creation of a few islands of prosperity developed by the corporate giants, and these are sold to the people of this country as precursors to India’s success story. These perpetuate as they remain largely uncontested. Listening carefully to the issues raised by Bernie, we find that much like the US, even in India important socio-economic concerns of the majority population are being pushed to the darkest corners of private spheres, faraway from public consideration. Barring a few individuals who are openly and humiliatingly referred to as cynics, and a few civil society organisations, which are invariably dubbed as anti-development aka anti-national, political parties often choose not to speak up, and the media unsurprisingly follows the same route. The reasons are not very different from what Bernie Sanders diagnosed for America, and that is that ‘Washington is dominated by big money’. If one were to just replace Washington with Delhi, the canvas would largely remain unchanged.

Such is the modus operandi of the neoliberal economy and politics that we have been made oblivious of the fact that politics essentially means to question the manner in which resources are allocated and to intervene and explicate that less than ten per cent of the people at the top shall not decide what the priorities of the bottom ninety per cent shall be. This is  essentially why it is imperative, that placed as we are in our troubled times, we desperately need our own Bernie Sanders who would let people reckon that when politicians are navigated by big money and big corporate houses, democracy merely becomes a shield for Gaetano Mosca’s ‘predictable circulation of familiar elites.’


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