Holier-than-thou Middle-Class and Anna Hazare Phenomenon

Posted on August 23, 2011


Much has been speculated about the self-styled Gandhian social activist cum anti-corruption campaigner Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna Hazare. Emphasis, primarily on electronic media, has been laid upon his ‘morally correct’ standpoint against the unscrupulous corruption of political class of country without giving much weightage to the details and possible ramifications of his proposed plan. The media pundits who are self-assigned flag bearers of middle-class holier-than-thou morality are out there to predict a Gandhian revolution against the evils of society epitomized by corrupt politicians.


Let’s take a look to a poll conducted by CNN-IBN across the country before jumping the gun.


“In the CNN-IBN State of the Nation poll across 19 states and 20,000 respondents, it was found that only one third of Indians have heard about the Jan Lokpal Bill and only one fourth have any idea what the bill is about. So the Anna Hazare movement could well be one based mainly in the TV viewing educated urban middle class.”


Just for the sake of making it more vivid, The Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizens’ Ombudsman Bill) is a proposed anti-corruption law in India aims to effectively deter corruption, redress grievances of citizens and protect whistle-blowers.  If made into law, the bill would create an independent ombudsman body similar to Election Commission of India called the Lokpal. It would be empowered to register and investigate complaints of corruption against politicians and bureaucrats without prior government approval.


Following is the most basic and simple question that has been overlooked amidst this whole hullabaloo of demonization of ‘corrupt politicians’.


It presumes that a multitude of Lokpals/Lokayuktas will cover about 14 million Central and state government employees. Assuming a modest figure of one complaint per 100 employees, we may have around 140,000 employees investigated every year. These complaints are to be investigated in a fixed time. Even if one Lokpal can handle 100 cases a year, we will still need 1,400 Lokpals. Are we creating a structure parallel to the higher judiciary, but with much greater powers, and very little checks and balance? Anna assumes that all these Lokpals will be most honest, efficient and just. This itself is absurd in an environment where civil society doubts almost all those in elective office — even chief justices and military chiefs.” –Source



But to some, Lokpals would surely be honest and free of corruption by the virtue of associating with ‘civil society’ that is apotheosis of ‘high moral grounds’ of middle-class.


The phenomenon has led to resonating some waves across the border in Pakistan where the plight of middle class is not so different than its counterpart in India. In fact, middle-class around the world is similar in its outlook that is conservative, self-righteous and apolitical to the core and Pakistani middle-class is no exception rather worst owing to the perpetual military reigns and de-politicization policies of state. On the other hand, the narrative of middle-class is necessarily considered as the popular narrative given that the media is controlled by the persons who socio-economically fall in the category of this class, irrespective of the fact that ground realities are often different from that propagated ones.


An ADB report on Asia’s rising middle class confirms that Pakistan’s middle class now is 40% of the population, significantly larger than the Indian middle class of about 25% of its population.  In 2007, Standard Chartered Bank analysts and SBP estimated there were 30 to 35 million Pakistanis earning an average of $10,000 a year. Of these, about 17 million are in the upper and upper middle class, according to a recent report. This emerging class predominately consists of retailers, wholesalers, transporters, contractors, and white-collar workers in civil as well as military bureaucracy. Being the resourceful ones this is the trader community of urban Punjab and Sindh who donates billion of rupees to the Jihadi outfits every year and shies away from paying the taxes despite having the high morality ground for other half of society especially for political elite.


Though the biggest consumers of multinationals’ products, the Pakistani middle class is plagued with the syndrome of conspiracy theories culture and self-created illusions that emanate from Hindu/Jew/US hatred and narcissist tendencies, and lead to further radicalization. This rapid change in social outlook can be observed in some cricketers and musicians who have emerged as sole torch-bearers of religion. Detached from the popular mass politics this class believes in more centralized federation, in spite of recognizing the diversity, that may protect its socio-economic interests –be it military dictatorship or bureaucracy. This authoritative attitude, at times, paves the way for fascist tendencies that may be observed in MQM who proclaims to be the party of middle class of Sindh. One may easily observe the venom against the corrupt politicians in the morality sermons of this class but on the other hand there would hardly be a hint of corruption in military / civil bureaucracy or of corporate sector.


As for the political movements, in the post cold war scenario, middle-class can never carry political movements for too long owing to the contradictions of its economic interests and apolitical traits. At the end of the day, these surges are destined to fell prey in the hands of far-right that seize the moment by hijacking the zeal. The most glaring example in this regard, as for Pakistan, is the fate of so-called movement for restoration of judiciary. This is the same judiciary that once was beacon of hope, has gone overboard in giving the clean chit to convicted terrorists and publically castigating the notion of secularism whilst undermining the supremacy of elected Parliament. These are the same lawyers who once were pioneers of the movement, have been found showering roses upon self-confessed killer. While this is the high time to raise the voice against despicable verdicts of higher judiciary there’s a deafening silence among the ranks of this class implying it is least bothered about the decisions and their implications.


Anna Hazare is personification of holier-than-thou middle class morality that aspires to see every seed blossoming overnight, despite being outright apolitical. The dilemma of middle class is that it holds the moral grounds of Jesus and fantasizes about the ideals of Marx while being socially and morally slave of Laissez-faire and Mussolini, and this state of quandary doesn’t seem to come to an end any time soon.


Suleman Akhtar


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