India has now reached the inflection point in which the post liberalization generation who have not experienced the License Raj economic climate of the days of ‘Hindu Growth Rate’ demanding a scale up. Economic Reforms 2.0 have taken a back seat of sorts as the Congress led coalition focuses on delivering Welfare measures as it concentrates on Main Street than Mint Street. A ‘chowraha’ or a four point crossing-intersection, emblematic of a town centre like Sangli or Anantapur is an image that conjures up in my head. The electoral politics of the Congress dictates a pro poor orientation (which the writer full heartedly endorses as welfare is an enabler for the poor) and the urban voter base is not the target audience which it normally courts. Although the Congress dispensation, has been ruling urban Delhi over the last 15 years. It is quite ironical but Sheila Auntyji has been doing a good job with Infrastructure in spite of the CWG Scam and poor security for the better gender.
Discontentment with the current government has reached a tether. The economy is tanking although ‘Governator’ Rajan has started off with a bang. The encouraging development in this state of political churning is the role which the educated middle class is playing in shaping the political discourse in a small but critical fashion. The National Advisory Council is the best illustration of an Educated Citizen Elite contributing to construct policies. While Aruna Roy and Harsh Mandar spearheaded the Right to work Program Bill, Jean Dreaze and Prof Amartya Sen extended intellectual legitimacy to the Right to Food Act. Welfare Legislations help in transforming voters into citizens as democracy is not only about voting but about governance.
The idea of the Citizen Elite was sparked while reading the famed Indian Sociologist Dipankar Gupta’s new book “Revolution from Above: India’s Future and the Citizen Elite”. A breakthrough read, Prof Gupta enunciates the concept of the Elite of Calling’s role in creating transformational change like bring universal healthcare and suffrage in 19th Century Victorian England. Closer home, Sati practice abolition was an act of the educated elite who thought of the greater good of the ‘public’. Remember Raja Ram Mohun Roy and the Bramha Samaj Reformation Movement?
The educated intelligentsia usually confined to the civil service and the academia has found a voice in think tanks and the electronic media. Legions of bloggers-online writers such as me write on topical issues to generate a conversation in communities we reside in rising above discussing mundane ‘Big Boss’ and ‘Grand Masti’. It is the Citizen Elite who has the bright and the right set of ideas for masses even if they might not be popular at the moment. The masses do not have the time or the resources to agitate. Even if they do, it fizzles off as the ruling class throttles the oxygen for the masses to survive. It is easy to harass the activist bunch in India by accusing him of tax evasion and something more heinous that even.
The Jan Lok Pal Agitation is an ideal case study to illustrate the soft and symbolic power of the Caravan reading Indian cultural elite. Aided by the 24×7 beast called as the electronic and social media to fuel the rage, Anna Hazare had his Nelson Mandela moment as the political totem symbolizing the dearth of moral leadership in this nation. Much diluted ombudsman legislation was ratified in a shoddy manner, but that was a victory for the ‘Elite of calling’ lead by civil society leaders as Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and Ms. Kiran Bedi. The Jan Lok Pal Team is a bunch of Moral Entrepreneurs with an exemplary track record. Mr. Kejriwal, a Magsayasay Awardee led the movement for the Right to Information Act. Shazia Ilmi, an excellent journalist who traded positions to be the media contact person for the Jan Lok Pal Agitation.
These people had good ideas, went to elite educational institutions, worked in the top echelons of civil service and corporate sector to bring those skills to the advocacy and political conversations. More importantly, they had a profusely keen sense of destiny that they can make the world a better place.
That is the differentiating element between the ‘Citizen Elite’ and current crop of political leaders who are political entrepreneurs; second generation legislators or business tycoons who buy their way through Rajya Sabha like Bellary Mining Tycoon Avinash Lad or the revered Dr. Mallaya. A Jay Panda is a parliamentarian of the Citizen Elite Genre. Naveen Jindal, although an Industrialist has pioneered the path for a common man to unfurl the National Tricolor sans inhibition.
The Prakash Jha directed ‘Satyagraha’ starring Amitabh Bachchan is a cinematic take on the Jan Lok Pal Movement with Bachchan portraying a loosely caricatured Anna Hazare taking the lead over an anti corruption movement. The former Jan Lok Pal Team apart from Kiran Bedi has formed the Aam Admi Party which is creating a flutter before the Delhi Assembly Elections. Lok Satta Party’s Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan is a former civil servant turned MLA from Kutapally, Andhra Pradesh who stands for a clean political discourse. He had put up exemplary candidates for the Karnataka Assembly Polls although none of them won. The entire point of the exercise is about signaling a change.
In the rough and tumble of politics in India, ‘the Citizen Elite’ are slowly gravitating from the periphery to the epicenter of elections. I hope for more Jairam’s and Kejriwal’s to join the conversation.
Only the Citizen Elite can bring the Change. Yes, We Can.