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I know it is Halloween today, but I didn’t want to be startled the first thing in the morning. Bill Keller of the New York Times managed to do that to me, however, with his column unfavorably contrasting the Occupy Wall Street protests to a popular anti-corruption movement in India.
Essentially, Keller, the former top editor of the paper, makes two comparisons: First, the Indian movement is pro-capitalist, which is meant to be good, while the occupiers are anti-capitalist, which equals bad.
But that’s a central flaw of the Indian campaign, not a positive, as Keller would have us believe. The two-decade-old process of economic liberalization in India has resulted in a big business-government nexus that has given rise to unprecedented levels of corruption.
“If the lament of Indians is that political corruption pilfers public resources, then who are its chief beneficiaries?” asked leading Indian journalist Manu Joseph in Keller’s own paper a couple of months ago. “It is the companies that secure licenses at discounted rates in exchange for kickbacks.”
But those expressing their anger at sleaze in India are not directing their ire at the right targets. That is because many of them either work for corporate India or are admirers of India’s robber barons.
Second, Keller lauds the Indian movement for having a clear agenda and being driven by leaders with conviction, as opposed to the occupiers, who are without an obvious program and people in charge.
Keller fails to realize the elite class composition of the campaign in India has resulted in goals that may be clear-cut but are also extremely self-serving.
“I sense a lack of emotional proportion and a troubling hypocrisy from a middle class that refuses to get as moved to action by graver things, such as the murder of female children, child labor in homes, hotels and factories, or poverty outside our car windows,” wrote Samar Halarnkar a few months ago in the Hindustan Times, a prominent Indian English-language daily. “There is excitable talk now of the constitutional right to protest, but this is not something we like to give to Kashmiris, or bother too much when it is snatched from tribals or others on the margins of middle-India’s imagination.”
And the leader Keller extols, social reformer Anna Hazare, has a checkered history. In years past, he has ordered the flogging of people defying an alcohol ban in his model villages (which Keller fleetingly mentions). But Hazare’s conduct even lately has been problematic, with his arrogance alienating many in his support base.
Hazare has added to that a strident nationalism, an odd stance for a supposed admirer of Gandhi. He recently threw under the bus a close associate, Prashant Bhushan, who was beaten up by right-wing goons in his lawyer chamber for calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. And he said, “If I have to, I’m ready to take part in war against Pakistan.”
If this is Keller’s example of a leader-powered movement with a clear program, I will choose the occupiers he belittles over his role model any day.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Globalization Scorches Greece."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter