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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


An 'Indian Summer'

An 'Indian Summer': Lokpal and the Framing of Accountability
Speaker: Aalok Khandekar # University of Maastricht
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Date and Time
5th Apr 2012 16:00 - 5th Apr 2012 17:30
7 Buccleuch Place

An Indian Summer: Lokpal and the Framing of Accountability


This paper focuses on the events of the summer of 2011 in India, during which large-scale popular protests against state corruption appeared to be gathering force, their visibility amplified further in the incessant gaze of 24/7 news media and various online social networking platforms such as Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. These protests came to be centered on the leadership of one Anna Hazare, a self-styled Gandhian, who would launch on a series of highly publicized fasts pushing for the drafting and then passing of a strong Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill whose reach extended all the way to the Prime Minister’s office. But curiously, it appeared not to be villagers or farmers but India’s “new middle class” who were responding en masse to Hazare’s call for accountability in governance. Hazare – who was quickly hailed as a “modern Gandhi” – seemed to be galvanizing a group that is typically billed as politically apathetic, one which might have been more likely to view Gandhi as an outmoded oddity.

 Knowledge of and discontent over “corruption” is commonplace in India, and hardly limited to the consumerist middle classes, so the fact that it was this group that seemed most invested in the fate of the Lokpal debate requires some attention. And it is this framing of the Lokpal protests as middle class protests that will form the central problematic of this paper. We ask: what precise sort of “space of appearance” does the Lokpal debate represent? Within this space, how does the notion of the “new middle class” structure a shared imagination of corruption, dysfunction, and possible solutions? And finally: what does it mean to understand this public upheaval against corruption as a (middle) class uprising?

 We contend that a proper understanding of the Lokpal protests demands a closer attention to ways in which the logics of consumerism were transposed onto those of citizenship during this time. The movement's “space of appearance,” that is, was also constituted as a “space of consumption,” which – following Appadurai – we argue, entailed a radically altered relationship between “wanting, remembering, being, and buying.”