New, but not yet improved
We must ask hard questions of these mobilisations, before we declare them a new politics
It is certainly not an easy task to enter into an argument with Yogendra Yadav. His plea to understand the "new politics" of urban protests ('This new politics', IE, January 2) makes persuasive reading but begs for a critical review of some issues. His point about the need to avoid two extreme approaches to current protests is well taken. Yadav very carefully avoids romanticising the "new politics" he upholds. Indeed, in an atmosphere of political gloom, anyone, and more so a political scientist (turned political activist), would be looking for signs of better politics.
To begin with, it would indeed be difficult to assess the spontaneity of protests in view of the unprecedented media hype both during the anti-corruption agitation and more recently as well. In fact, it is now emerging as a challenge for political analysts to make sense of the media interest in intervening in socio-political processes as key actors. But one can still concede the steady stream of protesters on both occasions, and that surely qualifies for the description of "new politics". Perhaps we need to start asking hard questions of this new politics before we read too much into it. Four issues mentioned in Yadav's piece require attention in this regard.
First, it is stated that the participants of new politics are not encumbered by a narrow social vision. This would only be an intuitive claim at best. It is not necessary to prove that these urban protesters do not have a narrow idea of democratic society. From the protests occasioned by the anti-corruption movement, it is clear that the participants are transient, somewhat mercurial and lacking in cohesion. Corruption, and now violence against women, are issues that do not require a cohesive social character among the protesters. A sense of being morally scandalised suffices to induce participation and, as such, the spontaneous crowds gathering mostly in large metros do not manifest any particular social vision. The fact that they are not organised under any umbrella further attests to their non-cohesive, and therefore uncertain, ideological character.