Opinion

Anna movement: Digital or electoral democracy?

Thomas Sajan Titto Idicula | Updated on March 12, 2018

Will Anna’s party go the way of European ‘Pirates’ powered by social networking sites? — Sandeep Saxena





On top of the ‘zillions’ of national and regional parties, Indians are perplexed to see the birth of Anna Hazare’s political party. Is it going to be just another political bird with exotic feather and wings, or a different species altogether?

According to reports, the new party will be ready for launch by October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. The imminent “political alternative” has already received staunch backing from the Anna movement’s ‘traditional’ support base — the social networking sites.

Considering the whole trajectory of the Anna movement, it seems that the forthcoming party would go along the same lines as the Pirate parties in Europe. Both the Anna and the Pirate party movements have three things in common: A heavy reliance on online deliberations; high participation of youth; and immense popularity among those who are tired of mainstream politics.

EUROPEAN PIRATE PARTIES

Pirate parties are considered to be Europe’s youngest and fastest growing political movement. From its humble beginning as a small Swedish outfit in 2006, the Pirate parties have now grown to a political force to reckon with in at least 15 countries.

At their core, Pirate parties stand for more transparency and freedom on the Internet. It all began as a protest against the cracking down on civil liberties in the online world. What Pirates demand is a reform of the copyright law and the right to browse Internet resources without being tracked or filtered.

In Europe, Pirate parties budded and blossomed in some of the most developed countries where problems of poverty, exclusion, and inequality have been overcome to a great extent. The concerns of European Pirates are ‘delicate’ issues of an advanced society such as privacy, transparency, and civil rights.

The political ripples generated by the Pirates are in many ways similar to that of the Green parties.

It was the Swiss Pirate party that extended service to reinstate Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks Web site, after it was shut down by the US domain providers.

By the end of 2000s, Pirate parties began to win seats in the provisional elections. In its stronghold, Germany, the Pirate party is already flexing its electoral muscle. In the 2011 elections to the Berlin state parliament, they managed to win 8.9 per cent of the votes, securing 15 seats.

Right now, there are democratically elected Pirate party members in the City/Municipal councils in Austria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Spain, and Switzerland. They also secured two seats in the European Parliament.

DIRECT DEMOCRACY

German Pirates developed a software system called ‘liquid feedback’ — an open source software, powering Internet platforms for proposition development and decision-making. It gives ordinary people the opportunity to propose policies online. Proposed policies get bounced around the cyber streets for feedback.

Although their initial preoccupation had been issues of the online world, very soon offline world also became a battleground for the Pirates. The accountability and transparency in the political process turned out to be a matter of Pirates’ concern. “We should have the right to see what our elected leaders are doing”, said Rickard Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate party.

Besides the youth, Pirate parties attract a number of veterans who think that the mainstream politics is rusty at this time. In a BBC interview, Matthias Schrade, a German Pirate party leader, attributed their popularity to the attempts at retrieving power from politicians and empowering ordinary people.

“We offer what people want. People are really angry at all the other parties because they don’t do what politicians should do. We offer transparency, we offer participation. We offer basic democracy”, he said.

Indirect democracy carries the risk of succumbing to narrow lobbyist interests and shady backroom deals. What Pirates propose instead is a more direct and interactive democracy.

To a great extent, India’s Anna movement shares the vision of a direct democracy. The decision to go for a referendum on forming the “political alternative” is a good illustration.

The manner in which the leaders of both the Pirate parties and Anna movement articulate their objections to mainstream politics is compellingly similar. Both of them, in their political statements, question the participatory claim of indirect democracy based on rule by people’s representatives. Anna Hazare’s recent statement on the supremacy of Gram sabha — “Gram sabhas are above Assemblies and Parliaments” — and the German Pirate party leader’s comment about their offering of “basic democracy” are at best indicative.

What will be the future prospects of Anna party’s Pirate politics in India?

LESS ELECTORAL, MORE DIGITAL

It is hard to imagine that the Anna Hazare’s party would become an important player in the Indian electoral politics.

However, just like the European Pirates, the Anna party might win a couple of seats in the Municipal/Corporation councils. Further, it has a reasonable chance of winning a few urban Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies.

On the contrary, the online presence of the Anna party is likely be enormous, hugely disproportionate to its electoral presence. Even with a negligible electoral presence, it can propel itself through the vibrant middle-class voices raised over Internet platforms.

It is highly likely that, notwithstanding the Facebook and Twitter platforms on hand, the party will develop specific softwares for online political deliberations.

It is indeed true that the Anna party is a step further in the fight against corruption. But in the frenzied world of Indian politics, the Anna party is likely to find its identity as the voice of the savvy urban citizen, limited within the perimeters of its cosy digital wall — far away from the mass democracy that defines and determines India’s electoral scene.

(Sajan is a Social Anthropologist at University of Bergen, Norway. Idicula is a Clinical Neurologist and Neuroscientist at Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen,Norway.)

Published on August 23, 2012

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