ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

From Lula to Lalu

Can Brazil and Bihar be spoken about in the same breath today?


Two major leaders representing the exploited socio-economic sections in these regions are currently in jail on charges of corruption. What we are concerned with is the political logic of these charges, which cannot be explained merely in terms of political vendetta or partisan conflict.


The legal cases against Lalu Prasad Yadav and Lula da Silva along with their subsequent incarceration are glaring examples of how the issue of corruption is often used as a weapon by the right against popular centre-left political formations. One is not suggesting that either Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) or Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party or PT) were attempting the social transformation of race/casteclass relations. However, the rise of these political formations signified the political awakening and ascendancy of the exploited sections. In many ways, the governments led by these parties gave an impetus to the redistribution of power (a process that surely is far from being complete in Brazil or Bihar) which threatened the traditionally dominant sections in the respective regions. The sad irony is that several voices on the left in India who are quite vocal about Lula, are relatively apathetic about Lalu.


Ratcheting up the issue of corruption can be seen as an attempt by the dominant sectionsdislodged or nudged away from the position of powerto consolidate or regain their position. Michel Temer replaced Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party as the President of Brazil in 2013 after the latter’s impeachment, which was nothing short of a constitutional coup. Jagannath Mishra was acquitted in the Fodder Scam case. The aspect of systematic targeting becomes clearer if one sees how Temer, the other principal accused in the Petrobras Scam in Brazil, or Jagannath Mishra in the Fodder Scam in Bihar are treated with kid gloves because their social position and political orientation appeals to the dominant interests. The corruption issue is a cloak used by the right as it draws its daggers to subvert democracy. This subversion is not limited to excluding one’s formidable political opponents from the electoral political process; at a deeper level, it amounts to undermining the popular mandate as well as delimiting the agency of the masses. This is achieved by generating a frenzy of messianic moralism that eventually leads to authoritarianism. The Anna Hazare bandwagon paving the way for the ascendancy of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party is a case in point. Emotive rhetoric over corruptionconfined to moral vices of the individualclouds the issues of material deprivation and powerlessness. This is a structural problem that can be addressed by the collective action of the masses. In order to preserve the sociopolitical status quo, it is crucial for the right to check the advance of political projects that hold the potential to bring these structural issues to the centre stage, as has been the case with the RJD and PT. Corruption is a safe bet for the dominant/privileged sections, for it has the potential to generate unrest through moral indignation without making even a scratch on the relations of power and property.


Another telling thread linking Lula and Lalu is one that looks at how both were investigated and implicated. In his steadfast opposition to Jan Lokpal and the haste in enacting the bill, Lalu Prasad Yadav had warned about the threat posed to institutions of parliamentary democracy by vesting sweeping investigative powers in an unaccountable authority. Such threats in Brazil came from the so-called “Operation Car Wash,” that targeted the PT and its government. Basically, this operation of cleansing Brazil of corruption through a criminal investigation was led by a judge, Sergio Moro, who is now the minister of justice in the far-right government in Brazil. Moro used his sweeping powers with blatant arbitrariness to corner the PT’s leadership. In fact, around the same time, India was going through a frenzy, greatly orchestrated by unaccountable accountants like Vinod Rai (then the Comptroller and Auditor General) who were functioning in a similar Moro-esque fashion. The rise of right authoritarianism in India as well as Brazil, following anti-corruption frenzy, calls for serious reflection on Lalu Prasad’s thoughts at that critical moment, particularly by those sections on the left/ centre-left who are or have been keen to join the anti-corruption bandwagon.  


The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the collective view of the journal.

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