Accepted Paper:

Supercharging Satyagraha? Saintly politics and media in the struggle for a Jan Lokpal Bill  

Author:

Martin Webb (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore the use of media and social media in the development of the India Against Corruption Movement in 2011. During the protests an idealised poetics and aesthetics of satyagraha, fasting, simplicity and non-violent resistance by leading activists became the focus of mainstream and social media attention. This paper will ask: Why did a long ignored issue such as the Lokpal bill suddenly become newsworthy? How did the aesthetics of the protests help this process? How were the aesthetics of the protests presented in different media? And, in what ways did activists and media actors collaborate to produce particular rhetorical narratives and imagery?

Paper long abstract:

In 2006 a group of Gandhian activists were sitting in protest outside the gate of the Gandhi Smriti at Raj Ghat in Delhi. They were protesting against political corruption and in support of the passing of the Lokpal bill, a piece of legislation designed to institute a parliamentary ombudsman and provide whistleblowers a mechanism through which to expose the wrong doing of civil servants and parliamentarians. The bill had been stalled in successive parliaments for almost 40 years. Their weekly satyagraha, activists sitting in quiet protest and fasting for a day, was mostly ignored by the press, achieving at best one or two column inches in the newspapers, and greeted with bemusement by passers by. Jump to 2011, a different team of activists, with their figurehead leader Anna Hazare hyperbolically dubbed the 'new Gandhi' by an excited media, brought the issue of the Lokpal bill to the forefront of national, and even international news. The India Against Corruption movement emerged as protests across India, and beyond to the diaspora, were linked together through 24 hour rolling news reporting, social media and a sense of urgency that the nation must be saved. This paper will ask: Why did a long ignored issue such as the Lokpal bill suddenly become newsworthy? How did the aesthetics of the protests help this process? How were the aesthetics of the protests presented in different media? And, in what ways did activists and media actors collaborate to produce particular rhetorical narratives and imagery?

Panel P04
Beyond the Arab Spring: the aesthetics and poetics of popular revolt and protest