‘Crusaders’ for democracy : aspirations and tensions in transparency activism in India
von Hatzfeldt, Gaia
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Through an ethnographic study of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) – an organisation renowned for its persistent fight against corruption in India – this thesis explores the aspirations and tensions of anti-corruption activists. In their commitment to improving governance structures by means of campaigning for transparency and accountability laws and policies, these activists ultimately aspire to strengthen democratic practice and to improve statecraft. By studying in detail the forms of actions, dynamics, politics and relationships among anti-corruption activists, the thesis explores how ideas of the state and democracy come to be internalised and addressed by civil society actors. The context is the nation-wide anti-corruption agitation that swept the country through most of 2011. This agitation gave rise to friction between civil society actors otherwise working for similar ends, leading to tension and competition on what constitutes democratic process and procedure. Based on extensive fieldwork, the thesis examines the ways in which MKSS responded to the shifting political landscape of anti-corruption activism. Drawing on the notion of relationality, I argue that political positions and identities are shaped and consolidated circumstantially through an oppositional stance and through processes of ‘othering’. In considering the diverging understandings of democracy among civil society actors, this thesis seeks to expand ethnographically the theoretical concept of ‘agonistic pluralism’ (Mouffe 1999), that postulates that political conflict and disagreement is not only integral, but, moreover, crucial to democratic debate. Based on this conceptualisation, the conflict over the meaning of democracy among the anti-corruption activists is considered here as creating space for the expansion and enrichment of democratic debate. The very essence of democracy in India, as will be concluded, is constituted by such a productive tension.