A selective notion of corruption

BY ARITRA BHATTACHARYA| IN Media Freedom | 14/09/2012
Aseem Trivedi's picture of contemporary India reflects only political and bureaucratic corruption, bribery in particular.
The cartoonist has chosen to ignore the crimes of the corporate fat cat, says ARITRA BHATTACHARYA.
In Aseem Trivedi’s India of 2050, politicians are a deeply corrupt class. They are a species that has, through nefarious corruption, become part of the world’s richest club. Trivedi, therefore, depicts the cover of Forbes magazine in a cartoon, stating “Indian MP tops Forbes Billionaires’ list for the tenth consecutive year…5 Indian MPs part of the list .”

Reams have now been written about Trivedi, his arrest, the right to free speech, and the government’s blatant use of the sedition clause to silence any kind of dissent. Hardly anyone, however, has examined Trivedi’s repertoire. Even articles claiming to demystify the now-famous cartoonist have not engaged with his work, barring select cartoons, to understand the man’s politics.

Trivedi’s work, at least most of it that he thinks is relevant, is available on http://www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.in/. The logo of Trivedi’s Cartoons Against Corruption takes off from the India Against Corruption logo, clearly signifying a continuity with the anti-corruption movement. No wonder then, that the “about” section of the blog-site notes “Cartoons Against Corruption is a cartoon-based campaign by political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi to support anti-corruption movement in India”.

Trivedi’s work on the site is divided into seven categories: India 2050, The Dirty Picture Of India, New National Symbols, Attack On Free Speech, Gandhi Returns, Pigvijay Special, and JOKEpal. The cartoon on an Indian MP topping the Forbes’ list is part of the “India 2050” category.

The first thought that struck me as I saw this “work” was: why is an MP in the Forbes’ Billionaires list such a big deal? Why should an MP’s inclusion in the list of the world’s richest draw our collective ire, while a businessman’s inclusion in the same becomes a reason for smug self-appreciation? Don’t MPs, the facilitators of the neoliberal policies which are creating our billionaires like the Ambanis in the first place, deserve to reap some rewards from the seeds they sow? Or is the cartoonist posing a clear distinction, a deep, sharp dividing line, between politicians and businessmen, with no overlap of the two roles whatsoever?

Perhaps he is. Perhaps, for Trivedi and his ilk, the politician is the problem. Across his work spanning the seven categories, Trivedi tirelessly lampoons the politician in his ubiquitous Gandhi topi. The output from the “the mind of [this] impatient youth who has had enough with the filth under carpets of political offices ”, as one follower comments on his work on the site, is marked by a certain disdain for the political class.

So you have a politician relaxing in a bathtub with notes flying all around, while Trivedi’s text announces that he is celebrating a pay hike; his pay is now Rs 10 lakh per month . India in 2050 is also a place where every legislative building has an LCD screen that plays pornographic films ; research has proved that the girth of Indian parliamentarians’ throat has increased ten times in the last fifty years ; the President’s office is up for auction  and sex CDs of politicians are on sale .

The “Dirty Picture of India” has one cartoon that shows Mother India in tricolour, being gang-raped by the politician, the bureaucrat, and the two-horned devil named corruption . Trivedi knows his audience. He knows that the middle-class youth of India, many of whom thronged the Anna stir, will connect with the 69 position lingo: therefore, he draws politics and corruption in bed, in the 69 position, and writes ’69: Favourite position in India’.

His work on national symbols and their apparent denigration (according to those gunning for him) has received much attention. What also deserves attention, perhaps, is his work which depicts that children in our country will soon study “brashtachar” instead of “shistachar” in school.

One could argue that they might as well. For if they did, chances are that they would not paint the kind of picture of corruption that Trivedi does through his work. Corruption is not just about money changing hands: it includes being corrupted by power, privileges, intellectualism, romanticism, and so much more. But Trivedi seems to narrow corruption to only bribery.

Even that might have been justified had he attempted to provide a fair account of bribery. But Trivedi omits more than he states. For one species that is missing from his work--at least all of it that has been uploaded on to the blog-site--is the representative of the corporate sphere. In cartoon after cartoon, whether it is on the new national anthem of India , the “Neta”saur as the national animal , common man’s blood as the national drink , or bribe as the national food , it is the politician who is at the centre of the viewer’s revulsion.

Clearly, for Trivedi, the State is the centre of corruption. No wonder, then, that you have gems such as Parliament as a national toilet , and the hungry wolves on the Ashoka pillar  as depictions of the corrupt State. But, if the state is corrupt, and the politician is the one accepting the bribe and growing fat and getting into the list of the world’s richest, there must be some fat cats who are paying him. And one look at the scams that have hit the country in recent times, which India Against Corruption wishes to cash in on, proves who is giving the money.

Swindling game

Beginning from the Commonwealth scam to Adarsh scam to the 2G scam to the recent Coalgate, it is apparent how deep the pockets of our corporates run, and how much they are doing to ensure that due processes of law are flagrantly violated. Yet, Trivedi’s work says nothing of the involvement of private corporations in this swindle game. This isn’t surprising, since the Anna-movement he draws his legitimacy from made no mention of the need to monitor private corporations in various versions of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

The bent of Trivedi’s work brings to mind the work of Kaushik Basu, who was appointed chief economist at the World Bank a few days ago. While serving as the chief economic adviser to the Government of India, Basu had published a paper arguing for decriminalizing bribe-giving. Basu argued (that a) bribe giver could be penalised only if he or she benefits from government contracts ’. Like Basu, Trivedi too considers bribe-giving to be the lesser crime. The poor corporate, which is only trying to create more jobs and propel the GDP upward, ought to be let off with a slight reprimand; it is the heinous politician that ought to be junked. (Now that his cohorts at IAC have decided to join politics, are they too worthy of the same revulsion?)

Like Basu, Trivdei imagines that there are only two players in the swindle game--the bribe-giver and the bribe-taker. That explains why corruption and the politician are locked in the 69 position in his work; there are no intermediaries, no touts, and no fixers in this simple game.

 Most articles and reports on Trivedi have mentioned that he is the joint recipient of the Courage in Editorial Cartooning 2012 award, given by the Cartoonists Rights Network International. Yet, hardly any media outlet has bothered to underline that the award is not a comment on the artist’s work. The Cartoonists Rights Network International states: “We do not award a cartoon. We make no comment on the quality of, or intent of, a specific cartoon. We award a cartoonist in danger.”

Sure, Trivedi is a cartoonist in danger; the state’s prosecution of him is not new. But, must we celebrate him as a doyen of free speech? The sedition charges against him are, no doubt, unjustified. But must the media not critique the work of a person who is getting so much news space? Must the media, the influencer--if not creator--of public opinion, not point out the tunnel-vision in Trivedi’s cartoons, and provide some perspective to hundreds who praise the cartoonists’ work as representative of young and angry India?

  1. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-dBy2GdZbBO8/UEWr1R21WlI/AAAAAAAAAmw/fVTvNe4KAOE/s1600/8.jpg
  2. http://www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.in/search/label/pigvijay
  3. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-JGL9UfCdtYI/UEWrQV8en4I/AAAAAAAAAmo/Ykb9_cAMcik/s1600/4.jpg
  4. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-zXOvkNEQEb8/UEWrB-M5paI/AAAAAAAAAmg/k30AO1wZSDg/s1600/14.jpg
  5. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-9Ph-b3E9AjA/UEWpmf3dCQI/AAAAAAAAAl4/uPIM6BhOifU/s1600/12.jpg
  6. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-DuuJv39EZUQ/UEWpTBsFpyI/AAAAAAAAAlw/uE6ZPnrX1dg/s1600/9.jpg
  7. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-fy4FZDxc6SM/UEWomDLYyRI/AAAAAAAAAlg/13-4DH0RPzs/s1600/6.jpg
  8. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LRFevzC5Ahs/TuBW1SxRjpI/AAAAAAAABJU/MEADd-CK-f4/s1600/rape.jpg
  9. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-8Np0n00F0KY/UEWwKqv6MpI/AAAAAAAAAnk/ZIESSjFi7Tw/s1600/1.jpg
  10. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-hMXAhXYgnV0/UEWqwomXjKI/AAAAAAAAAmY/KDLcrzgQE-Q/s1600/19.jpg
  11. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6at74y0DYM0/TuBYykeAk8I/AAAAAAAABKU/X9IwnhaBW7U/s1600/7.jpg
  12. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-L_DUMC03rBM/TuBZDqsGRjI/AAAAAAAABKk/8QJgXnApklM/s1600/8.jpg
  13. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-hkxWZJKZvd8/TuBYZeNz9SI/AAAAAAAABKE/gsOus8wAvf4/s1600/9.jpg
  14. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-LcsIn65M0AI/TuBYiJQTL0I/AAAAAAAABKM/N-tfft0OXjY/s1600/10.jpg
  15. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-I8ma_l9T1pU/TuBZP6jPWFI/AAAAAAAABKs/3RdFd3GZi_c/s1600/2.jpg
  16. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-4uriWaTTYbs/TuBZchjX1aI/AAAAAAAABK0/KfDNyhoeA0k/s1600/3.jpg
  17. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/give-immunity-to-bribegiver-punish-bribetaker-kaushik-basu/882327/
  18. http://www.cartoonistsrights.org/dinner.php
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