In the next days, I shall look at aspects of the Occupy movements, many of whose manifestations show how profoundly Sathya Sai Baba and his international organization have failed.
Sathya Sai Baba and his cult always failed to face political and corporate power. They themselves are part of the corrupt system. His successors now fight out power struggles among themselves.
The international Sathya Sai Organization “good works” philosophy plays perfectly into the hands of the power elites, who have nothing against charity. We all like to feel good. Big-name donors to the Sathya Sai cult are legion, especially in India, and from among the Indian diaspora worldwide.
Amid untold golden glitter, the late Sathya Sai Baba said that, in his own lifetime, he would save and rule India and then the world
But those many ‘ordinary’ citizens from many cultural backgrounds who people the Occupy movements are better educated than ever before, and thus able to use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc., to great advantage. Sathya Sai Baba and his organization could never, and would never, have initiated or supported a mass movement like the Occupy movement.
Occupy Wall Street protestors in Oakland, California, USA, holding “We are the 99%”
This populist manifestation is profoundly opposed to the corrupt machinations of government and corporations – whereas, Sai Baba and the top-level figures of his organization have long been utterly enmeshed with government, police and armed services at every level. Many of his richest devotees long were, and are to this day, corporate moguls. He, his intelligence and security wing, and his formal and informal political operators have for decades utterly influenced local, state and central government police, who are notorious for violent suppression of protest at the behest of Indian governments of any persuasion.
The greed-maddened heads of corporations whom the Occupy movements oppose are, in essence, no different to those far more visible celebrities from the entertainment world who live in the utmost opulence but simultaneously adorn their inflated egos with ostentatious finery when they appear at charity fund-raisers.
From Wikipedia: A chart showing the disparity in income distribution in the United States. Wealth inequality and income inequality have been central concerns among Occupy Wall Street protesters. CBO data shows that in 1980, the top 1% earned 9.1% of all income, while in 2006 they earned 18.8% of all income.
A Protester with a sign at Occupy San Francisco
But far beyond the ‘feel good’ point, the governments and corporations keep up the profiteering, and aid the spawning of the soul-destroying, planet-killing life-styles. From their almost impenetrable fortresses, they aid and abet poverty and social dislocation in the first place.
The US, history’s most formidable superpower is in vast economic decline. But this should really serve to remind many other countries that, in many ways, the US is only themselves writ large – both actually and in unachieved aspiration. Materialism is always itself, and always expands when it can.
The General Assembly meets in Washington Square on 8 October 2011
Millions of ordinary US citizens – and in increasingly many other first world and developing countries – now rebel against the governments and corporations. They need no Marx and Engels to read nor a Lenin to rally them.
They come from many religious and non-religious backgrounds. They come from the smallest towns and the largest cities.
They are the young, who face decades of paying back their student loans, whom the flawed system catapults into jobs after years of study – young lives now not able, even for a moment, to breathe, travel, explore, discover, reflect and mature. At the most idealistic time of their lives, they are seized of the chance to find a sense of meaning that will propel them in the rest of their lives.
They are the middle-aged, who, after great sacrifice have schooled their children, served their communities, and are now being slammed with bank foreclosures.
They are the elderly, for whom superannuation now means little or nothing.
They are often leaderless, but consensual and practical. They, rather than hidden controllers, write the placards for themselves; which they raise above their heads to proclaim their hurt and anger to their representatives who do not represent. And to their country. And to a world which, on the instant, sees, for example, police forces at the behest of their political masters being mobilized to suppress this grassroots uprising. They see sections of the media who, no less than the police, serve the moguls and political managers by sensationalizing and misreporting.
The Occupy movement: They are fed up in India, too
The United States and India are going through similar upheavals, writes Thomas L. Friedman. Democratically elected governments in both countries are so beholden to special interests they can no longer deliver reform. Therefore, they both need shock therapy from outside.
By Thomas L. Friedman
Syndicated columnist, New York Times
GOA, India — The world’s two biggest democracies, India and the United States, are going through remarkably similar bouts of introspection. Both countries are witnessing grass-roots movements against corruption and excess. The difference is that Indians are protesting what is illegal — a system requiring bribes at every level of governance to get anything done. And Americans are protesting what is legal — a system of Supreme Court-sanctioned bribery in the form of campaign donations that have enabled the financial-services industry to effectively buy the U.S. Congress, and both political parties, and thereby resist curbs on risk-taking.
But the similarities do not stop there. What has brought millions of Indians into the streets to support the India Against Corruption movement and what seems to have triggered not only the Occupy Wall Street movement but also initiatives like Americanselect.org — a centrist group planning to use the Internet to nominate an independent presidential candidate — is a sense that both countries have democratically elected governments that are so beholden to special interests that they can no longer deliver reform. Therefore, they both need shock therapy from outside.
The big difference is that, in America, the Occupy Wall Street movement has no leader and no consensus demand. And while it enjoys a lot of passive support, its activist base is small.
India Against Corruption has millions of followers and a charismatic leader, the social activist Anna Hazare, who went on a hunger strike until the Indian Parliament agreed to create an independent ombudsman with the staff and powers to investigate and prosecute corruption at every level of Indian governance and to do so in this next session of Parliament. A furious debate is now raging here over how to ensure that such an ombudsman doesn’t turn into an Indian “Big Brother,” but some new ombudsman position appears likely to be created.
Arvind Kejriwal, Hazare’s top deputy, told me, “Gandhi said that whenever you do any protests, your demands should be very clear, and it should be very clear who is the authority who can fulfill that demand, so your protests should be directed at that authority.” If your movement lacks leadership at first, that is not necessarily a problem, he added, “because often leaders evolve. But the demands have to be very clear.”
A sense of injustice and widening income gaps brought Occupy Wall Street into the street, “but exactly what needs to be done, which law needs to be changed and who are they demanding that from?” asked Kejriwal. “These things have to be answered quickly.”
That said, there are still many parallels between the Indian and U.S. movements. Both seem to have been spurred to action by a sense that corruption or financial excess had crossed some red lines. In the United States, despite the fact that elements of the financial-services industry nearly sank the economy in 2008, that same industry is still managing to blunt sensible reform efforts because it has so much money to sway Congress. It seems to have learned nothing. People are angry.
Meanwhile, in India, the commodities and telecommunications booms, coupled with urbanization that is driving up land prices, have set loose billions of rupees, and officials who control zoning and mining permits have just been pigging out. Some 50 top officials have been jailed lately for everything from the crony allocation of wireless spectrum, leading to potential losses to the state of up to $38 billion, to illicitly selling Indian iron ore — needed for development here — to China for a higher price. People are fed up.
Yet, commented the Indian writer Chetan Bhagat in The Times of India on Monday, “our government attacks almost every anti-corruption crusader” and “sadly, even our opposition parties have lots of corrupt people.” Sound familiar? Democracy not only needs a decent ruling party, but an intelligent opposition, and neither India nor America has both today.
Yes, Indians are mad at a system that makes them pay a bribe to get their birth certificate. Americans are mad at a system that has made it legal for unions to bribe the officials who will decide their pay and for bankers to bribe the lawmakers who will decide how much risk they can take. But both are essentially threatened by the same disease, best captured in the title of Robert Kaiser’s book about lobbying — “So Damn Much Money” — and it’s being thrown around now by so many special interests that these democracies are not only being warped by it but can’t fix themselves either.
Hazare has called this moment India’s “second struggle for independence.” I think he is on to something for both India and America. I think that repairing our respective dysfunctional democracies — so they are truly enablers for the 21st century and not inhibitors in India’s case or “the sum of all lobbies” in America’s case — is for our generation what the independence movement in India and the civil-rights movement in America were for our parents’ generation. Here’s hoping we’re as successful.
Thomas L. Friedman is a regular columnist for The New York Times