Sunday, June 12, 2011

One tamasha ends. Another will end soon too. And what the government must do now.....

The farce of a struggle enacted by this hoax godman and yoga guru who calls himself “Baba” Ramdev ended yesterday on expected lines. The signals were there from 2-3 days back. As Sri Sri visited him and Swami Agnivesh added to the efforts, it was obvious a “face saver” was being worked out. A man with the size of ego that he had would not give up without a big face saver. That he got yesterday when apparently his followers “pleaded” with him to give up his fast. A man who claimed he could stay hungry for 3 months lost 6 kgs in 9 days. So much for tall claims!

But this post is not about this egoistic madman. This post is about the government regaining its lost ground. It’s about getting out of the trap laid by unelected and totally “hitleresque” so called “civil society” activists supported by a farcical and viewer-hungry news TV business and an opposition party which recently won only 5 seats out of nearly 1000 contested. It’s about battling this pseudo anti-corruption movement with all its political intonations with a strong political will. It’s about getting a duly elected government back on its feet.

I have two suggestions to the Congress government to make here.

First, they must either pass an ordinance immediately or introduce a bill in parliament in the monsoon session which bans fasts unto death. Fasting and protesting using fasts as a method should obviously be allowed, but a max time limit should be set. The time limit should be “days” based as also “health indicators” based. Since anyone in the country can decide to go on a fast unto death, it cannot be the government’s responsibility to waste precious time and resource to each such mad person. Hence the onus of following the conditions should be on the one undertaking the fast. To give it adequate seriousness, the bill should be a modification of or a new introduction into the existing anti-terrorism act. To be sure, threatening a legally elected government with a fast unto death is nothing but terrorism. And it should be handled as any act of terrorism would be.

Will this bill clear parliament? I think it would. All political parties are threatened by this new phenomenon. State governments of all political hues have seen the struggle mounted by civil society activists in various areas of activity. Be it Medha Patkar against the MP and Gujarat governments against the Narmada dam or Thileepan against the TN government to raise awareness about Tamil Tigers, opposition ruled states have seen the misguided fury of activists as well. Deep down inside, they are as worried about this method of protest as the Congress is....even though the BJP is trying to seize the opportunity for political gains. Apart from the BJP, many other parties are likely to support the bill. I think this bill would need a simple majority to pass....and so it should not be a problem.

The media will have to decide what it wants to do about this issue. But again, media in India is totally how is the media’s reaction going to differ from that of the political parties? Times Now and CNN IBN will criticize the bill....put together jingoistic panels.....raise the pitch yet for the PM’s resignation all over it like the days of emergency yet again. And NDTV will take a more moderate line.....try and bring out the issues and in general, do a good job of raising public awareness. Competition will make them take such high pitched positions. The Hindi TV channels face even more competition and can be expected to be even more vociferous against the bill. Media will try and trash the bill.....but the political parties are likely to support it.

The second advice for the government is to remember what the PM had said during the Indo-US nuclear bill crisis. The PM had made a tactical withdrawal at a particular point in time to ease off the pressure from the Left parties. At that time, he had famously said “Mine is not a one-issue government”. It’s time for the Congress to realize that again. This government is not about only one issue called “fight against corruption”. It’s alright for the Anna camp to have just one issue....but the government cannot get caught in this trap. The government has to sidestep this issue. A political strategy is required. Other issues of national interest must be brought to the fore. The agenda must be set by the government; not by the civil society activists and media.

The government must also show its political strength. They must carry out their own political rallies. Everyone knows it’s not difficult to gather 50 thousand people in rallies.....but the media gets impressed. It’s time the Congress raised some issues and rallied 50K people all over the country....including in Delhi. The country needs to refocus its energy on the economic front. The growth rate is already slowing down. We need more reforms. We need a stronger industrial policy. A much more liberal FDI regime. We need much better distribution of wealth. We need better tax compliance. These are issues the government should focus on now. Support for Nandan Nilekani’s UID scheme is critical. The Food Security Act is a powerful tool to help the poor in the country. A revamped NREGA is critical. These are issues the government must bring up in its rallies.

But equally importantly, the government must show its will on the issue of corruption. It should show that the issue matters to the government and not just to civil society activists. The Lokpal concept as proposed by Anna is flawed and it should be trashed. But equally, the concerns raised are valid and they must be addressed strongly. I had suggested in the past that the PM, the MP’s conduct in Parliament as well as higher judiciary should be brought under the Lokpal.....but only after a process of filtration of complaints. The present system where the Speaker filters the complaints hasn’t worked. It needs to be replaced with a wider committee of people including those in the judiciary, opposition and civil society. And the Lokpal must be made independent like the Election Commission, but cannot be above Parliament. There is no role for such acts of madness in the Constitution. Ultimately, the grounds of difference on corruption are small....and can be addressed if the politics that Anna has brought to the table is removed. Ultimately also, the government must gain confidence from the fact that Anna’s movement is nothing but an RSS-BJP ploy and Anna’s followers are probably as corrupt as the people he blames for corruption. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The real truth is that the Congress’s reactions to the recent stories has been very meek. It’s become a party run by “professionals” focused on doing a job. It seems that they have forgotten that politics is the bedrock of governance in a democratic set-up. They have got a wake up call. Now it’s for them to understand the meaning of it and act accordingly.....

1 comment:

  1. As far as economic growth goes I couldn't agree with you more. We have been unique, thanks to our policies, of both skipping major agricultural modernisation and major industrialisation and gone straight into a service economy. Allowing multi-brand retail might professionalise our agricultural setup more than the pathetic wastage and inefficiencies that makes a majority of our farming subsistence farming. There's no doubt that the path of developing countries is in urbanisation with a minority (10% or so) of the population dealing with highly mechanised and corporatised farming.

    Secondly, our ridiculous labour laws have created an aristocracy of thoroughly spoilt unionised labour, while the majority of 'informal, non-unionised labourers' are thoroughly exploited. Also we could easily become a gigantic manufacturing hub like China if our labour laws were not so business-unfriendly.

    Thirdly - our service economy is absolutely wonderful. And
    it's fantastic that we have reached this third stage of the developmental path of a country first. But the gap between the haves and have nots will keep growing if these firt two areas are not looked into.

    Prashant - just a walk downn Tulsi Pipe road where our office is shows you this horrendous inequality. Just the other day I was walking from Kamala Mills to Hight St Phoenix to meet Sunil Grover for lunch and I felt sick walking through slums, naked chuldren playimg in the dirt and then entering High st Phoenix wich was like Singapore, with the top brands in the world. This same gap exists in in Mexico, Brazil and South Africa, but we're so lucky that we don't have the crime situation that those countries have due to the gap - in those countries many coprorate bigwigs roam around with bodyguards and the sale of bulletproof glass for cars is amongst the highest in south africa. We're very lucky that the poor in our country are fatalistic and accepting. For equal development to happen - agriculture and manufacturing growth must be allowed by thorough reforms. I'm not an expert in these areas as you very well know, so do share your inputs.