Anna looks happy. He’s breaking his fast today. The politicians look happy. They have risen to the occasion. Parliamentary democracy has been protected. The hardliners on both sides were shown the door. A sort of “cleansing” of the entire system happened yesterday when Parliament first debated and then “resolved unanimously” to refer Anna’s three demands to the standing committee.
I want to share the euphoria of the people because the solution has led to Anna’s fast ending. I can now heave a sigh of relief that a well intentioned movement pulled itself out of a precarious direction just in time. Ultimately, sanity prevailed, but not before hardliners like Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram on the government’s side and Kejriwal and Bedi on Anna’s side were taken off from the table. Earlier, Anna himself had taken the decision towards conciliation when he apologized for the harsh words used by him against the PM – a man of unquestionable personal integrity. Very importantly, he chose to write on his personal letterhead and not on the letterhead of India Against Corruption. The new negotiators were the reliable and smooth-as-silk Pranab Mukherjee and mild-mannered Salman Khursheed on the one side and practical-and-politically-savvy Medha Patkar and a much-less-frenzied Prashant Bhushan. Ultimately, in any stalemate, it’s important to change the teams when the old teams lose trust in each other….
Parliamentarians need to be applauded for a few things. Firstly, they agreed to discuss the matter on hand without any disruption. That’s a high enough bar for the Indian Parliament in most circumstances. Yesterday, many many leaders actually spoke really well. Most of them with humility; agreeing to their mistakes of the past in not passing this bill for the last 42 years. Sushma Swaraj in particular spoke exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha – attacking the government allright – but also providing an extremely interesting and logical understanding of the issues involved. In one sense, she’s the true inheritor of Vajpayee’s oratory skills. Jaitley was terrific too, but Jaitley prefers to speak in English, and somehow the power of Hindi is totally different. If this debate was anything to go by, then Swaraj is the leader of the future for the BJP. In the past also, when there had been a logjam over the appointment of the CVC, she had tweeted that “we must move on”. That’s statesmanship. Again, this shows that its conciliation that works best in
. I thought Jyotiraditya Scindia spoke really well, though his speech also was intensely political. I thought Laloo was good fun and like Dileep Padkaonkar later said on TV, sometimes the bafoonry helps break the ice and build trust! India
Was Parliamentary authority protected? In a very big way, yes. I don’t want to sound sceptical here, but all that Parliament has done is discussed the three specific points that Anna has raised. Each political party expressed its views on these three points. All that Parliament has resolved is to refer these three points to the standing committee. There is no surety that it will be captured in the final bill the way Anna initially wanted it. Some of the points remain contentious, and the “acceptance” of these points by various political parties has involved a play of words. For eg., getting the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal has been interpreted to mean that the lower bureaucracy will be under “some” watchdog. It could be a stronger CVC as proposed by the NCPRI. The contentious issue of promulgating Lok Ayuktas along with the Lokpal has been dealt with equally innovatively. The Central Act would have the Lok Ayuktas built in, but it would only be an “enabling” provision – meaning that states were free to adopt it if they found it good enough. If they didn’t? I guess, they would be free not to accept it! Again, on the point of citizen’s charter – the 3rd point that Anna demanded a discussion on – all that has been conceded that an “appropriate mechanism” would be framed. Maybe it could be a different public grievances bill that has been talked about and that is part of NCPRI’s version of the Bill.
All the three “via-media” solutions that emerged finally were already in discussion for many days. A few days back, when I wrote a piece on “Point of satiety”, these solutions were already being discussed. The Jan Lokpal Bill – which contains the contentious points – had already been referred to the standing committee. The NCPRI version was also with the standing committee. The politicians had already conceded to having an “open-minds” discussion there. Nothing materially changed from that day till yesterday. But what did change was the players involved in the talks. And that brought about the trust that had dissipated away in the past. That’s what changed.
The House also asserted itself by rejecting a few of the other demands that were not specifically listed for discussion yesterday, but were part of the Jan Lokpal Bill. For eg., almost all parties rejected the demand for the conduct of MPs inside Parliament to be under the purview of the Lokpal. Almost all parties cited clauses of the constitution (Article 105(2) plus one more I think) to justify their position. If there was so much unanimous support, the sections could have been amended and the matter resolved as per Anna’s exact demands. But the Parliamentarians rejected it. Then the point about the judiciary had already been in the news. That was rejected by Parliament as well. Even the point about including the PM under the Lokpal was accepted more in an NCPRI form than in the original Jan Lokpal Bill form. The PM may be included but with several conditions attached – the conditions to be determined by the standing committee I suppose. And lastly, Parliament rejected very strongly the demand of Team Anna to allow the Lokpal the powers of phone tapping in the process of investigation. Also, the government held its own since the government’s Lokpal Bill didn’t have to be withdrawn. That is why I am happy with the proceedings yesterday. Parliament eventually discussed each point with reason. And there was relatively much lesser jingoism and “playing to the galleries”.
Where do we go from here? There’s a long long way to go before the Lokpal Bill becomes a reality. Parliament’s resolution should go a long way in ensuring that the standing committee doesn’t play games. But it’s in the actual fleshing out of Parliament’s “sense” that one will have to watch out for. In government dealings, it’s often the small endbits which are more critical than the large big ticket items. Many times, glitches are intentionally introduced in the fine print – by people trying to be too clever by half. I hope both sides will keep up the trust that has recently been built up between them. Ultimately, it was Anna and the PM who brought trust back into the relationship. If that doesn’t change, then the final Bill will be as good as this country wants and deserves.
We also need many many more laws to be enacted and many many more things to be done before corruption can be reasonably controlled. Parliament should take advantage of this “almost pious” moment in time. They should extend the session by 2 weeks. They must agree to debate every bill in the same way. They must recover lost time. They must clear off a lot of the pending bills – the Land Acqusition Bill, the Mining Act, the amended Copyrights Act and so many more. The ruling party and the principal opposition owe it the people to discuss the GST and DTC bills in right earnest – again so that corruption can be removed very significantly from tax-related events. Have you noticed – after a naka-bandi which causes a massive jam, the road on the other side is usually extremely clear of traffic? That’s when motorists catch up with lost time. Parliament is now in a similar territory. Will it seize the moment and catch up on lost time? Or will it go back to its wasteful, bickering ways?
The real truth is that its only conciliation that works in
. Aggression doesn’t. This is what both the government and Team Anna realized in these negotiations. The absence of violence by Anna’s supporters was a conciliatory step. The exchange of letters between the PM and Anna was a conciliatory step. The removal of hardliners was a conciliatory step. The apologies to each other was a conciliatory step. The decision of Parliament to join hands and come together was a conciliatory step. In the end, that’s what made Anna a true Gandhian, Sushma the queen-bee and Singh the King! India