Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anna must be forcefed

I say this to Anna with utmost humility. With utmost respect for his noble intentions and his unwavering desire to serve his country. Your fast has gone on for too long already. You have made your point. Now you should have the faith that a strong Lokpal Bill will soon be promulgated. I say “a strong Lokpal Bill” and not “the Jan Lokpal Bill” knowing fully that this will only propel you towards a few more days of fasting. But Annaji, I have to tell you that by continuing on this fast-unto-death, you are now giving rise to a feeling amonst many in your country that you are taking this too far. You don’t want to look like an aggressor…..or someone who hijacked democracy.

There are several reasons why Anna must be forcefed. The most immediate of them all of course is that Anna’s health is most important and all of us – most importantly his own team members – need to recognize this. Anna’s fast is intended to be a non-violent way of protesting. However, if anything does happen to him, everyone knows that there will be chaos in the country. I am not sure if Anna wants that.

The second reason is that both Anna and the government know that suicides are illegal in our country. After ten days of fasting, it can no longer be his own decision. It has to be the decision of his doctors. If his doctors say that he needs to be hospitalized, then he needs to be hospitalized. It will then be time for the law to take over. The government will be duty bound to act to prevent a suicide. That’s why they forcefeed Irom Sharmila every time she crossed a threshold. I am not for a moment saying that the first attempt to forcefeed must be made by the government. That must be made by Anna’s team. But if that fails, then the government must take all necessary steps on its own. I do understand that uppermost in the government’s mind will be the comparison of this act with the act of arresting Anna ten days back. But if this is done with smartness, humility and honesty – without cops as far as possible – with respect and softness if cops have to be used – then the people will see the difference.

The third and most important reason is that Parliament cannot be allowed to get hijacked. No matter what the reasons, the authority of Parliament has to be protected. Yesterday, the government almost fully capitulated to Anna’s demands, compromising Parliament’s superior position. But Anna still didn’t respond with reasonableness. He did not give up his fast. In fact, he actually went on an attack against the government. In his speech at Ramlila grounds, Anna called the ministers “gaddars” (traitors). And that “they have finished off the country”. What rubbish is all this? This is sounding a political movement after all. I am sorry but it doesn’t suit Anna to make such speeches. In fact, there is no reason for him to be so obdurate; so untrusting of others. This is now becoming a case of Anna pandering to the crowds, all of whom have been led into a state of frenzy through inflammatory propaganda. Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan give speeches worse than even the most venom-spewing politician would be capable of giving.

For Anna’s sake, it’s time for the drama to stop. It’s now time for Parliament to regain its authority all over again. I was unhappy with the government’s capitulation yesterday. I am unhappy with the way they were bypassing Parliamentary procedures. No political party wants Parliament to be bypassed; law making to be passed on to the streets; the government to be handle hostage. This peaceful movement has long ago become a violent one – Anna’s and his team’s speeches and actions being acts of violence. There is no reason for the government to bow down any further. There is no need for an ultra-quick passage of the Bill. The bill MUST be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee MUST seek the views of ALL sections of the society. The Standing Committee should then make recommendations to Parliament as per usual practice. The bill MUST then be discussed in Parliament for as long as required. Other Bill not related to Lokpal also MUST be introduced in Parliament…..and the work of Parliament MUST continue as usual. And only then – after all processes have been followed – should the Bill be passed. There is no reason for the government to come under so much pressure that it becomes the one responsible for the breakdown of the constitution.

The government should also be prepared that it will get no cooperation from any opposition party. For them, it’s all a political game. The BJP can only keep saying that the government made a mistake by arresting Anna. Everyone knows that. There is nothing new in that. But having said that, does the BJP have any ideas on how this problem should be handled? I will give an analogy here which many may find inappropriate. When the country is under attack, does the opposition party tell the government that this is their problem? Or do they come together to fight? Leaving their turf battles to later? Is the BJP waiting for something to happen to Anna, so that it can ask the government to resign; probably with the hope that it will get a chance to come to power in spite of its miniscule number of seats in Parliament? The BJP likes to attack the Congress, but it refrains from giving its own views on the Bill. When grilled, it likes to talk about only those points where there is agreement with Anna’s Bill or only a minor disagreement with it. But it doesn’t like to talk about the points of major disagreements – where in fact its views are more like the government’s views. For instance, they also feel that the conduct of MPs inside Parliament must be outside the purview of the Lokpal. They also feel that the judiciary should not be under the Lokpal. They also feel that the entire bureaucracy must not be covered. They also believe that Parliament must not be held hostage. They also believe that deadlines cannot be prescribed to Parliament. It’s the same with all other political parties – all of which want to score brownie points against the government in this moment of crisis. The Left hasn’t forgotten the Congress for the Indo-US nuclear deal. And for the loss it recently suffered in Kerala and West Bengal. Ditto Mulayam Singh Yadav whose eyes are strongly glued on UP and who sees the Congress as a major threat there. If our ruling party acted irresponsibly in the past, the opposition parties are doing so now.

I find irresponsible even the conduct of Anna’s friends and wellwishers. It doesn’t help Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Agnivesh and others to keep complaining about the past mistakes made by the government. They add zero value when they sound like politicians. We expect them to rise above the muck and help stop a crime from happening. That crime was committed by the government in the past. It’s now being committed by Anna. Swami Agnivesh was saying yesterday that “government has already conceded 80% of OUR demands” and it should concede some more. What rubbish is this? Show me one negotiation where one party concedes so much and the other one keeps pushing. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar keeps talking of government’s arrogance. Why? Because they are insisting that parliamentary processes be followed? I am sorry but my view is that it is Team Anna that is being arrogant. Sri Sri is a highly regarded guru and his attitude has to be one of finding a solution.

Arvind Kejriwal gave a speech last night threatening as usual that if anything happened to Anna, then it would be the government that would be responsible? Pray how? The government has bent over more than necessary. Let’s be clear here…..If anything happens to Anna, then it will be Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and all the fanatical supporters of Anna’s who will be responsible. They are already responsible for not stopping Anna till now. They will be responsible if something happens to him.

In the meantime, the voices on TV keep rising against Anna’s methods. Even Times Now – the channel that has unquestioningly supported Anna’s movement from the beginning – has started presenting speakers who openly attack Anna’s methods. CNN-IBN and NDTV have been complaining against this fast for some time now. It’s a different thing that even those who complain do so after first paying obeisance to Anna. And even when they do complain, they complain with a little bit of fear in their hearts. Such is the tenor this movement has taken that it doesn’t allow for free speech at all. It’s reached into dictatorial territory long back.

Ram Chandra Guha – the author of “India after Gandhi” – was extremely vocal against Anna’s fast dragging on for so long. Anna’s supporters may want to take note of his little tutorial on Gandhi. Gandhi had gone on 14 fasts in his life but 13 of these were not against the British government at all. They were mostly against his own people – against communalism; against casteism; against violence etc etc. He also reminded everyone of one more of Gandhi’s most famous beliefs “The beauty of compromise…..” is that it is a step-by-step way to reach consensus. His clear message: Don’t compare Anna with the Mahatma. Gandhi wouldn’t have done this.

Dushyant Dave, eminent lawyer, reminded viewers of Dr. Ambedkar’s speech in 1949: “Now that the Constitution is in place, there is no place for unconstitutional methods like fasting-to-death” or words to that effect.

Tavleen Singh, eminent journalist tweeted that the Jan Lokpal Bill will create a totalitarian monster in the name of fighting corruption. It must never be passed. Again, she’s not one who supports corruption; but like many others, she also feels that this movement has hijacked the main battle. Anna’s team is misreading the mood of the people – the sentiment is against corruption – not for a particular bill. Even if the crowds say they want the Jan Lokpal Bill, what they really mean is that they want a strong Lokpal Bill.

Kumar Ketkar said the right thing when he said that the PM was one of the most “cordial” PMs we have had and that one of the reasons for the current impasse is that civil society has taken advantage of his cordiality. In contrast, notice the aggressive language used yesterday by the Gujarat Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Dilip Sanghani, in slamming the Anna movement. He called it “mobocracy”. The PM has many failings but we have to give it to him that he is a genial person. A blog on joked about MMS’s friends in college calling him “Microsoft”! Over the last few days, the PM has made several gestures to Anna. It’s time now for Anna to respond back with equal geniality…..

The real truth is that Anna’s fast is starting to stink. Anna is losing bit by bit the goodwill and the groundswell of support he’s generated – at least amongst the less frenzied lot. Someone on a blog yesterday called Anna a Gandhian suicide bomber. This is not what Anna should have to listen to. I sincerely urge Anna to give up his fast and allow Parliament to do its duty. If they fail in passing a good law, there will always be another chance…..

1 comment:

  1. Not a single comment here. The truth dost make people dumbstruck, eh ?

    I think I'm going to read your blog regularly from now on. You know stuff, have balls and write beautifully.

    Keep up the good work.