Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Congress David v/s Anna Goliath…..and why its time for Rahul Gandhi to take over

Yesterday, the well known fable of David v/s Goliath was reversed. All through the day, it was the government that appeared  to be pusillaminous and Anna’s team that looked like roaring tigers. All through the day, the government was on the back foot….unable to play the bouncers that Anna’s team bowled. All through the day, they blundered along like headless chicken. All through the day, they kept scoring self goals…..

The government made a serious of missteps yesterday. In hindsight, the preventive custody of Anna was the first misstep. If the government had thought that that would take the steam out of the movement, it was a total miscalculation. If anything, it galvanized even fringe supporters of Anna to speak up in support. Even the rains in Delhi could not deter people from coming onto the streets. Later, in another misstep, when Anna was “sentenced” for seven days, support for Anna surged. After all, even if there was some justification for arresting Anna, there appeared to be none whatsoever for putting him behind bars for seven full days. Clearly, if the government was hoping that with Anna gone for seven days, the movement would die down, it was mistaken. Anna was a step ahead of the government. He started his fast in prison. Later, in the most colossal misstep of the day, when Anna was put in Tihar, the crowds went berserk. Even die-hard opponents of Anna’s style and methods and his version of the Lokpal Bill – people like me – felt anger and scorn at the government. Was this a government out of its mind? Anyone with an iota of common sense would say that this would be like rubbing tons of salt into a deep wound. What nonsense was the government dishing out when it pretended that it was the Delhi Police that had arrested Anna and an ordinary independent magistrate who had sentenced Anna to seven days of jail? Are we all so stupid? Why was the government so afraid? Why was it hiding behind the veil of Delhi Police and the poor magistrate? This weak stance – more than anything else – was the breaking point for me yesterday. It was a government in panic. It was a government making a series of missteps. It was a government which had stupidly made itself the butt of all attacks.

Before the government made these missteps, the movement had hardly gathered the steam that Anna’s supporters had hoped for. There were hardly a few thousand people in Dehi who felt strong enough to actually come out on the streets in his support. All of last week, there were millions of smses going around asking people to take a week off from work to come onto the streets to protest against the government. What was the response? Zilch. Hardly anyone left office to participate in Anna’s fast. I checked with a dozen friends in offices across the country and none of them reported any absenteeism because of this. Take the other initiative of Anna’s team – asking people to call a number and disconnecting – supposedly, that would count as support. I am waiting to hear from the organizers how successful they were. I doubt if it was anywhere close to the 25 crore people they expected would call. Even after Anna was sent to Tihar, the crowds were by no means “massive”. A maximum of 10-15000 people were there in Delhi. In Mumbai, there were hardly 2000 people at Azad Maidan. A normal political rally would get ten times more number of people on the streets. It was the same story elsewhere. Be it in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad or Patna…..no where were the crowds more than a few thousand. But since TV cameras are placed in the middle of the crowds, the numbers appeared exaggerated. Had it not been for the government’s missteps, the movement would hardly have grown this big….the government had clearly surrendered the advantage to Team Anna.

In fact, the government’s missteps took the focus away from the main issue on hand. Removing corruption by enacting a good law. The debates all around yesterday were about whether Anna’s arrest was right or wrong. Whether he should have been sentenced to 7 days imprisonment or not .Whether he should have been sent to Tihar or not. No one was bothered about the specific points of disagreement. Anna’s arrest brought together the opposition to speak in one voice. Whether it was the Left or the BJP or the regional parties, each and every one was forced to speak in one voice against the government. In fact, most political parties used the moment to pull political advantage towards themselves. The Congress was isolated – for the way it handled the movement. Not for its opposition to the Bill itself. The Bill was all but forgotten. The Bill became irrelevant. It almost appeared that the movement was about throwing out the Congress – not about getting in a good Bill against corruption. It became an out and out political movement. I am not sure Anna’s team should see this as a victory.

Many political parties took advantage of the hatred against the Congress yesterday to make public their disagreements with Anna on some points. Till now, they didn’t have the guts to say so. Now – under the protection of the mass hysteria against the government – opposition parties found their voice. The BJP said this first – almost making the disagreements with Anna’s Bill – the real bone of contention between the two sides – appear irrelevant. With his famed fluency, Arun Jaitley said the BJP had many issues with Anna’s Bill, but (of course) all that was irrelevant now. The Left went out publicly saying that they had many areas of disagreement too. In the past – they had felt comfortable only saying that they wanted the PM to be included – a stand that endeared them to Anna’s team. But whenever pressed to comment on including the judiciary under the Lokpal – they would deflect the issue off. Yesterday, they found the timing perfect to make a clean breast of it all – we don’t support many points in Anna’s Bill, but what the government has done to Anna is too much. Secretly, all political parties must have felt relieved that the issue was no longer the Bill; the issue was how insensitive and aggressive this government was. The details of the Lokpal Bill hardly mattered any longer. The pressure on the opposition was off….

The changed environment has made many many people like me worried. Under pressure, will the government pass a Bill that has so many weaknesses? Will the competitive pressure of trying to appear pro-Anna be so strong that political parties feel obliged to support the Bill in an “as is” condition? I seriously hope not. If that happened, not only would we be saddled with a lumpen piece of legislation, we would also be subjected to a series of similar pressure tactics. Why, Anna himself has said that he would launch another agitation – this time against other issues like black money and so on – the moment this one ended. Why, Telengana supporters would throng Delhi and fast-unto-death demanding Telengana. Why, this could well set the way the country would be run in the future. The Congress has not just yielded ground on just one issue and against one man…..it had harmed the way the country will function in the future.

Yesterday was not a day for sane voices to speak up. But today, they have to. The focus has to come back to the Bill. The Bill needs a good debate. Anna’s Bill needs a clean-up. His “my way or highway” style has to be curbed. His hunger fast has to be stopped. A strong political determination is needed to address the larger issues that occupy people’s minds. The government – indeed all politicians – has to worry about earning the confidence of the people back. For this to happen, the Standing Committee needs to make amends in the government’s Bill. The debate has to happen in Parliament; not on the streets. That should never be repeated.

What should the government do now? Should it release Anna with permission to fast-unto-death at JP Park? I don’t think it should. The government was right in denying the permission to fast-unto-death. No government can allow such pressure tactics. At best, they may want to remove some of the conditions they had imposed – size of crowd, number of cars, number of days etc. But they should not allow a fast-unto-death. If Anna cannot give that assurance, its best he stays in protective custody. Should they deport him out of Delhi? No way. It doesn’t help being vindictive. Should it call for a meeting of all parties and reassure Anna of a good debate in the Parliamentary committee? Maybe that would help. Should it agree to all of Anna’s conditions? No way. Clearly, the government is in a bind. It needs some smart managers now to extricate it out of this mess. One key thing in all of this will be its mannerism in the days to come. It needs soft managers like Ambika Soni and Pranab Mukherjee. Not aggressive ones like Kapil Sibal, Chidambaram and Narayanswamy. It definitely doesn’t need a Manish Tiwari. If it had a strong orator in the PM, it should have fielded him. But everyone knows – the PM is a weak speaker. Sonia Gandhi is out of action; and besides, she also is a weak speaker. Is the timing right for Rahul to take centerstage? I think so….the people of this country trust him. If he can come in with a new resolve, the mood can change in no time….In fact, if the Congress is serious of getting back into the game, it has to field Rahul Gandhi…..

The real truth is that the government dug itself into a hole yesterday. It did so because of its own mistakes. A movement that was much smaller became much bigger because of the government’s stupidities. It’s time now for some sanity to return. It’s time for Rahul Gandhi to take over…..

1 comment:

  1. A perfectly lame ended suggestion, to a nice article.... in having Raul Gandhi getting into the game! The poor, silly fellow hasn't found his own bearings as yet, let alone have any capabilities, to take a party & least of all, the nation anywhere!