Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Drama, politics over….objectives achieved. Now what’s the need for the fast?

Two days of drama and truckloads of politics later, the question comes up: what next? A bumbling government added the ingredients of panic and ineptness, making the already well written script of the drama even more entertaining Politicians of all hues and parties – refusing to understand that the movement is against them collectively, and not just against the ruling government – added their own comical situations to the drama. But now that all this is about to end, it brings us back to the starting point. How do we move ahead on ensuring a good anti-corruption law comes out?

Sure, civil society has asserted itself, but as usual, they have not offered any concrete solutions.The more the debates rage on Anna’s movement, the more it is becoming clear that there are several and severe loopholes in Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill. The more the number of people who become aware of the movement, the more this feeling grows. Equally, the government’s bill is considered inadequate. The solution obviously is somewhere in-between. Anna’s team had dislodged the government from its stodgy position. They have no option but to flexible now. But from whatever I saw yesterday, the teams rallying behind Anna has no intention of changing its demeanous and sitting down with the government to arrive at that in-between point. It appears to me that by hardening their position, the solution is even further away than it was two days back.

The conduct of the crowds was one of celebrating a victory. What victory? Those of us who are focused on the enactment of a good and strong anti-corruption law have been vastly disappointed by the activities of the last few days. We are most disappointed by the actions taken by the government. First bad-mouthing Anna, then taking him into preventive detention, then sentencing him for 7 days, then releasing him, then capitulating to him by relaxing all conditions – the government has not only shown political immaturity, but also a weakness in the spine. In doing all this, they have seriously compromised any chance we had of removing the kinks in Anna’s Bill. Of having a good Lokpal Bill. The civil society equally has done the movement no good either. All that it has done is make the government look vindictive. None of the leaders of Anna’s team has had the guts or the spirit to make an announcement that they too are willing to walk the extra mile to find the solution in-between. The government may have been kicked and pushed into being flexible, but Anna’s team continues with its inflexibility. Its blackmail many times multiplied now….

That leaves us at exactly the same place as we were before the drama began. The Bill is in the Standing Committee and it will be discussed there. The canard that Prashant Bhushan and others had spread that the Standing Committee could not possibly change the government’s bill enough to make it strong – he said it was impossible to change it “structurally” – has been proven to be just that; a canard. The standing committee can accept all six contentious points that exist in Anna’s Bill if it finds them to be acceptable. But that was the exact same position that existed before the drama began. Nothing has changed. Yes, civil society has got more assertive; the government more butchered; the media more partisan; the judiciary more quiet. Unfortunately, when the din dies down, progress will prove to be even more difficult to achieve. Given the number of days lost, I think it’s impossible that the Bill can be passed in this session of Parliament. The next session is more than a few months away. Many things can change in the meanwhile. Was all this drama worth it?

Makes me wonder what Anna’s team was really celebrating. If they were celebrating the bringing to the knees of an “arrogant” government, they were right. But if they were celebrating the acceptance of their version of the bill, they were totally wrong. In fact, the opinion against their version of the bill is even stronger now. I find many many voices in media criticizing the government’s actions; but an equal number criticizing Team Anna’s stubbornness. I have spoken to many ordinary citizens and almost all of them agree that Anna has to be flexible. Eminent voices like Deepak Parekh have now joined the chorus in asking Anna to be flexible. The ball is now in his court. Does he have in him the Gandhi-like quality to talk to people and his team and ask them to stop the protests and get back to the negotiating table? Or is he caught in a trap of populism? Does he have it in him to take the necessary few steps towards a solution? Or will he prefer to stay locked up in Tihar – and continue with an indefinite fast – pushing up the pitch even higher?

In fact, now that this drama has played out – and the desired results of softening the government achieved – what is the reason left to continue the fast-unto-death? Let’s say Anna fasts for 7 more days and his health becomes really bad. That mounts even more pressure on the government. But then what? Even more pressure leading to what? What is the specific action step that Team Anna wants the government to take now? If they keep insisting on the Jan Lokpal Bill being passed in an “as is” condition, they will lose all support they enjoy amongst the intelligentsia. And if they are willing to be flexible, then why go on the fast at all? Was the fast the end objective or was the end objective to discuss the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament? If the end objective was the fast itself, it will continue. But if the end objective was discussing the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament, then that has already been achieved. The fast has lost all meaning now…..its objectives already served.

The conduct of Anna’s team leaves a lot to be desired. Agreed, there was no violence on the streets. But the kind of sloganeering that went on was very cheap. There was no reason to carry a poster which said “3 idiots” with MMS, Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal’s pictures on it. There was no reason to mock MMS by carrying a placard on 2G. A lot of people still have a lot of regard for MMS. It doesn’t take too long for the tide to turn in India – a few bad moves on Team Anna’s part, and they will find all the support vanishing. Remember it took only a few years of staying away from power for the Congress post the emergency (the JP movement was far stronger than the current one) to return to power. The tide turned in favor of Indira Gandhi when her opponents themselves misbehaved during the Janata Party rule. The Indian public loves underdogs. Anna is the underdog right now and the support is with him. The moment it appears that Anna is the bully and the governmente the underdog, the tide will turn. In any case, the support is only for Anna – the man who conjures up images of Gandhi. If it weren’t for him, there would hardly be any support for the movement. Bashing up Congress politicians beyond a point also gives rise to the charge that this is an RSS inspired movement. If the Congress has acted like a fool, there is no reason for Team Anna to do so too.

The last two days has also shown the immaturity and irresponsibility of our media. Almost all of them abdicated their responsibility and behaved as though they were part of the crowd. As if, they were representatives of Anna’s team. It’s good to reflect the people’s voice, but it’s never good to lose your own voice. At least one of the TV channels demonstrated that it had lost all sense – of understanding, of responsibility, of independence – as it refused to let an alternate viewpoint emerge. It abused the freedom it has under our democracy. It practiced its own form of “emergency”. When it did allow a dissenting voice, it was muted quickly. The channel was blatantly political; blatantly anti-governmentl; very foul in its language used; treated politicians with utter contempt; worse, the anchor conducted him like a judge. Pathetic. The other two English channels were more balanced. One actually had the guts to put out a panel which had opponents of Anna’s Bill on it. This ensured that a meaningful debate followed and real issues got discussed. The third English channel followed what it has done for some time now – put out one anchor who took a balanced approach. And another one who preferred to play by emotions. Ditto with the print publications. Most preferred to play along with the crowds; relegating dissenting points of view and intelligent debates to the inside pages.

What about political parties? All of them were smart. They castigated the government for its highhandedness (rightfully) but avoided mentioning their disagreements on the Jan Lokpal Bill. Yes, they did ceize the opportunity to say that even they had disagreements, but none of them bothered to say which points they disagreed on. After all, why would they let go such a juicy opportunity to embarrass the government (rightfully)….Why would they want to run afoul of Anna’s followers?

The real truth is what I had said would happen a few days back. India has got raped (many objected when I used this word…..but nothing describes what is happening today better than this word). Everything is wrong with what is happening. The government was wrong in its conduct. Anna’s team is wrong in its stubbornness and blackmail. The opposition is wrong in its reading of the mood of the country (the BJP has nothing to gain from all this). The media has shown itself to be immature and irresponsible. Earlier, the CAG and the judiciary had played partisan games. Now even the cops have got in. Never before have I felt more distressed with the condition the country finds itself in. It’s time all of us rose above our petty points of view – and worked to salvage whatever pride is left of our country. There’s no point dumping it all on the politicians – we have to mend our ways too….


  1. keep it the democracy..

  2. I have never seen the country united as today. Apart from writing that there are points to be discussed, please instantiate the specific points. Also the discussion did happen last time Anna went on fast, what happened then? The government is not ready to accept the points. Leave apart PM or Judiciary. Bring the MPs, all government employees under the lokpal purview. Also fine the concerned employees if the work doesn't happen in time as specified in the sheets that are to present at all the offices. And what does the government means by imprisonment of the whistle blowers to 2 years and that of the convicted officers to only 6 months?
    I agree the media is not presenting the completing picture. But it also depends on the people to know and understand their rights. Indians don't believe in doing their homework, they only love blaming!
    Its only for Anna's will that the government mended its ways. The government if is open to take the peoples opinion it should arrange for a proper referendum country wide and act in accordance with the results. Why go along with the views of a select few?