Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nothing right about Congress attack on Anna. But then, nothing right about Anna’s stubbornness either….

It was a sad day yesterday indeed. Instead of the usual joy that a long weekend brings, especially one that includes the Independene day, it was sad to watch the powerful central government attack Anna Hazare. Whatever has been said about Anna, he has so far never been accused of corruption. Maybe it’s their desperation; maybe its part of a strategy. But for the ordinary people of the country: this smacks of governmental vendetta.

What a pass we have come to. The fight between Anna and the government is starting to look more and more like the fight between warring couples. Each one blaming the other; each one unearthing more dirt on the other than ever before. As is usual in such cases, the truth is hard to come by. But what is clear is that the truth is never fully on any one party’s side. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

Should the Congress have attacked Anna? My own view is that it should not have. But is there anything wrong in the charges that they have leveled? Not at all. These are proven charges. These are part of the verdict that Justice Sawant appears to have delivered in 2005. This is a report post-investigation; post-hearing. It doesn’t help Anna to say that the government should institute an inquiry against him. All that’s been done. This is the report post the inquiry. Are these charges serious? Not at all. The birthday bash spends can be explained away as being a minor aberration. Will these charges stick? I seriously doubt they will. And yet, as typically happens in family fights, this new salvo is bound to create even more animosity; even more rancour between both parties.

Rather than taking sides here, let’s look at what has brought things to such a pass. There is no one in this country who disagrees with Anna when he claims that there is rampant corruption in India. Corruption exists from top to bottom – this is how it is different from corruption in the developed world. There, the common man is largely spared the hassles of corruption. There is also a general consensus in the public at large that politicians are corrupt. There is a serious credibility issue that politicians suffer from. In the fight between Anna and the politicians, it is this credibility gap between the two that has fuelled the tussle till now. Anna’s credibility has been sky high; the politicians’ sunk into the deep earth. No one really knows what Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill contains. But people simply believe that whatever it is, it must be right.

But while Anna has credibility, that does not bestow on him the right to bulldoze anyone. The current tussle between him and the government has assumed a strange metamorphosed form of abuse. Here is a case not of the government abusing its power. But of Anna doing that. Here is a David-Goliath story where the roles have got totally reversed. Anna is the aggressor and the government a meek body. There is a growing feeling today that Anna has dug himself into a hole; much like an Ostrich and is now unable to focus on the larger picture. The movement has turned myopic. Anna’s demand for “all conditions” to be accepted by the government is an abuse of the process of democracy. Democracy grants people the freedom of speech, but nowhere in the world does it give the people the right to demand specific reforms. Nowhere in the world does Parliament surrender its powers to draft laws. Nowhere in the world would a movement like Anna’s be tolerated. It is only the decency of democracy in India that a movement that has gone haywire for so long is still allowed to continue. It’s only in India that freedom is so callously abused…..

Anna has achieved enough. It is because of his pressure that the government has agreed to so much. For him now to reject the Bill as being half baked appears to be unfair. The way I look at it, the government has conceded the biggest impediment to checking corruption in high offices. No longer will it be required to take permission from the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to pursue a corruption case against any sitting MP or minister. This is a huge movement forward. Look at it from the MPs’ point of view. The only shield of protection that he/they had has been taken away. The MPs are today open to public scrutiny and a charge made to the Lokpal is sufficient to institute proceedings against him/her. Should the PM be under the Lokpal? I feel he should be. But the opinion is divided. There is the intelligentsia that believes that he shouldn’t be. Even the BJP feels that certain areas should of the PM’s office should be kept out of scrutiny. If the opinion is so divided, there has to be an element of truth. Should the Lok Ayukta be created as part of the Lokpal Bill? Again, while this subject may be in the concurrent list, I think we should respect the federal structure and leave it to the state governments to enact their own laws. Is it that Anna finds it more comforting dealing with a more understanding Congress than with the obdurate local and regional parties? He should understand: the movement he has started will spread over to the states. That much confidence he has to have. On his demand for including the judiciary, there is total opposition to it. On his demand for including ALL employees who work for the government, it appears to be a case of impossible reach. To handle corruption charges against 1.4 crore employees, what will the size of the Lokpal have to be? Why will the Lokpal itself not become corrupt? How will justice be delivered within a year? What is there in the Lokpal’s structure that it can deliver speedy justice within a year, when the judiciary has not been able to? These are questions that Anna has not been able to answer. A well intentioned campaign has become nothing more than an ego issue.

My suggestion to the government is to not attack Anna. They should be smart. There is no way that Anna can be allowed to commit suicide. Should that happen, the entire country will burn. And the government will be blamed for inaction. The same political voices that are asking the government to show restraint will accuse the government of inaction. The government has to be firm in stopping the protest from disintegrating into a law and order problem. Or worse. They have to be firm in disallowing the fast from going on beyond a few days. But more than ever before, they have to appear humble; they must engage with media and through media, with the people at large. And most importantly, the government must show resolve in bringing about new legislation. Building confidence in the people that they don’t wish to protect corruption; They have to wrest the fight against corruption away from Anna’s hands….

As I said at the beginning, neither Anna nor the government is entirely right. The truth is in-between. Let no one behave as if they and only they are right. Anna’s team has to show much more restraint. They have to stop the blackmail. The Bill is in Parliament; the Bill passed by Parliament will be final. No one can should doubt the authority of Parliament. There is also the Judicial Accountability Bill that is in Parliament. The new Land Bill is in Parliament which should help curb corruption in land acquisition. The new Mining Policy is getting readied….that should help in curbing corruption in this major area. The GST will help reduce interaction with governmental authorities and that should reduce corruption. The Direct Tax code will simplify tax laws. All these are good steps…..I am not one of those who has lost faith in existing institutions. In any case, Anna has no new solution to offer. He is looking more and more like a single trick pony.

The real truth is that Rome was not built in a day. Nor will the ideal Lokpal be. It’s unfair for Anna to expect that India’s fight against corruption will be over in one act of struggle. The fight has to be sustained; and it has to go on. But while that’s happening, nothing must be done to stop the economic march of the country. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the country. Missing it now will force it to remain poor forever. Let’s not let that happen…..Lokpal or no Lokpal….Anna or no Anna…..

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