Let me at the very outset confess that I was impressed by Anna Hazare’s latest show of protest. There was a certain variety to the debate. One didn’t feel being shepherded in the direction chosen by the organizers.
What made the exchange doubly meaningful was the acceptance by Anna and his core team of the supremacy of Parliament and the value of our multi-party democracy. They shed their distrust of the politicos to co-opt the collective Opposition for a full-throated attack on the ruling coalition they charged with prevarication on the Lokpal issue.
From being anti-politician, the Anna campaign has turned anti-Congress, triggering suspicion about its agenda when the government lacks an overwhelming majority in the House. So much so that Mamata Banerjee was urged to break her silence to lend support to the cause the way she helped scuttle FDI in multi-brand retail.
Coming back to Anna’s bid to rope in political parties, Kiran Bedi who incurred the disapproval of many for her Ramlila maidan caricature of the neta biradari, was subdued and discreet. But not Arvind Kejriwal, who launched into his usual act of leading others by the nose. His unilateralism invited rebuff from the CPI’s A B Bardhan and the BJP’s Arun Jaitley—who said the legislation’s fine print be left to Parliament.
The BJP leader dittoed Bardhan, who had earlier chided Anna’s supporters for their wholesale derision of the political class while claiming to be the “sole repository of wisdom and honesty.” Perceived by many as autocratic and intolerant, Kejriwal heard them without demur. It didn’t make sense from his standpoint to lock horns with the Opposition lineup that supported broadly the Jan Lokpal version to make the PM, the CBI and the lower bureaucracy accountable to the proposed Ombudsman. There was no unanimity on the judiciary and the MPs’ conduct in the House. A measure of Anna’s success was the presence on the stage of the initially skeptical JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav. The attraction was two-way; Anna needing political support in the last lap in Parliament and Opposition parties eyeing electoral gains by associating with the anti-corruption movement.
It would be interesting to watch whether their support for the legislation is rooted in political expediency or principled commitment? In this limited sense, the civil society, if its agenda solely is to have a strong Lokpal, will need to guard against any deliberate Opposition ploy to embarrass the UPA for electoral gains in the impending polls through non-passage of the Bill.
The way Kejriwal sought to embarrass Aruna Roy’s representative Nikhil Dey — who argued that police be strengthened rather than excluded from the anti-graft architecture —- showed his reluctance to share popular space with other civil society groups. Similarly dismissed by him were concerns over putting together an army of 35,000 honest Lokpal staff.
Such conduct on Kejriwal’s part indicated double-standards. He played the Anna group’s big boss after attacking the ‘high command culture’ that denied individual freedom of action in political parties to even elected representatives.
Be that as it may, the dialogue, as it were, threw up arguments for and against Anna’s demands and tactics. The CPI-M’s Brinda Karat raised issues the anti-graft campaigners were a shade shy of raising: Corporate-instigated corruption and the fears of weaker sections that the Lokpal could become another stick in the hands of socially and economically empowered sections.
Amid the rhetoric, it was left to the CPI’s D Raja to draw attention to parliamentary procedure. He pointed out that the government was expected to come up with a new draft bill (in place of the one brought earlier and rejected by Anna’s team and the Opposition) on receipt of the parliamentary standing committee’s report, very much part of which are dissenting notes by 17 of the 28 members. Like many others, he urged Anna to show flexibility and not insist that his draft on the proposed institution was unalterable.
The battle now has shifted to Parliament, the only forum with powers to legislate. The occasion will simultaneous be the Congress’s last opportunity to come clean in the fight against corruption.