Who is Anna Hazare, what section of civil society does he represent, what is he really fasting for this time? Will Anna enter politics, form a political party or just support ‘clean’ candidates of other political party’s? Does Anna believe in democracy and parliamentary procedures, respect the Constitution? Does he endorse the call of core members of his India Against Corruption team for a “sampoorna kranti”, a revolution to re-organise all major institutions of democratic functioning in India? Is his current “anshan” to bring about an effective anti-corruption statute, to institute a special investigation team to probe against senior ministers of the Cabinet or is the real battle about ensuring that only his team’s version of the Jan LokPal Bill is implemented? Which contradicting voice of Team Anna should one believe and is everything hunky-dory between Anna and his team, does he approve of all their actions, does he really believe that picketing outside the houses of national leaders is the solution to India’s woes? What is Anna’s relationship with Baba Ramdev and that of Ramdev with Team Anna members? Is there really a solution to be found from Anna’s methods or is this just another well orchestrated fast deliberately scheduled the week before Parliament commences its monsoon session and the corner from Independence Day around when the patriotic passions of our youth are otherwise ignited to try to embarrass the Government and regain some of the attention which the Anna movement had lost in the last many months?
The above noted questions have undoubtedly crossed many of our minds and if there is any confusion about what Anna’s initial movement to fight corruption stands for today, then take comfort that your bewilderment has company. Permit no one to send you on a guilt trip that if we don’t support Anna’s altruistic movement than we either somehow support corruption, are pro-Government or anti-India. Far from it! We all recognise that corruption is endemic, is an impediment to India’s progress and needs to be checked on an immediate basis. In fact, it was the simplicity of Anna’s message that resonated with the masses who could see their daily lives improving if an anti-corruption statute was introduced. Anna deserves full credit for compelling our Parliamentarians to discuss a LokPal legislation. And regardless of the politics, the reality is that a Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, didn’t get voted in the Rajya Sabha and a LokPal Bill is currently pending deliberations before a Parliamentary select committee on LokPal.
Does Anna and his brigade of self appointed patriots really believe that by going on a fast and threatening the Government they can scuttle Parliamentary procedure? Unlike a popular board game, the “fasting card” does not allow one to by-pass established systems and somehow get straight to GO! The monsoon session of 30 days scheduled to commence on August 8th is interspersed with the Vice-President elections and during this short period many other equally important and time sensitive legislations also need to be discussed, debated and passed! Is the debate against corruption even more important than a discussion on the near-drought situation confronting the nation and the effects it could have on our agrarian economy, leveraged farmers and impoverished rural population? Does the need for an Ombudsman overtake the compelling necessity to debate means on how to improve the economy, rising inflation and acute food shortage? Is a LokPal legislation also the solution to the regional problems confronting our widespread nation either in the north-east or on our borders? If Parliament is disrupted or adjourned repeatedly during its 30 day schedule for reasons attributable to Anna and his “anshan” what responsibility are he and his team willing to take for stalling the Parliamentary workings? Of course we need to prioritise, but whether we like it or not, till such time that no one brings a vote of no-confidence against this Government, it is the Governments prerogative alone to chalk out its course of action. We may choose to call our elected representatives ‘servants of the people’ but let us not get carried away in accepting on who is wearing the pants in the relationship. Of course our anti-corruption crusaders recognise the fact that the Government alone calls the shots, why else would the anti-corruption movement have gotten so personal, political and possessive!
Notably, the flip-flop has not just been from the Anna corner. A fair share of the blame also sits at the Governments door and it is perhaps still paying the price of its tactical errors like arresting Anna a year ago, then going to welcome his compatriots at the Airport, exchanging letters with Anna and being naïve enough of holding ‘secret’ meetings with him. Further, in the last year that the Anna movement has been active, the Government hasn’t launched any major initiatives to alter the old institutional framework which breeds corruption. Granted it will take longer than a year to weed out the dirt, but the public would at a minimum have liked to show it something which displays the Governments commitment to check corruption.
The Government will suffer the consequences of its actions when it goes back to the electorate in the next general elections. But given that Anna and his team are non-elected self-appointed representatives of civil society, they need to finally take note that public perception of this movement, and that of Anna has dwindled. As stated in an earlier piece published in this newspaper (Anna-ther storm in Parliament, 30-11-2011) large percentages of those who initially supported him now believe that Anna’s legitimate fight against corruption has lost focus. And if Anna draws comparisons with Gandhiji, he must also take note that Gandhiji was able to unite different sections of Indian people primarily because he realised that he was leading a multi-class movement and hence the strategy of struggle-truce-struggle which he adopted was designed so that his support base could take strategic retreats to introspect, undertake constructive work, strengthen and re-energise themselves. But throughout this process, Gandhiji’s message remained the same, his focus didn’t shift and he never antagonised the political class, with who he was fighting, to a level that there would be a complete break-down of discussion.
In the final analysis, its really is not about the turnout of crowds at the fast venue or whether the media is deliberately not covering Anna Hazare’s most recent fast. But when members of Team Anna make preposterous statements that the Northern Grid was deliberately tripped to prevent the metro taking crowds from attending the fast or start attacking members of the media it reveals their frustrations. As a leading journalist wrote “the fight against corruption in public life must be continued but it cannot be fought by fasting-unto-death in Jantar Mantar road.” Now will be a good time for Anna to take a bow, gracefully retreat and let the fight against corruption that he started go through the democratic process of Parliamentary procedure. By no means is one implying that we should let another 44 years pass before an anti corruption legislation is passed. But the person can never get bigger than the cause and history stands testament that each time that happens, the cause which the person was so altruistically fighting for disappears under his not so altruistic and overpowering shadow.
First Published Online by Governance Now, Magazine.