Interpreting the end to Anna Hazare’s fast as a famous victory and a humbling of Government is incorrect. Much good can follow but hubris and humbug must be jettisoned.
By B G VERGHESE
New Delhi, September 2011
Anna Hazare supporters rally towards the end of the fast in New Delhi. The highly vocal anti-corruption crusade mobilised thousands. - Photo: Getty Images
THERE was widespread relief over the ending of Anna Hazare’s fast following unanimous adoption of identical House resolutions by the Lok and Rajya Sabhas. Parliament agreed in principle to take into consideration his three “latest” demands regarding a citizen’s charter for timely delivery of public services, bringing the lower bureaucracy under the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal and establishing Lok Ayuktas in the states. It was further resolved to transmit the proceedings of the debate to the Standing Committee “for its perusal while formulating its recommendations for a Lok Pal Bill”.
Anna broke his 12-day fast on 28 August. Government and Parliament acted with restraint and statesmanship. Joy on the streets was appropriate and understandable. India had won and democracy had triumphed. However, interpreting the sequence of events as a famous Anna victory and humbling of Government exhibits both hubris and humbug. Team Anna was charging at an open door. The Government had made plain that all variants of the Lok Pal Bill were before or could be placed before the Standing Committee, which would hear contesting views, incorporate such amendments as it considered fit and submit the draft consensus to Parliament.
Team Anna climbed down on virtually every single point. Look at the balance sheet of Anna’s demands and the outcomes.
Team Anna charged through an open door. The Government had made plain that all variants of the Lok Pal Bill could be placed before the Standing Committee, which would hear contesting views
Demand: Only the Jan Lok Pal Bill (JLP) shall be considered and passed and the official “Lok Pal Bill” (which was burnt in public) must be withdrawn.
Demand: The JLP shall remain inviolate.
Outcome: JLP was amended 14 times by Team Anna and has now been further “compromised” on major counts. JLP will be considered alongside all other Bills and suggestions.
Demand: The Standing Committee must be by-passed and matters decided immediately and directly by Parliament by 30 August.
Demand: Every aspect of corruption must be placed under the single umbrella of the JLP which shall oversee Parliament, the Executive and Judiciary as a monolithic, supra authority defying federal and constitutional principles.
Outcome: Comprehensively negated.
Demand: Parliamentary and constitutional procedures and institutions must be ignored in preference to people’s power as expressed by the ultimate sovereign, “We, the People” gathered in the street, and duly sanctified and amplified by the media.
Outcome: Rejected. “We, the People” speak through chosen representatives in Parliament and the State Assemblies as prescribed by the Constitution.
Demand: Parliamentarians and politicians are criminals, corrupt, liars, “gavvars”. Neither they nor the Government can be trusted. Hence demand for here and now assurances in writing to Team Anna to accept and do its bidding.
Outcome: Categorically rejected. Corrupt politicians, Ministers and Judges are being and must be investigated, prosecuted, arrested and jailed through due process. To abolish politicians would be to abolish politics, overturn the Constitution and invite mob rue and anarchy.
Demand: “Anna is India and India is Anna”. Hence consideration of his three final demands must be guaranteed by a parliamentary resolution communicated to him in writing. All this must be instantly conceded lest he be compelled to extend his fast and either die on stage before cameras or be removed by the police and force-fed in hospital. The unspoken threat was that in either event the country must risk unrestrained mob fury and violence fed on mass hysteria assiduously built up over the preceding days for which Team Anna would hold the Government solely responsible.
Outcome: Since consideration of all these and other issues had already been openly conceded, the Government and Parliament agreed to offer Anna a face saving formula. This was gleefully clutched before Team Anna crumbled in consequence of mounting internal dissensions, competing egos and untenable rhetoric and emerging signs of hooliganism by Anna-capped supporters.
However, everything said, one great good has emerged. People’s anger at mis-governance, fraud and unconscionable delay was catalysed around a focal issue, corruption, and a man who flagged it, Anna
The cry is that Anna won and Government and Parliament were worsted. Government repeatedly “bungled” and the Prime Minister had to eat humble pie, his authority diminished. Nothing of the kind! If the Government bungled – and it did mishandle some things – much of it was because it unprecedentedly broke with due process and procedure to invite Team Anna for talks, and later negotiated with Ramdev. Official concessions whetted the ego of Team Anna which assumed an authoritarian and hectoring tone, setting conditions and deadlines... or else! This was fascist in temper and blackmail in substance. Anna’s stance was un-Gandhian, with bewildering variants of Anna-speak.
Let it be clearly understood that the health and institutions of democratic India, for which millions struggled and sacrificed for 150 years, come first. Complaints that the right to protest was curbed were far removed from reality. Government leant over backwards to permit protest to the point of licensing potential suicide to the cheers and chants of thousands, amplified by unprecedented carpet coverage by the media of the rally and various side shows. Much of this coverage and commentary was unprofessional and targeted the official line and all dissenters in provocative and unrestrained language. Child warriors, bunking school and college, were “interviewed” and feted.
Some argued that a fasting Anna only risked taking his own life for a cause. Compare this attempted suicide by an Anna strapped to a ticking time bomb in a crowded nationally televised maidan with that of a suicide bomber who destroys multiple lives in an instant of madness for a “cause”. Comparisons with Gandhi, the man and his times are completely misplaced. Mature democratic debate and consensus building cannot be had at the point of a gun. What is the difference between the Anna gun, the Maoist gun, the bandit gun, and the mafia gun? Are some guns better than others?
However, everything said, one great good has emerged. People’s anger at mis-governance, fraud and unconscionable delay was catalysed around a focal issue, corruption, and a man who flagged it, Anna. People were energised to protest and demand their rights as citizens. Government and Parliament, which have prevaricated on and obfuscated and relegated vital issues for years on untenable grounds have been warned that this kind of behaviour will henceforth be met head on by people’s anger. That lesson has hopefully been learned.
What remains is to keep chivvying Government and Parliament to perform and to harness the popular energy unleashed by Anna for national reconstruction and reform to lend muscle and professionalism to fulfilling and monitoring many far-reaching rights- based programmes that are under way or on the anvil. This is what Anna and the Government should be talking about.
Column reprinted with minor edits from www.BGVerghese.com / Veteran columnist, developmental journalist, author, and Magsaysay Award winner, BG Verghese started his career with the Times of India and was later Editor of the Hindustan Times (1969-75) and the Indian Express (1982-86). He was Information Adviser to the Prime Minister (1966-69), a Gandhi Peace Foundation Fellow for some years after the Emergency and Information Consultant to the Defence Minister for a short period during 2001. He is currently with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
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