The fast-idious Anna
Who is Anna Hazare? Which section of civil society does he represent? What is he fasting for this time? Will Anna enter politics, form a political party or just support ‘clean’ candidates of other political parties? Does Anna believe in democracy and parliamentary procedures, and 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 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?
Most of these questions have undoubtedly crossed many 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, 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. 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 the Lokpal legislation. And it was his relentless efforts that led to the Lok Sabha passing a version of the Lokpal Bill. Regardless of politics, the Bill didn’t get voted in the Rajya Sabha, but as things stand today, it is pending 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 bypass established systems and somehow get straight to GO! The monsoon session of 30 days scheduled to commence on August 8 is interspersed with the vice-presidential 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 draught 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 the Lokpal legislation also the solution to regional problems spread either in the north-east or on our borders? 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 Government’s 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 overlooking on who wears the pants in the relationship. 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 Government’s door and it is perhaps still paying the price of its tactical errors from last year. And in the last year that the Anna movement has been active, the Government hasn’t launched many 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 have liked to see some confirmation of the government’s commitment towards checking corruption.
Whether the government eventually engages in a dialogue with Team Anna or completely stonewalls them is a matter we will have to wait to see. 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. They are free to carry on their fast for as long as they like, but a large percentage 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 take note that throughout the freedom struggle, Gandhiji’s message remained the same, his focus didn’t shift and he never antagonised the political class to a level where there was a complete break-down of discussion.
In the final analysis, it’s really not about the turnout of crowds at the fast venue or whether the media is deliberately not covering Anna Hazare’s most recent protest. 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 go-by before an anti-corruption legislation is passed. But equally, we cannot abandon our Constitution and democratic processes just because they are inconvenient. Eventually, the person can never get bigger than the cause he is canvassing and history stands testament that each time that happens, the cause which the person was so altruistically championing disappears under his not so altruistic shadow.
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