Lokpal is still a long haul, but Anna damages his cause

By Amulya Ganguli
PUBLISHED: Dec 24, 2011, 11:18 am IST | UPDATED: Dec 24, 2011, 12:12 pm
Keywords: Anna Hazare  Lokpal bill  Parliament  Anna's campaign  Challenge to the Congress  Analysis  
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Lokpal is still a long haul, but Anna damages his cause Considering that Anna Hazare is dissatisfied with the Lokpal bill presented to parliament, it is obvious that a quick resolution of the confrontation between him and the government is not feasible. In fact, the scene can take a turn for the worse if, for one, Anna's fast has an adverse effect on his health, as his doctors have warned. And, for another, if the proposed protest outside Sonia Gandhi's and Rahul Gandhi's houses leads to violence.

The main difference between the earlier stages of Anna's campaign and the latest one is that while his focus was mainly on his fasts earlier, he is now presenting a direct challenge to the Congress. This switch to politics, which will be intensified if Anna tours the five states going to the polls to campaign against the Congress, underlines a realisation that self-flagellation or self-purification a la Gandhi is no longer as effective as before.

True Anna's movement can be claimed to have been always political. Besides, it was also anti-Congress. Any anti-government agitation that singles out the first party for constant criticism cannot be anything other than political and anti-Congress. But it is possible that this emphasis on the Congress has given the latter an opportunity to engineer a line-up along a familiar political fault line.

As is obvious, the Congress now has on its side, apart from its allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), parties from the Hindu belt like Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, Ramvilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and also, possibly, Sharad Yadav's Janata Dal-United (JD-U), which is an ally of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). There is also a possibility that Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will side with the Congress at a critical moment.

What can be seen in this combination is the familiar secular-communal divide, except for the JD-U. But, like the latter, the Shiv Sena, too, is currently closer to the Congress on the anti-Anna platform than to the NDA. That leaves out the BJP. But, before considering its position, it is worth noting that the political turn which Anna has given to his movement has highlighted the old battle lines between (in addition to the secular-communal schism) the rural backward castes and Dalits of the cow belt on one side and the middle class-dominated urban support base of Team Anna on the other.

Not surprisingly, to strengthen its own side of the divide, the Congress has played the caste, gender and religion cards by ensuring reservations for Dalits, Adivasis, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), women and minorities in the eight-member Lokpal bench and in the so-called search committee which will help in the Lokpal's selection.

The BJP has, predictably, opposed the inclusion of minorities in the panel and the committee, calling it unconstitutional. It may be right. But the Congress will not be too concerned about the hurdles put by it for, first, the BJP's stance will again reinforce its Hindu communal image and, second, if the judiciary strikes down the provision, the resultant delay in the enactment of the bill will not displease the Congress.

After all, the party has never been in a tearing hurry to see the bill through. The inordinate delay in its enactment - the measure has been hanging fire since 1968 - is evidence enough of its lack of interest. Nor is it the only laggard. It is no secret that the entire political class is wary of the possibility of an all-powerful ombudsman sitting in judgment over their heads.

Hence their reluctance to relinquish control over the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for they know that once the police and the bureaucracy are imbued with genuine professionalism where they can act without fear or favour, the cosy partnership between politicians, officials and even criminals will come to an end. The pressure from the Anna group may have forced the government to ease its earlier iron grip on the CBI - now the Lokpal will have the power of "superintendence" over the CBI - but the repeated pleas by the backward caste politicians and also the Communist Party of India (CPI) not to pass the bill in a hurry are not motivated by a need for closer examination alone.

There is little doubt that Anna has pushed the government a long distance towards the framing of a reasonably powerful Lokpal. But, by sticking to its old "my way or the highway" stance, Anna is damaging his own cause. Besides, while his own decency - except for a few quirky attitudes like tying the "accused people to trees to deliver summary justice", as Amartya Sen said - is unquestionable, the pomposity of some of his colleagues can be off-putting. If they retain their influence, the movement can suffer a setback because they lack the sophistication to guide it through the present phase when a lot has been achieved.
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