Why The Congress Did What It Did
Seema Mustafa, Newsclick, August 23, 2011
The first phase started with Anna Hazare and his team sitting on fast against corruption. They presented the Jan Lokpal Bill to the government and the people, maintaining with tremendous support from the across the country, that this should replace the apology of a legislation framed by the UPA government. The peoples response compelled the government to set up a committee of Union Ministers to dialogue with Anna Hazare and his team for a workable legislation.
After the first few rounds of talks, the government and the Congress party launched a not so subtle campaign against Anna Hazare and his team members, even releasing a fabricated DVD courtesy Amar Singh, to allege corruption charges. The Ministers and Congress spokespersons held off the record briefings with selected scribes to plant stories against the movement, and to virtually launch a smear campaign against Anna Hazare and the others ---Prashant Bhushan, Shashi Bhusan, Anil Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi---with him. It soon became clear that the government had no intention of moving ahead on a new, stronger Lokpal Bill and eas using the dialogue to divide public opinon, break the movement and discredit the Anna Team. It seemed to be succeeding to a degree in that many activists and others moved back to sit on the fence, while the Sibals and the Tiwari’s continued the tirade with great gusto. The other political parties appeared hesitant about the Jan Lokpal Bill and the movement itself, although the Left and the BJP came on board from this stage itself as they realised that the people’s support was genuine and strong.
By the time the second phase started, it did seem to appear that while the usual melee of supporters would throng around the hunger fast venue, the crowds were not going to swell to a point of concern for the government. But the UPA government was clearly not in a mood for any form of dissent, and fielded spokesperson Manish Tiwari to launch a no holds barred attack on Anna Hazare, accusing him and his team of being corrupt from “head to toe.” The people fed up with corruption, non governance, and an absence of accountability were stunned and there was a palpable ripple of reaction across the nation.
Unable to sense and understand this the government moved into direct confrontation with the 74 year old Gandhian, and made it clear that he was denied the democratic space guaranteed to all citizens under the Indian Constitution, to protest. Five absurd conditions, including the number of people who could attend and the number of cars that could be parked at the venue, were imposed and obviously rejected. This second blunder created a massive reaction amongst activists, political parties and those involved in protests across the country on land acquisition etc. There have been fears of the government pushing protests and protestors to Burari or other some such outskirts of Delhi, like they have done the slum dwellers, and taking away the space available for dissent. This blunder united many of these groups in opposing the government.
Then came the early morning arrest. Anna Hazare was picked up from his house like a common criminal and taken into custody. He was then sent to Tihar Jail, another blunder that had the people coming out on the streets of most cities and towns in angry protest. As one young student said outside Tihar jail, “does the government think we are all fools, that we have no idea of what is going on?” The government, clearly caught by surprise, at the intensity of the peoples reaction went into a huddle and emerged in a confused damage control mode that had it crawling in front of the peoples fury.
WHY THE CONGRESS DID WHAT IT DID
It is important to understand the Congress actions and reactionS…first the attack on Hazare and his team, then the decision to prevent them from going ahead with the hunger fast, then arresting him from his residence , then sending him to Tihar jail and then when faced with the peoples wrath crawling on all fours, looking as it always does for scapegoats. Rahul Gandhi had presided over the meetings and cleared the plan of action but then party managers started making out that he was opposed to the arrest. There is no indication of this except what his men in the party have been telling the journalists in again the usual off the record briefings. When the government announced its decision to arrest Hazare and send him to jail, Rahul Gandhi was very much in the country and there was not even a whispered dissenting note from his office and his people to the media. He was on board, but when faced with the peoples anger, Sandeep Dixit was fielded to attack the Delhi police in a reaction that has only invited ridicule. There was this strange sight of the Union Home Minister too claiming that the arrest was by the Delhi police and yes of course, he was kept informed but that it was not his decision!
To understand all these seemingly bewildering moves, it will be necessary to understand the character of the Congress party that has functioned under a Dynasty for decades. Just like democratic rule, dynastic rule too has acquired its special features over the years, not just in India, but in the world (signs of this are now visible in the Arab world). Dynasties survive on servility, and to ensure that there is no dissent become increasingly authoritarian following a virtual chicken and egg syndrome, with one giving birth to the other. Dynasties necessarily generate mediocrity, by rewarding loyalty over intelligence and merit. Dynasties exist on a belief of being better than others, hence become arrogant, and with time frown on dissent. And above all Dynasties as a combined result of all this lose their touch with the pulse of the people, ruling for themselves and their cronies and not the people at large.
All this and more has been on display for years now, but even more so in the days leading to Anna Hazare’s arrest and subsequent release. The Congress party and its government was totally unable to understand the mood of the people being run by a cabinet of politicians ---largely so---who have never faced the people. Most of them are in position because of the Nehru-Gandhi family and spend their time in pleasing the latter than in serving the people. It is not without reason that the Constitution wants the Prime Minister to be an elected member of Parliament, but having dispensed with this as well, the Congress has allowed the Establishment ruling clique of select politicians, bureaucrats and media editors to serve as the ‘people’ it talks to, deals with, and engages. The masses are out of the Congress scope of governance.
WHY ANNA HAZARE?
A question that arises in the midst of all this is why Anna Hazare, why did this nondescript man who has been around for years battling against corruption in the rural areas of Maharashtra, suddenly emerged as a national hero? Difficult to say, but clearly the groundswell of support is based not just on the personality of Anna Hazare, but on the frustration, anger of the people over corruption, the denial of democratic rights, and the complete absence of accountability. The Gandhi topi, the age, the commitment, the honesty all clicked and Anna became the symbol that got the people out of their homes, onto the streets, in united action.
ROLE OF THE MEDIA
A question being asked by all, including the media is whether the Anna Hazare movement has been a creation of the media. “Creation” is too strong a word, as the media regardless of the hysteria visible on the channels cannot motivate people to go out into the streets unless they want to. And in this case they clearly wanted to. But certainly the media has been a very important contributory factor, and has now with its high pitched, excited coverage raised the levels to a point that a cracker will have the effect of a bomb. It is thus, important to bring down the pitch, introduce serious debate and discussion and ensure that the Anna Hazare movement is placed, and thereby seen, in a larger perspective of democratic rights and space.