When the Anna Hazare story started – back in April, when Anna and his four emerged out of the woodworks with the tall promise of ridding India of corruption – many of us were skeptical of his “movement”. Despite our reservations, legitimate and relevant as they are, the fact is that his campaign managed to tap into a perceptible mass anger against the corrupt practices and malfeasance of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. [Image courtesy, The Hindu]
So Anna's call for corruption struck a chord. Yet, we were skeptical not only because the campaign was clearly opaque in its ideological affiliations, but also because Team Anna did not speak for us; and the moral high-ground they assumed did reflect their deep-rooted anathema for parliamentary democracy.
But, for many of us who do not wish to be represented by Anna, or condone his arm-twisting the parliament, the high-handed manner in which the Central Government has dealt with the anti-corruption crusader, was the tipping point. This is obvious too, in the television visuals we see this time around; where the crowds are larger [a lot of it owes to the excellent groundwork done by Anna's Team], the pitch is up a few notches, and the dissent is more widespread. By mismanaging the crisis, the UPA government has made a bigger hero, perhaps even a martyr, out of Anna and his team. Never before has the bumbling UPA looked more foolish than it has in the past three days.
Anna's methods were indeed undemocratic, but denying a citizen or a large group the permission to protest in peace is by no means democratic. By denying Anna his fundamental right to peaceful protest, by getting the police to dictate terms that are contrived and unreasonable, the UPA has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for public sentiment, and its boorish attitude towards any criticism. First, by getting its glib Cabinet to dig up dirt and launch a pointless slander campaign – on the same man with whom they conducted well-publicised meets over previous months – and then stopping short of asking him to protest in neighbouring Haryana, and finally when all failed, by hitting the panic button and detaining Anna before he could get to the venue; the UPA's every move spelt a recipe for disaster.
On the UPA's firefighting skills, there's precious little to say. A day after the government's trimurti, comprising the glibbest of them all – namely, Ambika Soni, Kapil Sibal, and Chidambaram – embarrassed themselves by blaming it all on the Delhi Police, the Prime Minister was seen justifying the government's decisions in Parliament. Manmohan Singh, who presides over what is arguably the most corrupt government in independent India, earns himself no brownie points when he, and his partner-in-crime Chidambaram, wax eloquent about “preserving the dignity of parliament”. Even as opposition leaders challenged them on their vacuous arguments, each and every one of which fell flat on its face, Singh's government adamantly defended the indefensible.
Echoing the PM's sentiment, in one of the gazillion media appearances he makes a day, the garrulous Sibal asked why Anna did not pose before the Parliamentary Standing Committee. A fair question to ask, if you've had your head buried in the sand all along. It is common knowledge that Anna's demands for an effective Lokpal Bill – the merits and demerits of which are surely debatable (watch this interview with Sukumar Muralidharan on this, NewsClick) -- are far from being met. Instead, what the government has offered is a farcical and weak Bill.
Notably, among the many demands from Anna's Jan Lokpal (version of the Bill) that haven't been met is the demand that the PM be brought under the ambit of the LokPal. A demand, backed by the opposition parties, has been repeatedly rejected by the UPA with no explanations offered. It is indeed bold of the UPA, which has had several scams -- Antrix spectrum, 2G deal and so on -- traced to the PMO Office, to take such a stance [if it has any intentions to continue in mainstream politics, that is]. A party that has been exposed in its highest offices of having either colluded with or indulged in scandalous acts of corruption, lacks the moral authority to decide who or what must come under the ambit of a Bill that intends to tackle corruption.
When I sat down to write this article - which I delayed for a good 12 hours, owing to my wishful thinking that the Anna Harare-Government impasse will be solved sometime during Wednesday – Anna is still in Tihar Jail, a location that the ruling government is all too familiar with, given it is home to no less than cabinet ministers, key functionaries and alliance partners. Going by television visuals, the crowd at Tihar appears to be swelling by the hour, as is the turnout for rallies supporting Anna and his anti-corruption crusade across the country.
As late as Wednesday night, the UPA does not seem to have learnt its lessons. Despite overwhelming visuals of the support people across the country are extending to this cause, and knowing full well that this is a reflection of raw public anger against its misrule, the government continues to go back and forth negotiating minutae on where and for how long Anna will be allowed to protest.
Whether the Anna Hazare-led public movement will rid the country of corruption or not is debatable. However, what seems more or less certain by now is that this episode will indeed spell the beginning of the end for what is probably the most corrupt government in the history of independent India.
PS. (Pot calls the kettle black)
The “foreign haath” twist that the Congress is trying to give to the Anna story is nothing short of hilarious. For a government, which has been exposed as one that has been completely subservient to the United States -- be it in the sphere of foreign policy or even blatantly allowing the US to interfere in who runs which ministry – this is dangerous territory to tread. A strategy that fell flat, as did the 'right noises' emerging from “prince charming” Rahul Gandhi's chambers, the UPA will find that foolish conspiracy theories will not take it too far. Not this time.