Having rejected the Anna Hazare-led group’s demand for the inclusion of the Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament and bureaucrats within the proposed Lok Pal’s ambit, the central government is scrambling for political support for its stand. It has reached out to opposition parties and Chief Ministers for their opinion on the matter. This is, of course, a sham, because the feedback is immaterial, given that the government has already made up its mind. It also comes a day too late, because the UPA regime egged on by the Congress, never bothered to take the opposition into confidence all through the process – from the formation of the Lok Pal drafting panel to the committee’s various deliberations.
If the government has suddenly become conscious of the need to take the opposition leaders into confidence, it is because of two reasons: one, its version of the Lok Pal Bill cannot get through Parliament without their support, and two, it wants to diffuse the public discontent and anger over its destructive conduct across the political spectrum. It is working on the hope that the political class will cut across party lines and unite in this ‘hour of crisis’, since the civil society demands will impact them all. Whether that will happen, remains to be seen. After all, it’s not that all major political parties are in principle opposed to the Prime Minister’s inclusion; some have in fact taken positions earlier that favoured the idea. For now, the opposition is wary of the government’s overtures. The proposed all-party meet may not as quickly yield a solution as the beleaguered government wants. The June 30 deadline for finalizing the draft Bill is uncomfortably close, and the UPA is desperate.
The government on its part is playing to the political gallery in every possible way. Dripping with outward sincerity to tackle corruption in public office, the panel members from its side have been using every media forum to denounce the civil society demands as “unconstitutional” and designed to subvert our parliamentary system of democracy. Off and on they have also let it be known that, as people’s representatives they know the best. That bluff would have been easily called had a public referendum been held on the points raised by Mr Hazare and his members. The response would have been overwhelmingly in favour of getting government servants, including the Prime Minister, under the Lok Pal. That is why the government promptly dismissed one of the civil society member’s suggestion for a nationwide referendum on the issue on the ground that our Constitution did not provide for it.
Meanwhile, the Congress’ carefully orchestrated slander campaign against the ‘civil society’ leaders continues unabated. From thugs to blackmailers to pretenders to unelected despots, they have been called all. None of these epithets deserves a dignified response. Yet one must wonder what these activists have done to invite such wrath. After failing to get a response from the central government on the very valid issues raised, they decided to protest peacefully. Mr Hazare’s hunger strike struck a chord with the citizen of this country, long abused by corruption in high places. The massive support the protest received across the country indicates the mood of the nation. No political party can ignore the reality that the people want a strong Lok Pal that can reach the highest levels to probe corruption, even if that means the Prime Minister himself. It will not suffice to call the civil society activists “pretenders” and more. Incidentally, what are Mr Hazare and his representatives ‘pretending’ to be? They are not seeking to become the Prime Minister or Minister. They never claimed to be above Parliament – on more than one occasion they have asserted the supremacy of the both the Houses. Unlike some of our self-serving politicians, Mr Hazare and his men have not made a farce of our democracy while all the while pretending to be the sole representatives of the people.
With the central government and the Congress in particular exposed on the issue, what is the next course of action for Mr Hazare and his group? The Gandhian has already announced his decision to fast unto death from August 16 if the government did not incorporate the key recommendations of his group in the Lok Pal draft Bill. There is no doubt that he will receive as huge a public support as he earlier got, but the issue is no longer one of his stature. That has been settled. The larger concern is about the anti-corruption movement that he has launched. Having tested and aroused public opinion, Mr Hazare should now channelise the positive energy into creating a nationwide mass movement, if need be with the involvement of opposition parties. A forceful movement cannot be sustained without organizational support. Mr Hazare’s strength here is limited since he can only depend on his and a few other non-government organisations with closed areas of support.
A people’s movement eventually needs political support to sustain and succeed. JP’s ‘total revolution’ began as a people’s movement but it could not have been the success it became without the active participation of political parties that united against Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial regime. Mahatma Gandhi’s mass movements would not have hit the British regime hard if the then Congress and other political outfits not participated in them.
Having achieved so much, it would be tragic if the civil society activists led by Mr Hazare remain obdurate on the issue. Their decision to keep politics away from the movement made sense in the initial stages of the campaign, but at a time when the UPA is poised to sabotage the good work done by them, it would be pragmatic for them to accept any support that comes from the government’s political rivals. This should really not be such a difficult task. The activists have been, after all, engaging with politicians in the draft panel. There is no reason why it cannot collaborate with opposition leaders too to find common ground – and for the country’s larger good.