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Mainstream, VOL XLIX No 32, July 30, 2011

The Way Ahead for Anna is Not Easy

Monday 1 August 2011, by Mahi Pal Singh

The movement started by Anna Hazare and his colleagues has brought to the centre-stage the issue of widespread corruption in the country and the ensuing debate on the Lokpal Bill has stirred the whole country. But that has neither stopped the appearance of new scams nor has the ruling class stopped defending its people involved in these scams. The latest scam that has become known pertains to the awarding of contracts in the coal-mining sector, which is much bigger than the 2-G spectrum allocation and allegedly involves a whopping sum of Rs 40,000 lakh crores. On the other hand, a senior leader of the party and General Secretary of the Congress is still saying that in his personal opinion neither the former President of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, Suresh Kalmadi, who is under judicial custody on charges of corruption, nor Ashok Chavan, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, is guilty and will come out clean. Such statements and the draft of the proposed Lokpal Bill prepared by the group of Central Ministers are pointers enough that the government is not serious in the fight against corruption. It is also clear that the government which introduces a weak Lokpal Bill in Parliament will also get it passed on the strength of its majority in both the Houses of Parliament. On the whole one can say that the way ahead for the movement started by Anna Hazare and his other colleagues from the civil society is not an easy one.

On the other hand it is also clear that in the event of a strong Lokpal Bill not being passed by Parliament by August 16, 2011, his own declaration will force Anna Hazare to proceed on his proposed fast-unto-death from that date. The government representatives on the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill have also made it clear that in future instead of having to do anything with the civil society in the matter of framing laws, the government will deal with their agitations with a strong hand, obviously referring to the way the agitation of Ramdev was crushed at the Ramlila Ground in New Delhi. In such a situation, a confrontation between the government and civil society will become inevitable. It is clear that Anna Hazare will at least not run away from the agitation site in the manner Ramdev did as he himself has clarified and nobody should have any doubt in accepting that in the matter of moral force, conviction and public support Anna Hazare is way ahead of Ramdev and that it will not be easy to crush his movement through the use of brute force in the manner the Ramlila agitation was crushed.

Almost all the political parties and their leaders who run their politics on the basis of the black money collected through corrupt means are only betraying their double-standards by neither expressing their views against the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill as prepared by the civil society representatives nor are they coming out openly in support of it. The reason is clear—they do not want that such a Bill, which would spell trouble for them in future and also dry up the sources of black money for them, should get passed by Parliament. In such a situation they would make every effort behind-the-scenes to stall the Bill in the manner they have done during the last 42 years and also not allowed the Women’s Reservation Bill to get through so far on one pretext or the other. At the same time they would like to ensure that their public image does not get tarnished. Under the circumstances, their effort would be to use delaying tactics till the next general elections so that they could deceive their voters as before by telling them that they wanted to pass the Bill for a strong Lokpal but their opponents did not let them do so. They would plead innocence and yet succeed in maintaining the status quo, ever beneficial to them.

By now Anna Hazare and his colleagues must also have understood that it is a difficult road ahead for them because the people who have entrenched themselves in the seats of power firmly will neither let political power slip from their hands nor will they allow their sources of illegal money to dry up because in that case they would not remain the rulers but get reduced to the status of public servants, and who knows more than they do that they did not join politics to become servants of the people in spite of what role the Constitution of the country assigned to them.

IN such a situation will Anna Hazare give the same kind of call for ‘Sampurna Kranti’, total revolution, which Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan had given in 1973-74 against rampant corruption, price rise and unemployment in the country? There are remote chances of his doing so, and if at all he does so, would the ruling politicians not react in the same manner in which the then leader of their party and Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, reacted by imposing the Emergency regime in the country in 1975 and putting all the Opposition leaders in jail? The purpose at that time was to remain in power and to pass on the reins of power into the hands of the next generation in her own family after her and the purpose even today is the same. Crony cheerleaders to applaud all their legal-illegal activities were present in abundance then and there is no dearth of such cheerleaders even today. The only difference is that at that time Mrs Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of the country and today Mrs Sonia Gandhi is only the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which has its government at the Centre, but the real power is still in her hands and without any accountability too. During the Emergency regime of 1975-77 the real power had been handed over to Sanjay Gandhi, the son of Indira Gandhi, without any responsibility and today Rahul Gandhi, the son of Sonia Gandhi, is exercising it without any accountability. Whatever good happens in the country today is loyally attributed to the ‘able leadership’ of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi by the Congress leaders in the same manner as was then attributed to Mrs Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi by the Congress leaders at that time. It is noteworthy that during the last seven years of their political life, and particularly during the last two years’ tenure of UPA-II, when price hike and corruption have broken all previous records in the country, neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi has held any press conference so that they do not have to answer the difficult questions related to them and they remain blissfully protected from any accountability and all responsibility for the ill-doings should fall on the government and its Ministers.

Today the question is not only of transferring the political power to the next generation in the family, at stake is also the lakhs of crores of rupees of illegal money and it is not easy to abandon the lure of this wealth for the leaders of the party because for them there can be nothing more precious than that. Today the challenge before Anna is no less than the challenge before Jayaprakash Narayan then because at least those parties had come to support him whose leaders had become the victims of the anger of Indira Gandhi and had been put behind bars during the Emergency. Maybe some Left parties would come forward to support Anna because they are the only ones whose members were not found guilty in the cash-for-question scam or cash-for-support to the government on the floor of the House during the confidence/no-confidence motion in 2008.

If Jayaprakash Narayan was able to dislodge the dictatorship of Mrs Indira Gandhi from power and bring about an end to the blackest chapter in the history of independent India and also to restore democracy in 1977, it was due to the massive support of the people along with the support of the Opposition parties. Anna Hazare is not likely to get the support of the political parties though he does enjoy the support of the people, perhaps in even greater numbers than Jayaprakash Narayan did.

We must also remember that even Indira Gandhi enjoyed the same kind of support of the party in Parliament which is available to the Congress leaders today on the basis of which they are challenging the civil society. At that time also Indira Gandhi was able to get constitutional amendments of her choice passed by Parliament in order to establish and protect her dictatorship. Today when the leaders of the Congress arrogantly talk of their prerogative as elected representatives of the people, governance in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, though the same is conspicuous by its absence, and the power of Parliament to frame laws, which they claim belongs to them as the majority party in Parliament, and arrogate to themselves the right to ignore the views of the people, it naturally reminds one of the arrogance and dictatorial tactics of Indira Gandhi because she also used the provisions of the Constitution and the power of Parliament to frame laws to establish her dictatorship. But these leaders forget one thing: that Indira Gandhi was a much more powerful leader of the Congress and also enjoyed an absolute majority in Parliament but the election of 1977 taught her to respect the feelings of the masses whereas the coalition rule of the Congress at the Centre is dependent on the crutches of other parties. Add to it the fact that Sonia Gandhi stands nowhere in comparison with the political stature of Indira Gandhi.

However, this does not mean that in the fight against corruption the challenge before Anna Hazare and the civil society is in any way less. They will have to face the combined challenge of the land-mafia, mining-mafia, corporate-mafia, corrupt bureaucracy together with the corrupt leaders of the ruling party as well as of the other parties and their money and muscle power. To imagine that they will be able to bring about a change of heart of these people is to over-simplify the challenge. To deal with the challenge they face, they will have to give a political direction to the people’s support they are getting because in a democratic set-up the road to all social, economic and political changes passes through the parliamentary process. To become a part of that system it is mandatory to change the political atmosphere of the country and that cannot be done without changing the present political leadership. That will be possible only when a clean, morally sound and credible alternative is presented before the people who are clamouring for drastic transformation in the system. In the absence of such an alternative being provided to the people, depending on the present leadership for any drastic changes will be an exercise in futility.

IN order to give shape to such an alternative, they will be required to proceed in a well-planned manner. Today corruption is ingrained in the whole administrative machinery to such an extent that the life of the ‘aam aadmi’, the common man, has become very difficult. He has to bribe officials in the Police Department, rationing, electricity and water supply departments for every little service. For him the meaning of corruption is confined to the corruption with which he is confronted everyday in his life. To fight against this corruption, local area-level anti-corruption committees should have to be formed which can intervene in all such matters and bring relief to the people and should organise protest dharnas and demonstrations at local levels. The leadership coming out of such movements can later help organise district and State level committees. These committees should take upon themselves the responsibility to identify honest and devoted people whom they would like to elect as their representatives for the Legislative Assemblies and Parliament. It is hoped that instead of the political parties thrusting their nominees upon them at the time of elections they themselves would nominate their own candidates who would be accountable to them and not to their political bosses, and also would be loyal to them instead of being loyal to some political family. Only such representatives will be sensitive to their hopes and aspirations and will do what the people want them to do. Without giving the people better alternatives to elect, it is futile to hope that they would elect better representatives to Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Such a system will be closer to Gandhi’s idea of Gram Swaraj and M.N. Roy and JP’s idea of direct democracy.

In this drive, the civil society can take the support of political leaders and parties who have a clean image and record, however small their number. But they will have to keep away from those parties and people who had come together under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan during 1976-77 only to use his name and support to come to power but ditched him soon after coming to power and started separating and regaining their former identities in order to gain more political power. Some of them, though they called themselves Socialists, formed their own political fiefdoms to run their own business of politics and soon fell easy prey to their greed for greater power and corruption forgetting the ideals of Jayaprakash Narayan and Rammanohar Lohia.

An attempt can be made to bring together the people of the Left parties and those socialists who have remained away from the scramble for power and are trying to come together. People belonging to political formations like the Maoists/Naxalites, who took to arms after being disillusioned with the present system, can also be brought into the fold and thus drawn into the mainstream of the society. Along with this, it will also be necessary to include those members of the civil society who have a clean image and have earned respectability in society because of their long-term pro-people and social services. Care will also have to be taken to ensure that all the leading people of this movement are essentially secular and have an unflinching commitment to the democratic values of life. For the success of this movement it will also be necessary to ensure the participation of all sections of society. After a wide-ranging and exhaustive discussion a blueprint of this alternative will have to be worked out. Anna Hazare and his colleagues must consider these ideas and if they reach a consensus, he should undertake his fast with the conviction that if the ruling party/coalition does not pay attention to their suggestions, they would work for uprooting this corrupt system.

In order to clean this political pond of all the dirt and dross that has collected in it over time, the institution of the Lokpal will have to be used on the one hand, and on the other fresh and clean water will have to be poured into it. Would Anna accept this challenge or would he just sit by the pond and recite mantras in the hope that the filth will get removed? This is time for not just fasts but concrete action.

The author is the National Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and editor of the PUCL Bulletin.

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