Monday, August 22, 2011

Impressions on an Agitation....

The chips were always stacked up against the Government – a poor old septuagenarian messiah vs the black hands of the Government was an unfair battle from a media coverage and public empathy perspective. It was a no-win situation for the Govt but it did not help that they committed hara-kiri and managed to make themselves the laughing stock of the nation.

Hasn’t the Congress ever thought of collective bargaining or were they so drunk in the stupor of arrogance and out of touch with the man on the street that it thought that AH was just another old man who would be forgotten quickly enough and so there was no need to indulge him in a civil fashion. For a party that merely takes orders from the top, it may have been tough to understand the meaning of moral superiority.

UPA is isolated now as it has to battle an army of protestors and an Opposition waiting to strike but they have just themselves to blame for not including a single member of the Opposition on the drafting committee. The party probably did not want to share credit with anyone else and tried going alone and now when they have egg on their face, they realize that they have to fight it out themselves.

Forget about the moral angle to the entire sequence of events; you’d think that the Congress had some kind of a strategy to fight AH but it managed to dig a hole and crawl into slowly at first and then rapidly. Without the presence of Sonia Gandhi, is the party totally rudderless (assuming that they’d have done the right thing if she were there ofcourse)? The Crown Prince has been silent throughout assuming that it’s better to blame a lost cause on the PMs head than take any action (their spin doctors still managed to give him credit for releasing Anna!!!); the same attitude that led the PM to fix the responsibility of the mishandling of the situation on the Delhi police.

For years now, we have had this spectacle of an arrangement between the ‘honest’ PM and St. Sonia taking the party together – an arrangement that worked well for them as well as onlookers. Finally, it looks like the time has come to sever this umbilical cord and get somebody else onto the throne. PM, the gentleman image has served you long enough and it’s time for a forced renunciation now – get somebody at the helm who can actually act. Rahul may not be my choice but if Congressmen can stay united only under him, so be it; no more mukhotas are needed.

Dear Rahul, if the Congress party looks at you as a future PM, you need to speak up. You cannot pick and choose your revolutions only looking at the safe areas to score brownie points; so you cannot go to Bhatta- Parsaul and Pune and make long winding assertions but choose to stay silent when your government is being thrashed around by the entire country. You let Manish Tewari and a few other jokers go berserk in their attacks and be slaughtered by the remarkable campaign of Team Anna.

We have seen enough of Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi now; they have managed to weave legal spin as much as possible but for God’s sake, show some spine, stand up and talk if you really want people to take you seriously (Ideally, this appeal should be to the PM but you know..). Are you waiting for the dust to settle down, sacrifice the PM and then step in with a noble gesture of getting Anna’s fast broken and get everyone’s applause?

There is a broad consensus that it was the Government’s bungling that has brought the issue so far but it is also the failure of the Opposition that has resulted in the ‘civil’ society taking the matter into its arms. The UPA has lost all its authority and is rudderless but where is the BJP in the midst of this entire din? It has neither taken a stance on the bill or made any attempts to resolve the logjam but has been enjoying the show from the sidelines. The party badly misses a Vajpayee kind of statesman like figure who can appeal to the masses and even talk to Team Hazare (the kind of credibility that the current Parliament lacks). Maybe a Nitish Kumar can step in and help in assuaging this public angst (would have suggested Modi but his image makes him a polarizing figure).

In the midst of all the upheaval that I see around me in the nation, it is difficult to stay unmoved and detached as a wave of emotions sweeps across the political fabric of this country. I have been oscillating from one side to another regularly unsure on what side I find myself in. Though my brain tells me that ‘Anna way or no way’ approach is not in sync with democratic principles, my heart asks me whether there was any other way?

When lakhs (let’s call it thousands for Karan Thapar’s sake) hit the roads with a sort of vengeance, can we simply disregard it hiding under the cloak of constitutionalism and Parliament? If different versions of the bill have been lying in the cans for more than 40+ years, does it not reflect the failure of the elected representatives? Yes, the people on the streets do not understand the Lok Pal and its intricacies but their protest is the only tangible way to tell the powers-at-the-top that they need to be heard (Agreed that the agitation has gone overboard on any occasions like the Anna-is-India and timeline based demands but it gives the Govt an opportunity to act mature, put aside egos and show magnanimity in handling the issue and actually win over people).

No one thinks that the bill will eradicate corruption and to that extent, the JLP bill may backfire (remember the much-maligned Anti-Defection Law was drafted by Shanti Bhushan) because of its grandiose design but the voice of the people is a voice of desperation and frustration, a voice that says we have a role even beyond the ballot box. It is this voice that the State needs to recognize and provide a platform, otherwise we will see more such agitations. If the Government had been able to communicate properly its views on the bill, it would not have come to an us vs them situation, where even strands of intelligent opposition are being attacked. This coupled with the fact that the principal opposition is not able to present an alternative has led to a vacuum in the polity, which the civil society is trying to fill, albeit in spurts.

We are the world’s largest democracy but simply providing universal suffrage does not suffice – we need to evolve into a participatory democracy from an electoral democracy. Every 5 years, we vote a leader into the Assembly and Parliament but till the next election, we have no role to play in the day-to-day governance of the state. Decisions taken in the House have no relation with what happens in our lives even though they affect us. I’d see the protest not in terms of the JLP or even corruption (though it is the rallying point) but in terms of how millions in this country feel alienated in the decision making process in the country. If all this action translates into some kind of mechanism where we feel responsible (even accountable) for governmental decisions and have a concrete say in it, it would be the real victory of the agitation.

But let us not push it a point of no return where even if a compromise is desired, it cannot be achieved because the legions of supporters will not settle for anything other than total victory. The point has been made well enough for the polity to understand that citizens cannot be taken for granted and it’s time to move to a more conciliatory rather than confrontational approach; while rhetoric works well to get in mass support, a more nuanced approach is needed to break the current logjam and accept other points of view. Team Anna has to be careful not to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory by its dogmatic and sanctimonious posturing which is taking us to a rather uncalled for chaotic situation.

Unlike the Arab Spring, the objective here is not toppling a government but a strong  moral show of strength in tackling political apathy. So, once the target is achieved, there is a danger that this triumph will be short-lived and the hubris will evaporate just as quickly as it was created. The anger can crystallize into either an apolitical or political movement but it should hopefully not be an anti-political movement as it is now. Eventually, only when the politics of the land undergoes a transformation (this is where electoral reforms are a key), a true change will emerge. Otherwise, we need to keep searching for an Anna like figure to rally people around on every issue that concerns us.

I am neither in favour of the JLP or the Government bill and look forward to the debate in the Standing Committee to come up with its recommendations. The Govt is responsible for the current impasse but Team Anna and followers have been quite adamant, jingoistic and inflexible in their approach towards resolving this, so hope good sense prevails!!!

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  1. Its good to know that not everybody is buying the JLP will eradicate corruption theory, Why are we Indians so easily gullible? The utopian concept of a Land Free of Corruption can only be the handywork of someone totally oblivious to the realities of life. Everybody knows that almost all the companies indulge in corruption, voluntarily or forced, but that does not deter used from seeking job or growth or even investing through shares in that company. We Indians are a bunch of hypocrites.

  2. Very well written.. I think most of us are having exactly the same feeling which is coming out from ur blog.