I read in the newspapers today that Tariq Anwar of the NCP has made a series of categorical statements on the Lokpal Bill and the role played by Anna Hazare.
His first contention is that the Government blundered by acceding to the demands of Anna Hazare and that it will set a bad precedent. Let us now look at this closely.
First of all, the Government did not anticipate the outpouring of support for Anna from the general public in Delhi and in almost every part of India. This was an unmistakable signal from the people that corruption is a real issue and cannot be wished away by token gestures or announcements. Had Anna’s fast not evoked any response from the general public, the Government would have certainly allowed him to die or arrested him on grounds of attempted suicide.
And before that the Congress and the Government tried to insinuate and cast aspersions on Anna that he was instigated by divisive forces like RSS and it hoped that this accusation would stick. For once, the people and the media rejected this largely because Anna did not have a political background and he was fighting for an issue that most people felt very strong about.
And once the powers that be saw that this ruse did not work, they swung to the other end by praising Anna and requested him to end the fast without addressing the core issue. Anna’s response to that was straight and blunt while he continued his fast.
Then the spokespersons of the Congress and the Government came to the media and said how this would amount to usurping the authority of Parliament as a law-making body. Fortunately, again this did not hold water with the media and the people at large who saw the act as diversionary. It once again showed how the Government was reluctant to seriously address the issue of corruption at the highest levels.
That Anna did not mince words about the composition of the Group of Ministers (GoM) especially about Sharad Pawar, added insult to injury. That led to the exit of the Minister for Agriculture but even that did not cut ice with the fasting crusader who said “If one Pawar leaves, another one will come in” to mean that there is no dearth of corrupt politicians at high offices. Yogi Ramdev went a step further and demanded the Government to release the names of 5 clean ministers for which there was no response.
Then the Government agreed to a Joint Committee but refused to give it any official sanction by ways of Notification. I was reminded of the time-wasting tactics of the Government in the JPC for the 2G spectrum where they steadfastly rejected the demands and ultimately gave in. Perhaps this was the negotiating strategy that clearly backfired because Anna and his team declined to accept a press release or a media announcement of the Joint Committee. And while all this farce was going on, the movement gained strong momentum with students joining in the fast and declaring their support for Anna.
The other bone of contention was the issue of Chairman. The Government stand was that if the Chairman was from the Activists side, then it will not nominate any Ministers because they cannot report to a non-elected representative. That is a weak argument because this is Joint Committee is only to create the legal framework and not meant to be perpetual. The elected representative also sounded very vague because even the PM is from the Rajya Sabha and hence not elected directly by the people!!
Strangely enough, the Anna team accepted it with a proviso that there would be a Co-Chairman from the activists side and after some deliberation that was also accepted.
That is the sequence of events as we see from the ringside.
Had a person from a political party held that fast, the Congress and the Government (remember that both are separate but are unfortunately seen as one) would have had a field day asking why that party did not do anything when it was in power or why it has corrupt people at its posts? So while they tried that line, it did not go well with anybody.
Had Anna Hazare been alone in this without the likes of people such as Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, Sri Ravishankar, Yogi Ramdev, Arvind Kejriwal joing him, it is quite possible that the media would not have paid this level of attention and it would have drifted to a small paragraph in the page 8 of a newspaper. The Government would have literally ignored and none would have been the wiser. I am not suggesting that Anna would not have pulled it off but it would not have been easy had he gone alone.
For once, people across various walks of life cut across party lines and expressed their solidarity with Anna and that made a huge difference to the entire campaign. Gandihiji touched the chord of the nation by his crusade without any modern telecommunication facilities and Anna has demonstrated once again how important it is to enlist the people’s support. Had the fast gone in for a few more days, the Government would have been reduced to a laughing stock with its picking irrelevant and trivial objections to counter the movement.
It should be noted that the entire movement was seen as apolitical and the organizers did well to exclude any of the politicos to share the platform with Anna. I am happy that the likes of Uma Bharati and Chautala were heckled when they tried to hijack the stage.
The Government was forced to do what it should have done on its own in the first place and it was pushed into the corner by a people’s movement. Anyone who can create this kind of solidarity amongst the people for a worthy cause must be listened to by the Government and it should not be seen as a capitulation by the Government.
I am amused that Tariq Anwar feels that someone resorting to self immolation will get the kind of attention in the future. It would be seen as a stunt by most people and the media will run it a few times and then forget all about it. The Government would claim that it is the handiwork of the opposition and it will be business as usual.
This has once again brought to the fore the lethal combination of a person with integrity (unimpeachable as it stands today) using the weapon of Satyagraha on a issue that resonates with the common man.
( I will write about the other criticisms of Tariq Anwar in my subsequent posts)