There are several factors behind the
Manmohan Singh government's predicament. One is that the
government has seemingly lost its nerve because its reputation is
at its lowest ebb. Hence it appears to be bowing and scraping
before civil society. Its nervousness is related to the curious
indulgence shown earlier towards the dubious deals of politicians
belonging to its ally, the DMK.
It is noteworthy that this particular saga hasn't ended with the
incarceration of Andimuthu Raja, former telecom minister, and
Kanimozhi, MP, because the activities of another DMK minister,
Dayanidhi Maran, are in the spotlight.
The government's leniency towards Raja and company was known to
have been motivated by the short-sighted tactic of keeping the DMK
in good humour so that it wouldn't withdraw support. After the
scare which the government received when the Communists withdrew
their support, it clearly did not want to take a similar risk.
However, the government failed to anticipate the price it would
have to pay for turning a blind eye to the allegations of
malfeasance. The explanation for this myopia was the confidence
bred by the Congress' two successive general election victories
and the declining fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and
However, the vacuum in the opposition arena evidently blindsided
the government to the possibility of non-political elements
filling the breach.
The government's obliviousness to this aspect of the political
scene is understandable. There haven't been too many instances of
private individuals posing a challenge to established authority.
Probably the last such attempt was by Jayaprakash Narayan prior to
the emergency rule of 1975-77 by then prime minister Indira
Gandhi. But notwithstanding J.P.'s preference for partyless
democracy, he was, after all, a well known political figure. This
cannot be said of either Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev.
There is another feature of the scene which the government and the
Congress do not seem to have taken into account. It is the huge
growth in numbers, assertiveness and visibility (because of
television) of the middle class with its means of instant
communication such as e-mail, sms, Twitter, Facebook, and so on.
None of these innovative methods of mobilisation were there
earlier. Nor was the judiciary as active as now unlike in J.P.'s
time when the Supreme Court upheld the emergency only to apologise
for this flawed stand recently.
It is factors like these which have cornered the government. But
it might still have been able to put up a determined fight if it
had not been so casual over the question of corruption. Not only
did it fail to act in time against Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, the
former Commonwealth Games chief, and others, it was seemingly
pushed into doing so by the Supreme Court.
It is this show of incompetence or worse which has given the
chance to Hazare, Ramdev and company to hog the limelight. But the
problem with the entry of these apolitical elements into what is
essentially a political and legislative field is the possibility
of the situation becoming more messy.
For a start, the presence of diverse opinions in the two groups is
a recipe for confusion and acrimony. Hazare, for instance, does
not believe in elections since he considers the voters 'bikaau' or
purchasable. Besides, he has people like Swami Agnivesh with him
who does not believe in representative democracy at all. Ramdev,
on the other hand, focusses not only on bringing black money home
from abroad, but in giving Hindi and regional languages a status
equal to English at the higher educational level.
In addition, their method of compelling the government to act is
to threaten to go on a fast-unto-death, which means resorting to
moral blackmail. This coercive ploy might have been unavoidable in
Gandhi's time because the country did not have a representative
government. But it is a tactic which can lead to prolonged
disturbances as the Telangana issue shows.
Since neither Hazare nor Ramdev head a structured organization and
are dependent on popular fervour to carry on their movements, the
possibility of internal bickering in their ranks is high, not
least because they are not guided by any formal ideology. Nor is
it clear how long the popular support for them will last if no
tangible progress is made soon enough.
Already differences have cropped up between the government and
civil society representatives on the Lokpal bill while Digvijay
Singh has apparently been fielded by the Congress to trash
Ramdev's claims to be a sanyasi since the yoga guru runs a
flourishing business in yogic exercises and medicine.
While the government's guilt complex on corruption makes it
susceptible to the civil society's pressure, the latter is unsure
about its own sustaining power and the government's sincerity. The
prospects of a prolonged logjam - and the situation even taking
unpredictable turns - are high.
is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)