It is possible that the Congress
will finally succeed in outflanking Anna Hazare. It isn't only the
decision to introduce the Lokpal bill which is likely to take the
wind out of the latter's sails, another piece of legislation to
tackle corruption at the lower level will send the message that
the government is at last serious about purposeful legal measures
and not insipid ones, as was the earlier perception.
True, the Lokpal bill is unlikely to be passed during the winter
session, as the civil activists want. The government may even
engage in a bit of filibustering to ensure that the debate
stretches into 2012. There are enough critics of the measure
outside the government, like the Congress' old friend Lalu Prasad,
who can help prolong the discussion on the grounds of a closer
Even then, once the consideration of the bill is taken up by
parliament, it will be extremely difficult for activists to rev up
their campaign. Certainly, there can be no question in this
context of a third fast, as promised by Anna. The movement can
continue, of course. Even suspicions can be voiced about the
dilatory parliamentary tactics. But anything smacking of pressure
tactics will be counter-productive. What this means is that the
Anna camp has lost its trump card that compelled the government to
accept its terms, namely, its version of the bill, by exerting
Till now, the group has been fairly successful - in fact, more
successful than any such movement in the past, including
Jayaprakash Narayan's. The latter's pro-democracy movement was
actually a failure considering that JP himself was jailed along
with scores of other top-ranking leaders and the period from June
1975, to March 1977 was largely uneventful. It was only Indira
Gandhi's erroneous reading of the prevailing calm which made her
call for elections with disastrous results for the Congress.
Anna's success, on the other hand, was based, first, on the deep
disquiet among the aam admi about the prevailing corruption and,
secondly, on the Congress' initial mishandling of protests, mainly
because it seemed to have no idea about how the many scams have
undermined its position. But now the wheel has apparently started
turning the other way.
Anna's problem is that he wants to operate outside the system
because he regards it as corrupt to the core. However, in trying
to place himself above it - above parliament, in the words of an
acolyte - he has been acting in accordance with a certain
traditional viewpoint which maintains that the present Westminster
system is essentially alien to the Indian ethos. What the
adherents of this belief hark back to is a glorious Indian past,
where the kings were subservient to the sages.
Hazare apparently fancies himself in that role, which is above and
beyond the existing system, not least because it reflects Mahatma
Gandhi's lifestyle and JP's concept of a partyless democracy.
Although his austere image has helped him carry conviction, some
of his followers have proved to be his Achilles' heel. Hence his
decision to frame a "constitution" for his group. But it is a
dicey path since it carries the whiff of politics, which the
Gandhian claims to shun.
Already some of his followers have dropped out because of the
movement's political role during the Hisar parliamentary
by-election in which Anna's men campaigned against the Congress.
Now the constitution may be another contentious issue. For
instance, how will Anna's position be defined? Will he be above
the movement as well - someone whose word will be law? It has been
said that the constitution will have an ethical content in the
wake of the allegations about income-tax evasion, the parking of
campaign funds, the fudging of travel expenses, a pro-separatist
stand in Kashmir, etc., which have been levelled against some of
Anna's followers. But who will be the judge and jury and what will
be the punishment?
Evidently, when Anna launched his anti-corruption battle, he did
not anticipate that it would become such a big affair, capturing
the imagination of the people who were looking for a hero in a
dispiriting time and attracting activists from various walks of
life. It was all very well when the government was on the retreat.
But now the difficulty of sustaining the two basic ingredients of
the movement - hype and a lily-white image - have come to the
The government, on its part, can carry on much as before since the
focus will be on parliament rather than on it. But Anna will have
to ensure that the movement does not flag, that the bill does not
go off track and that no other allegations of dubious transactions
are made against his followers. Clearly, Anna's future will be
less rosy than his past.
Amulya Ganguli is a
political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com