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Has Hazare taken on more than he can handle?

Saturday April 16, 2011 01:38:12 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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It hasn't taken long for the two sides engaged in drafting the Lokpal Bill - the government and the social activists led by the Gandhian Anna Hazare - to start taking potshots at each other even after agreeing to work together.

The reason for the dissonance is not far to seek. The government did not reach an understanding with Hazare of its own accord. It was coerced into doing so by the fast-unto-death undertaken by the crusader from Maharashtra in support of his demand for framing the proposed legislation in keeping with his own, somewhat draconian, demands.

Since he considers the official version to be too tame, he wants to invest the ombudsman with the power to investigate and even prosecute MPs without having to secure a clearance from the Lok Sabha speaker or the Rajya Sabha chairman, as in the existing draft. In addition, he wants to bring the judiciary and the bureaucracy under the Lokpal's purview.

If he has succeeded in gathering a large measure of support for these proposals, which go well beyond what the government conceived, it is because of the stridency with which he has carried on a sustained campaign against the "corrupt" politicians.

Yet, it is by stigmatizing the political class that he has created problems for himself. The politicians, not unexpectedly, have taken umbrage at the tarring of the entire profession with a black brush. As senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh has said, "I touch his (Hazare's) feet when I meet him. But he should not have said this about politicians. There are all kinds of people in all walks of life".

What is more, the castigation of the politicians has been seen as criticism of the entire democratic system. According to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani, those who spread a "climate of disdain about politics and politicians are doing a gross disservice to democracy".

While admitting that the credibility of politicians is low, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has said "if all politicians are discredited, who will have belief in the system? Will civil society run the country?"

The same view was aired from the other end of the political spectrum when Sitaram Yechury, a politbureau member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), said Hazare's "disdain for the voter and contempt for parliamentary democracy is indeed disturbing". According to him, "Whenever there was a challenge to India's secular democratic character, it was this very voter that upheld and safeguarded the vision of a modern India".

Since this opinion will be shared by a section of non-politicians as well, it may begin to undercut Hazare's campaign. This is all the more so because there are elements in his ranks who have openly expressed their disenchantment with the existing system.

Among them is the well-regarded civil libertarian Swami Agnivesh, who is on record for saying he does not believe in "parliamentary politics or representative democracy". Since he is also known to be a sympathizer of the Maoists, who, too, have no faith in "parliamentary politics", his presence is likely to create problems for Hazare.

The same goes for the newcomer in politics, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who wants to set up a political party of his own. His criticism of the nomination of the father-son duo of former union law minister Shanti Bhushan and lawyer Prashant Bhushan to the committee on the bill drew flak from within the Hazare camp, forcing the saffron-robed spiritual mentor to withdraw his remarks.

Misgivings about the committee have also been expressed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who will be one of the two chairmen of the committee, the other being Shanti Bhushan. Even as Mukherjee described the committee's venture as an "experiment", he was not sure whether its outcome would be good or bad.

These initial doubts and criticism show that the path to the enactment of the new Lokpal law will not be strewn with roses. Instead, it is likely to prove to be quite thorny considering that the chances of the government agreeing to the formation of an all-powerful ombudsman, a virtual "supercop", are dim.

That Hazare is already on the defensive is evident from his rebuttal of the suggestion that he was trying to subvert democracy. "My fast", he has clarified, "was not a campaign against any government or person, but it was a satyagraha (a Gandhian term) of the people against corruption."

The government's decision to accommodate his views was due to two reasons. One was the fear about the impact of the fast on the septuagenarian leader's health. The other was the embarrassment which it was already facing because of the various scams - the spectrum financial swindle, the Commonwealth Games scandal and the Adarsh housing society episode - which made it weak-kneed before Hazare's moral offensive.

To make matters worse, the proposed bill is only the latest in a long series of such measures going back to 1968. What this four-decade-long history of official lethargy emphasised was the government's reluctance to frame an effective law which could book the guilty politicians.

The absence of will seemed all the more inexcusable since the number of Lok Sabha MPs with a criminal past has gone up from 128 in a house of 543 in 2004 to 162 at present, suggesting the "honourable" representatives of the people have become increasingly brazen about their dubious activities, knowing that these will not stop them from getting elected.

It is this unsavoury background which has boosted Hazare's movement. But it is possible that he has taken on more than he can handle by antagonizing virtually the entire political class. Unfortunately, in the process, he is also undermining the present system by highlighting its fatal weaknesses while ignoring its strengths.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at





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