Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The endgame?

I don't know what to make of the question everyone seems to be asking: "Who is handling the government's PR/strategy?" It is welcome, in a way, because it shows that we think someone is making incorrect decisions -- those which can be rectified -- as opposed to the government being *bad*. We do seem to have a problem of elitism vs everyone else -- lets not forget that men running India right now are highly educated and boast of qualifications from Cambridge & Harvard etc. They are able to give their point of view (but sadly, arrogantly) and have resorted to finding technical legal remedies to a largely emotional situation. "Don't be clever by half," they would be scolded if they were children.

I find myself in an interesting position of not being sure exactly how to support Anna Hazare. Even during the first fast, I lauded the fact that he got people to care about issues, be it by fasting or coming online to engage in the functioning of this country, and I still do. Helped by constant media coverage, Anna became a household name, synonymous with honesty, and it encouraged others like Baba Ramdev to jump into the frey. Now, we know the Anna side of the story: he wants to see Jan Lokpal through, seemingly with no inputs from the government. There are many who have argued -- convincingly -- that adding another layer to our already weighty bureaucracy is no solution, and there is no guarantee that Jan Lokpal will be manned by honest people. Then there is the whole issue of who can be investigated, and if the PM/judges should be under Lokpal. Okay.

I'm trying to understand the political theatre taking place in front of me. Anna's first fast was a huge success, and the government invited the core gang to be part of the drafting committee. It was the first time any such gesture had been made (etc) and it was an interesting way to invite Anna and co to be part of the process. But a big blunder followed: Ramdev and the government's complete inept handling of his entry into the hunger strike arena. This is another one of those times when you must wonder - of course cabinet ministers knew the press was following them to the airport. Who thought it was a good idea to meet Ramdev there? Would it really raise his profile or lower theirs? Then to send the police in the middle of the night? The ironic part about the whole Ramdev fiasco is that once he was sent out of Delhi, it literally became a out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation, though I have heard that he planning to join Anna & co at Tihar. Anyway, to recap the rest of the story really quickly: the joint drafting commiitee of the government & civil society didn't really work out, Anna and co claimed that only 15/71 of their recommendations were in it, they want their version tabled and passed in this monsoon session of Parliament, else they will keep fasting till the first man drops dead.

Now, I want to reflect upon a few things: the first is this very interesting suggestion by Varun Gandhi (who, btw, also offered Anna Hazare his personal residence for fasting purposes when the government denied Anna permission) to table the civil society Jan Lokpal as a private members bill. I remember commenting, after the joint drafting committee, that Anna & co should exploit democratic options by asking politicians to comment on their bill, if they agree with it or not etc. It seems that as "civil society" one needs to immediately accept their draft as the *only* and *best* solution. Fair enough, but the suggestion to introduce it anyway is smart politics, and makes me also understand that this is obviously an option they (Anna & co) had on the table but rejected in favor of a fast. They might be ok with Varun Gandhi tabling it, but clearly they didn't want to share a podium with him, instead wanting to keep the mass movement going.

I was in Bangalore this weekend, and in my discussion with the cabbie understood that people do understand this issue pretty well. Its tough to be aware of all the nuances, of course, but the two drafts, what is included in each, and how this is the time to act! At the same time, CNN IBN headlines of the country "erupting" over Anna is stupid, its been fairly calm all over the India. Perhaps the government really thought that Delhi IS India and felt the need to stop a hunger strike, but I think they could have clearly avoided putting Anna on this pedestal if they had thought it through. And after arresting the man before his hunger strike, and then offering to release him 8 hours later, there were small news items floating around that this was done due to Rahul Gandhi's urging. Something like that *should* fall flat on its face.

I guess the question I am asking myself is: am I comfortable with endless hunger strikes to move legislation without discussion? Well, to be fair there was discussion but Team Anna didn't like what the Government was saying as much as the Government didn't like what Team Anna was saying. At the same time, the government is struggling to fit Team Anna's actions into neat boxes which they can "lawyer" their way out of. But I think that is the point: Team Anna has the right to fast/assemble peacefully and by placing inane restrictions, the government is exposing itself. Someone on TV commented that political rallies have so many people attended, so what is the point of stopping Team Anna? Soli Sorabjee said that the Congress should beware; the next time they want to hold a rally in a BJP state, the government there might place similar restrictions. So you should be able to fast against the government. Check. But to what end? That is the question I am grappling with.

How would it be if the government bows down? Says, ok, Team Anna -- your bill is law. You are the custodians for morality in the country etc etc. Then what happens? Fresh elections? More fasts for hosts of issues by people more dubious than Team Anna? Breakdown of democratic procedures? Populist policies (well.... I suppose that we already have). Multiple investigations followed by the arrest of the Prime Minister, a few judges, a whole lot of bureaucrats. The Bhushans & Kirat Bedi as the new cabinet? BJP in power before New Years? What I mean is.... where are we going with this? I want people who are to look beyond the political theatre and try exploring this... I would love to throw some ideas around.... ??

9 comments:

isha said...

Very succinct question: As much as everyone has freedom to protest/fast etc, to what degree are we comfortable with extra parliamentarian methods being used to influence (strongarm?) government decisions. It's quite confusing for a layperson - me - to support or not, or to what extent this whole "movement".

Kundan Singh said...

So glad that you brought up the very important question of, what next? (to borrow from Jed Bartlett). Suppose the Lokpal does come into play becoming a law and the PM Etc are under its purview wont any/every opposition member use it as a tool to stop functioning of the government. Any allegation will have to be investigated and during that time the opposition which walks out for no reason wont allow any legislation to pass
Any why is the country looking at the Lok Pal as this magic wand that is going to sweep corruption out with one flick of the wrist. The Lokpal at best is a good idea an honest ( we hope) 3rd party keeping an eye out. Why are people being so na├»ve, any judgment passed by the Lokpal will immediately be appealed in a court of law; so I wish people would stop perceiving this to an end all measure to finish corruption. It’s a starting point and one that will work if there is political will for it to be allowed to function.
I agree with you the PR machinery has failed and how, the usually slick Congress spokespersons are having a tough time trying to explain their stand resulting in fairly daft statements being made by the likes of Tiwari, Singhvi etc. A friend left a comment on my status saying maybe the Sonia’s “mystery illness” is a ploy to put Rahul baba incharge and sideline Manmohan, well if that’s the plan once again Rahul Baba has shot himself in the foot hahaa.

Shash Mody said...

So - here's the thing - the bigger question to be asked is - it's fine if the Lokpal bill is passed with or without the PM being part of it. However does that decision rest with the ruling government itself - or with the people?

With the government: If the ruling government thinks that the people do not support it - no shit - they should just say screw off to Anna and let him fast unto death.

With the people: Butt - if there is enough support for the cause, then democratically, shouldnt public opinion be expressed through protests for or against the cause itself - and let the government suffer or even fall as a result?

Overall Result: I agree that there may be a problem in the short run with bringing the PM within the Lokpal bill- the opposition will be a bitter nuisance. But in the long run, when the country realizes that a change is important and a consensus needs to be reached between extreme control and little or no consequences - Democracy wins. Isnt that what is most important.

mahima said...

Btw Arun Jaitley's speech was my first para - but obv better!!! Haha

Dantedownunder said...

I am quite amazed at this stuff. I understand the role of hunger strikes when ruled by a colonial power. To have a democratically elected government be forced to make certain laws to prevent hunger strikes is absurd. On the one hand the credibility of the election commission is being entirely undermined and on the other, this same election commission is meant to oversee the Lokpal. The Jan Lokpal Bill begs to not be taken seriously as a bill.

If the purpose of the bill is to simply provide a focal point for people to rally around and form a large enough mass to essentially bring down the government, it is perfectly understandable. Further it would be quite a decent strategic move. However, the bill itself cannot be passed for the sheer daftness it entails.

I really hope I am wrong on this but to the question of "Who will Lokpal be accountable to?", apparently the answer is "To the people. A citizen can make a complaint to Supreme Court and seek removal." If this wiki entry is accurate then the entire bill is laughable at best. Honestly any of us could write down five ways to get rid of corruption over a couple of drinks and, given enough alcohol, do significantly better.

Saurabh Kumar said...

I do not think that Anna or the government have an answer to what next.
The mix of having a dependable clean leader (not someone's son/grandson/nephew/niece/wife and honest to boot) and the lure of reducing corruption is ensuring continued support from the public. If we, as a people, deserve a tinpot country, we will sooner or later achieve it - isn't that the awe-inspiring power of a democracy?
I would imagine any revolution to be chaotic - while this one might not turn out to be one, it sure is making the right noises.

mahima said...

@ Dante: my friend Kundan says we should invite you for drinks next time :)

My friends have also been saying that "thank GOD India is making a big, big fuss about the fact that we are DONE with corruption......" perhaps akin to Jessica Lal and getting justice.

All for the sentiment of the thing, but I'm getting more interested in real world fallout... I guess we'll see..

egg style said...

I must say I share your discomfort. Mobocracy is not good news in a country that has a functional-if-decrepit democracy, even if the sloganeers’ ‘cause’ prima facie seems valid. Who isn’t against corruption? But this mob is looking for some SuperLokBeing---divinely appointed presumably---to usher in a Ram Rajya of sorts. At its core, this is a para-theocratic impulse, complicated by the easy deification of symbolic leaders that goes along with such floozy thinking in India. Anna’s ‘Manmohan bad, Modi good’ formulation hasn’t dimmed his halo much, which proves the point. This mythical incorruptibility of the godly reeks of something familiar.

Alas, Congress credibility has been hit very badly, something that can be traced not just to the CWG/2G scams but also to its dumping of the Left over the nuclear deal, and loss of domestic economic focus at the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis (hence, inflation)… tho ironically, the same party now has the nerve to throw around dark hints of a foreign conspiracy against India’s economic emergence. True or false, its best hope now is to wrest the policy initiative by going in for a rapidfire round of reforms. It was an inwardly distracted country 20 years now, it’s an inwardly distracted country now. If it’s the big picture that counts, let’s see some guts.

love sms said...

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