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.... ??