People Vs Parliament
- The government showed no intention of considering the recommendations of civil society on the Lokpal bill till Anna Hazare's agitation
- In reiterating Parliament's supremacy, the all-party meet convened by the PM was dismissive of people's expectations of MPs
- The language used by Congress and UPA mocked at people's outrage at corruption
- The vagueness of the BJP on the bill, while it exulted in the UPA's discomfiture, reinforced people's growing cynicism about politicans
- The Anna team's inflexibility fed the government's distrust of civil society
"Who will bell the cat?" The scepticism in senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan's question was perhaps tinged with a little hope as Anna Hazare's fast entered the ninth day on August 24. After all, as co-author of the Jan Lokpal Bill and one of the prime movers of India Against Corruption, Prashant and his colleagues had succeeded in bringing people out on the streets, redefining democracy the way people understood it, daring the government to adopt and pass their version of a watchdog bill against corruption in Parliament. But getting the aging and adamant Anna to agree to give up the fast, on the tenth day, after the government willy-nilly conceded their demands, albeit one step at a time, was a task left to Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. There were to be a few twists in the tail, though, especially after members of Anna Hazare's team met BJP patriarch L.K. Advani at his residence after that.
On the tenth day of Anna's fast, the wheel turned in the people's favour: the UPA government agreed to table three bills, including the Jan Lokpal bill backed by Anna, in Parliament on August 26. It had taken a small, Gandhi-topi-wearing crusader from Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra, to get the government to agree to most of the demands of the India Against Corruption campaign. His fast, and the spontaneous expression of support from lakhs of people, certainly helped.
"I have three demands. If there's support from the government for them, I will consider ending the fast," Anna told the crowds after speaking to Deshmukh. These were: inclusion of the bureaucracy from top to bottom under the Lokpal, watchdog bodies for all states, and a citizens' charter. Sensing Anna's willingness to a possible solution, Deshmukh had gone back to Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's office to draft a letter to be submitted to Anna. Further discussions were held at the house of Union minister of state for telecom Murli Deora. Finally, after 14 meetings between representatives of Anna's team and that of the Congress, the impasse was resolved—a process set in motion with the prime minister, the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha and the Speaker appealing to Anna to give up his fast. Before that, however, both sides had taken unnegotiable positions. While Anna had gone on a fast, Prashant, a Supreme Court advocate who single-handedly moved the courts against the scams that have rocked the UPA in recent times, Arvind Kejriwal, a Magsaysay awardee and RTI activist, and Kiran Bedi, former police officer celebre, had put their foot down that their version of the bill alone would go to Parliament. Their unbending stance, the overarching and draconian structure the Jan Lokpal bill envisaged and their all-or-nothing position had gotten intellectuals, media observers and academicians wary of what they saw as fascist tendencies in the proposals.
Anna's team now put it out that if they had appeared stubborn and unwilling to engage in dialogue even as the government ceded ground clause by clause, it was because you have to seek the moon for crumbs to come your way. Queering the pitch is always a better bet than keeping quiet. Also, the UPA's mishandling of the issue, its going back on the promise of introducing a co-drafted bill in Parliament, had been hard for the group to stomach.
It is in this backdrop of distrust that one needs to look at how this people's battle was fought. On August 16, as the day broke on a 65-year-old nation, an arrogant government whisked away the 74-year-old Anna to Tihar jail before he could begin his fast unto death. This invited such an upsurge of rage against the government that even the campaigners were surprised. Kejriwal admitted they hadn't anticipated such a groundswell. The crowds stayed on. But it wasn't before eight days into the fast that negotiations actually began.
On the eighth day of Anna's fast, Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit and Pavan Khera, an aide of Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, stepped in, presumably because of their NGO background and because they've worked with Kejriwal in the past. Then Union law minister Salman Khurshid joined in. Three meetings and innumerable phone calls later, it was agreed that a mutually agreeable draft would be prepared. The stage was set for a meeting with Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee after he got the mandate from the PMO. By now, the government had not only accepted the inclusion of the prime minister under the Lokpal (a matter that had caused the parting of ways in April between Anna's team and the government), but also the inclusion of the CBI, which functions under the prime minister. Civil society members returned the gesture by accepting the non-inclusion of the judiciary. All that remained was three issues—or two and a half, as government sources insisted.
Over the period of a week, the discourse turned to farmers' rights, land acquisition laws and environment as the ire quickly turned against Parliament (read parliamentarians). The demand that the bill be quickly introduced and passed grew shriller by the day. At least some MPs, meanwhile, got estranged from their parties as they saw the tide rising against them. Collectively, the Congress kept quiet, but there were rumblings. In the BJP, discordant notes were struck by Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh. Some RJD members too supported Anna, despite the party line being in support of the UPA.
Finally, the government agreed to move a resolution in Parliament on August 26 for a discussion on the Lokpal bill (name yet to be finalised as we go to print). The exact form it takes will be hammered out with Anna's team. Along with this, a critique from Aruna Roy's NCPRI and another version proposed by Jayaprakash Narayan, an activist, will also be discussed. Meanwhile, the activists, even as the government was preparing a letter to Anna, went and met L.K. Advani and other senior BJP leaders at Advani's house, ruffling feathers in the Congress and the government. But the UPA is unlikely to queer the pitch on discussions because of this—it stands to lose too much.
In many ways, this struggle has also thrown the doors open for other rights groups to be heard. In turning to Parliament for a final nod, people too have reposed faith in it. It is now for the MPs to not betray their trust. Finally, as the campaign wound towards an end, the prime minister, often praised as a man tall on integrity, appeared a little more than diminished. A small man with a clenched fist had dwarfed him.
|ALSO IN THIS STORY|
AUTHORS: ANURADHA RAMAN
PEOPLE: ANNA HAZARE
TAGS: LOKAYUKTA & LOKPAL | PROTESTS | CORRUPTION | CIVIL SOCIETY | UPA | CONGRESS
AUG 27, 2011 05:48 PM
The lack of peoples participation in Indian 'democracy' should be highlighted.
Once the poor citizen has voted ONCE in five years ( for a PACKAGE of decisions ranging from communalism to corruption to the nuke deal ) he has NO VOICE after that. There is no say, for eg., on women reservation in Parliament!
This system is ridiculous. REFERENDUMS must be a part of PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY.
Hope Anna has opened our eyes to the fatal flaws of Indian 'democracy'.
AUG 27, 2011 05:43 PM
There was another Long drawn End game on another front which ended finally .The battle went on between a poor Girl Roshan Sheikh who wanted to purse Medical career and her and the Rules .
The battle lasted more than two yrs between the handicapped unfortunate girl and the Mulish Rules
" Teenager who lost her limbs gets MBBS nod
A brilliant student, Roshan refused to be a victim of circumstances, and two years later, she appeared for and scored well in CET. Just when she thought she was close to victory, came the blow – she was declared unfit for admission. Roshan's resilient family refused to take a no for an answer and approached the High Court. In Friday, Roshan was granted admission to Grant Medical College "
AUG 27, 2011 05:18 PM
Anna`s only qualification of leadership is he can sustain the fast up to 15days.On this qualification from last 30year he did 20 indefinite fast against government of Maharashtra..What he gained only some ministers \resigned.but corruption remain as it is.Now some NGO taking advantage of his qualification started Jan lokpal bill agitation.Really speaking this gang blackmailing to government.NGO want publicity.They not concern to finish corruption.Anna with help of his qualification want bend government. He have no capacity to understand why corruption increasing in India.?.I doubtful if he know anything about lokpal bill its implications and its effect.T.V channel hype helping NGO to create uproar in county.Agree people are fed up from this unbearable corruption but they are ignorant why corruption increase so they blindly supporting Anna they think Anna`s bill finish corruption ,this is illusion but only illusion give meanig to life
AUG 27, 2011 04:39 PM
The whole problem points to the severe failure of MMS. He failed to lead and discilpline his cabinet. Even now he is being lead.
It is obvious from various scams that he was deeply involved in the decision making.
AUG 27, 2011 01:48 PM
"The 'Civil Society' is not intending to 'Milk' the 'Government', it is only 'Stirring' it to draw the hidden 'Butter' from it."