Did you notice a small coincidence? The day the Delhi Government announced its controversial Odd-Even scheme to control vehicular pollution happened to be the day when Delhi assembly was going to debate and pass its “historic” Jan Lokpal Bill. This was a strange day to make this announcement. It could easily be announced a day earlier or postponed by a day, after the assembly session concluded.
In any case, it would have distracted attention from what the Delhi government claimed was a ‘revolutionary’ piece of legislation, ‘the strongest Lokpal in the country’. Indeed, the evening TV debates and the headlines next morning were about the Odd-Even scheme, not about Jan Lokpal.
Just consider this suggestion. This coincidence was actually not a coincidence. This was a carefully designed and swiftly executed media strategy to save the AAP government from media mauling on the Lokpal issue. This was a classic ploy used by media managers: distract the media with a middle class issue they cannot ignore. And the strategy worked.
The entire Jan Lokpal debate in the last 10 days was a classic case of how political power uses propaganda and distraction to get away with a daylight robbery. Here is what the AAP government went about selling a brazen u-turn in one of its ‘sacred’ promises.
Step one, create anticipatory celebrations, before anyone knows anything. So the government fed stories to the media about how the cabinet had finally cleared this much anticipated revolutionary legislation, how the chief minister was nostalgic and sentimental about fulfilling the promise of Ramlila Maidan. This was dutifully reported without anyone getting a copy of what was actually passed by the cabinet. This was followed by an orchestrated euphoria on social media. The bhakts were ecstatic.
When Aruna Roy and other former colleagues of Arvind Kejriwal asked for a copy of the proposed legislation, they were brushed aside. The government that swore by transparency was not willing to put such a crucial piece of legislation in the public domain for discussion. It was said that the Bill has already been sufficiently discussed in public and did not warrant more discussion!
This narrative was punctured by Prashant Bhushan, when the Bill was leaked just 48 hours before the Assembly session. He tore into the Bill and pointed out how it violated each of the major promises made during the Jan Lokpal agitation at the Ramlila Maidan: that the appointment of the Lokpal will be free of political interference, that the Lokpal will be removed only by the judiciary, that it would be in control of an investigative agency of its own, that it would function in a transparent way.
He also exposed the bluff hidden in the Bill: the provision that brought all employees and ministers of the central government and other state governments based in Delhi within the ambit of the Delhi Lokpal. He rightly pointed out that this provision would give a perfect alibi to the BJP government to hold back assent and deny the people of Delhi their Lokpal.
The propaganda machinery then swung into the second step of its disinformation campaign: plain lies and denials. AAP spokespersons claimed that this Bill was “ditto same” bill that was passed in 2014. Second-rung promotion seekers were pressed into service to hurl abuses and level counter allegations against Bhushan of being a BJP agent! This lie was nailed within 24 hours. Bhushan placed a copy of the 2014 Bill in the public domain and listed how each of the key provisions of the Bill had been removed or diluted in the current Bill.
The next move was a classic red herring: the deputy chief minister claimed on the floor of the house that the 2014 Bill had to be changed due to the Supreme Court’s objection to the appointment of “eminent persons”. It turned out that the Supreme Court had not suggested any such general ban. In any case, the 2014 Bill did not contain any reference to “eminent persons”, and, funnily, the first time it was proposed was in the Bill that the Deputy CM was piloting! The Bill finally passed by the assembly has now reinforced the role of “eminent persons” in the selection committee.
Exposed on all fronts, the AAP government finally came up with a fig leaf. Emissaries were dispatched to obtain Anna’s blessings. The government suddenly saw merit in Anna’s suggestions — incidentally these ‘suggestions’ were nothing except what the Jan Lokpal movement had demanded incessantly. This lasted only 48 hours, for Anna held a press conference and communicated to Arvind Kejriwal that he wanted the 2014 Bill back. Although Anna’s ‘endorsement’ was reported prominently and his subsequent rejection barely reported in the media, it was clear to the government’s media managers that the Bill could not be defended.
The four-fold increase in the salary of MLAs had made matters worse. Friends of the government were turning hostile. It was difficult to get everyone except diehard bhakts to continue applauding. Hence the final spin: create a huge distraction by way of Odds-Even scheme.
What about those not so credulous? Those who think of governance get a different narrative: you need to climb down from the moral high horse of the agitation days. Those who understand the political game of power get a wink: sab chalta hai!
(Yogendra Yadav is associated with Swaraj Abhiyan. The views expressed are personal)