Anna Hazare and his associates of India Against Corruption must have been swept off their feet by the most unexpected popular response they received in 2011-12 for their demand for the enactment of a powerful Lokpal Bill to curb corruption.
It has been also argued that Hazare jumped into the fray when the public mood had already turned against corrupt politicians as the media highlighted the allegations against the high and mighty.
AAP, born of this movement, is busy in dramatising the anti-corruption political agenda by projecting itself as the sole practitioners of morality-based politics while all others are daily castigated as ‘corrupt’.
This simplistic understanding of corruption makes them noticed in public but they will soon cease to be relevant because ‘one-issue politics’ is always quite short-lived. Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal’s associates in AAP have done yeoman service by bringing the issue of corruption centre stage. Everyone in politics will have to respond because public pressure has been built by the media.
The major responsibility for cleaning up public life lies with every party, but more so with the Congress because it has been at the receiving end over this issue. What have been the responses of the party? It deserves to be clearly and unambiguously stated that the Congress could not rise to the occasion when the country was engaged in the discussions on corruption and it failed at the political level to snatch the initiative on the enactment of the Lokpal Bill.
The very fact that Parliament could get through the Lokpal Bill only at the end of 2013 speaks volumes for the Congress.
The Congress should have aggressively tackled the BJP’s disruptions in Parliament and politically appropriated credit for the Bill the moment the situation became hot due to Hazare’s antics at the Ramlila Ground.
It is unfortunate that very important anti-corruption Bills, such as the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, the Citizen’s Charter of Rights and Grievance Redress Bill, or the whistleblower’s Bill could not see the light of day because a sagacious and wise President advised the government not to take the ordinance route at the end of the Lok Sabha term.
This failure of the Congress was not enough; it also failed to put the BJP on the mat because on corruption the saffron party has not fared any better.
Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning has not won him friends or admirers. In September 2013, at a press conference in Delhi, he said the ordinance to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling that convicted leaders immediately lost their seats should be torn up and thrown away.
The grand old party of India forgot that a public issue that had caught the imagination of every section of society had to be responded to. It is not only middle-class professionals or ordinary citizens who are eager to get a government that acts in a corruption-free atmosphere.
Corporate houses and entrepreneurs are also tired of corruption in the corridors of power.
NR Narayana Murthy of Infosys not only donated `65 lakh to Arvind Kejriwal for his public service, he welcomed the formation of AAP for ‘clean governance’. Deepak Parekh, HDFC chairman, observed on the formation of AAP that it “is the beginning of a new era in Indian politics”.
The Right to Information Act should have been immediately followed by anti-corruption laws and the Citizens’ Charter of Rights and Demands and this package would have helped in cleansing public life and deepening Indian democracy.
It is not the ordinary voter but the political leadership that has to take the responsibility of correcting the situation by making India corruption-free. It is never too late in politics.
CP Bhambhri taught politics in Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed by the author are personal.