Two secrets have decided to stay secret. Kim Davy, the alleged mastermind of the Purulia arms drop, will not suffer the rigors of Kolkata’s jails, and we shall never know who was the end user of the tonnes of military hardware he unloaded on startled villagers in 1995. And an exhausted Kapil Sibal has declared that the government shall never again involve civil society in drafting legislation. It will remain an exercise conducted behind closed doors leading off from the corridors of power.
Two months ago, Davy deposed that the drop was conducted to destabilise West Bengal’s Marxist government, with the blessings of the Centre. That’s not completely incredible, but it doesn’t matter any more. The CPI(M)’s dadagiri has bowed out to Didigiri. And the Ananda Marg, for whom Davy is believed to have conducted the drop, is now an obscure organisation. In 2011, 16 years after the event, Davy can keep his secret.
But what about the government’s decision to keep the drafting of law private? Kapil Sibal’s impatience is understandable. His government keeps throwing him at whatever is making the noisiest trouble. Perhaps they think, “Lawyer hai, argue kar lega.” He’ll run rings around the slogan-wallahs by hook or by crook. But sometimes, they run him right out of the ring.
Like on the closing night of Ramdevlila, when a sarkari Ravanlila broke up the yoga entrepreneur’s Barmecide’s feast at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds. It took the circus flavour out of the movement for a meaningful Lokpal Bill, but it also harmed the government’s image by suggesting that it was desperate to hide something.
The activists’ movement has featured many absurdities, but it has succeeded in forcing the government to address an issue which it evaded for decades. It’s now being seen as anarchy, as usurpation of legislative powers. But equally, when no one in authority listens, when decisions are perceived to be taken behind closed doors, the door to anarchy is rightfully opened.
Last Sunday, the hacktivist group Lulz Security disbanded after an anarchic 50-day riot at the public expense. On political grounds, it had attacked targets ranging from the US Senate, Sony and police servers to pornography peddlers and outed the personal data of lakhs of people. When it was gone, there was relief. Also, an eerie sense of loss. Globally, attitudes to public participation in policymaking changed after the invasion of Iraq, which millions opposed. No one listened and when WikiLeaks exposed the ugly reality of war the hacker, formerly regarded as a troublesome anarchist, was transmuted into a white knight. Something similar is happening with the lokpal bill. The popular demand for anti-corruption law was held off until someone hacked the government system and got in.
If Sibal finds civil society difficult to manage, there is an alternative — directly involving the people. The government has invited public comments on some bills, like legislation for the National Identification Authority of India, before they went to Parliament. But did it act on the response? It’s not clear. If the government consults the public while drafting bills and responds explicitly to suggestions, a compromise could be struck. It’s necessary to break the present impasse. Because if the public wants a say and the government won’t listen, anarchy must follow.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. email@example.com. The views expressed by the author are personal