Now after the ignition, it’s about pressing the foot on the pedal. In the avoidable skirmishes between the Government of India and Anna Hazare and his associates, the nation got 12 days of high drama and a flurry of low blows. But thankfully, on Saturday, we saw the immovable object move to an unstoppable force. The withdrawal of Mr Hazare’s fast came after both Houses of Parliament expressed solidarity with the anti-corruption crusader’s three core demands regarding the proposed Lokpal Bill. Mr Hazare had earlier demanded a parliamentary resolution on these demands — a citizens’ charter, the lower bureaucracy coming under the lokpal’s purview and the establishment of lokayuktas in all states. But coming from the state of ugly deadlock, the parliamentary endorsement was a gesture that was good enough for Mr Hazare to call off his fast. However way one looks at it, the ongoing agitation has finally got the serious attention of the political class, the government included, instead of the earlier tooth and nail resistance in the name of the sanctity of Parliament to a strong Lokpal Bill.
In the discussion in Parliament that preceded the rapprochement, parliamentarians finally set their cards on the table regarding the issue at hand. Especially forthright were the two leaders of the Opposition of the two Houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Even though we are yet to be clear about the kind of effective Lokpal Bill the government says it wants to pass, the fact that the nation’s legislative body has at last come together to go beyond homilies is most satisfying. Mr Hazare has spoken about the “victory of the Jan Lokpal Bill being a partial victory”. He and his associates now hope that the government convenes a special session of Parliament to pass the Bill in a month’s time. Considering that Parliament will now be debating the pros and cons of each of the various drafts of the Lokpal Bill, which will then be looked at by the parliamentary standing committee before Parliament passes the law, we would actually consider Saturday’s achievement as the ball set moving.
At stake is firming up the most effective Lokpal Bill with safeguards to prevent its misuse. So while a deadline keeps the legislation of this landmark law from slipping away into the horizon, a month should be a working deadline. What must be ensured is that the foot is not taken off the pedal. While views and counterviews will continue to float about on the method used by Mr Hazare to make the nation’s lawmakers forge an effective law against statutory corruption, Mr Hazare has unleashed a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle: the will of the people. Consider Saturday’s breakthrough — or climbdowns — as the beginning of a beginning.