It was high time we saw some kind of consensus between the government and the Congress in the dealings with social activist Anna Hazare. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directly dealing with Mr Hazare through the medium of letters, such a time has thankfully arrived. In politics, speaking in two voices has its uses. But over the last few months, the UPA's communications with Mr Hazare and his colleagues have been hampered by raucous chatter from Congress members keen to show their fealty to their party. If we earlier saw spokespersons talk into the megaphone to 'expose' Mr Hazare and his team's supposed links with communal forces, the recent remarks by other Congress worthies regarding 'proof' of RSS support for Mr Hazare's anti-corruption movement came as a discordant digression. The government, whether through ministers such as Salman Khurshid and Pranab Mukherjee or the prime minister himself, has established a dialogue channel. With the Congress finally stating that "there was no need" for party general secretary Digvijaya Singh to shoot off a letter to Mr Hazare regarding RSS support to the anti-corruption campaign "after the prime minister's letter to Hazare", the government's command-and-control structure has hopefully been re-established.
Responding to Mr Hazare's demand on lokayuktas, Mr Singh has not beaten about the bush. In his latest set of letters, the prime minister specifically mentioned that there was an "in-principle agreement" in Parliament that lokayuktas be set up in states and that he hoped that Mr Hazare agreed with him that Parliament be allowed to complete the process of setting up the central lokpal before the matter of state lokayuktas is taken up. In an earlier letter, Mr Singh had reiterated the government's commitment to pass a strong Lokpal Bill. This is how business - and this is as political a business as it gets - should be conducted; not in the shadowy, cloak-and-dagger form of insinuations from apparatchiks, but in the well-tested manner of mature negotiations.
Mr Singh's legendary 'quietness' should not make people - least of all people from his own party - believe that he can't roll his sleeves up and stare across the table. His success with the India-US civil nuclear deal is a case study of playing protracted, no-frills hardball. The Lokpal Bill, obviously, is a different ball game where the stakes are emotive and, therefore, directly transferable into electoral gains or losses. Sections of the Congress - as well as the media - prefer a cacophony over a dialogue. Mr Singh and his government colleagues prefer to deal with the more serious business of engaging with Mr Hazare. Which, if one reflects on it, makes Mr Singh a subtle political player who can do a far better job of putting the UPA, the Congress and the people of India clamouring for a corruption-free polity on the same page.