Confusion rather than clarity prevails on the political scene as the year comes to an end. There will be many regrets all around that this was a situation which could have been avoided had more thought gone into political management on major issues, most notably the lokpal. In hindsight, the government seems to have allowed extraneous circumstances to induce a needless degree of panic. True, corruption scandals had eroded its credibility considerably, starting from the Commonwealth Games to the 2G issue. But, this did not mean that it should have directly involved itself in engaging with anti-corruption crusaders like Anna Hazare, even Baba Ramdev, from the word go. This is not to suggest that the government keep itself aloof from civil society representatives. But, as it did in the Kashmir situation, it could have employed suitable interlocutors to interact with people like Anna Hazare and his team for a start. Perhaps it could have begun talks with Team Anna through certain members of the National Advisory Council who have a credible reputation, and there is no dearth of such people in the outfit.
Though it is easy to be wise in hindsight, the whole approach could have been that of incremental steps rather than immediately putting Team Anna on a par with elected representatives. The ability to pull in crowds cannot be a deciding factor when it comes to involving people in formulating far-reaching legislation like the Lokpal Bill. If it had remained one step removed, the government could have first ascertained the points of convergence and divergence and then worked out approaches on how to tackle these. After all, in contentious cases like Kashmir and Telangana, senior ministers did not directly engage themselves in dialogue, rather emissaries opened the batting. In the Kashmir case, this has been a success, though how the government will take it forward remains to be seen. The mistake in putting Team Anna on a par with those in government led to the latter believing that it could call the shots. The subsequent intransigence on the part of the anti-corruption crusaders led to the government taking ad hoc steps, most of them detrimental to its image. The obvious one was arresting Anna Hazare. In the case of Ramdev, the fact that government ministers were willing to engage with him put the government in a spot later. Its midnight swoop on him and his followers suggested again that it had not thought the whole strategy through.
Had it got a sense of the situation through interlocutors, this imbroglio could have been handled with finesse. As the new year begins, let us hope that forethought rather than afterthought will become the hallmark of governance. Now that is a thought that we might all hold on to in the hope of a more calm 2012.