If the Anna Hazare-Government of India saga was a television soap opera, there would really be no point in having a recap of ‘what has happened till now’ before the latest episode is aired. First of all, what happened before seems to have little bearing with what is about to happen. If a posse of government emissaries stated last night that Anna’s demands will be sincerely looked into, you can bet your bottom rupee that in today’s episode the agitating social activist’s demands will be spurned.
And if a Congress spokesperson calls Hazare’s supporters a motley bunch of armchair fascists, underground Maoists and other colourful epithets that make Anna sound more like Pol Pot than a (shrinking) pot-bellied man, you can always expect the surprise of senior ministers moonwalking their way back and telling Anna’s emissaries the next day that they respect the 74-year-old patriot and meant no disrespect whatsoever to him or his supporters.
So, until an agreement is reached don’t expect any agreement. And conversely, until a spat breaks out between the two sides, don’t expect a spat. This is improvisational politics at its worst.
Much has been made in the media about the divisions within the Anna Hazare camp. Former Karnataka Lokayukta and one of Anna’s associates Santosh Hegde has often aired the differences he has had with the rest of Gang Anna. The comments of Kiran Bedi (especially her silly “Anna is India and India is Anna” line) and Arvind Kejriwal’s trenchant positions and alleged misappropriations with facts have made Swami Agnivesh distance himself from Hazare’s campaign. But are we supposed to measure Team Manmohan with the same yardstick as we do Team Anna?
Take the disconnect between the prime minister and the rest of his government/party. We heard Manmohan Singh state quite early in the Lokpal Bill debate that he had no issues with the prime minister coming under the purview of the lokpal. He, however, added a strange rider about his esteemed colleagues thinking otherwise. And that was the pat explanation why his government was opposed to this clause in the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Can you imagine Sonia Gandhi publicly stating that she doesn’t think the PM should be excluded from the Lokpal’s purview and the government’s draft of the Lokpal Bill sent to the parliamentary select committee keeping the PM out?
If this kind of thing doesn’t confuse people into thinking the UPA government to be a constantly changing ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine, I fear for the powers of comprehension of the people.
It was amazing to hear Congressman Satyavrat Chaturvedi, on one of those days after the government had been ‘bad’ to Hazare and a day before it was ‘nice’ to him, say that the all-party meeting called by the prime minister to discuss Hazare’s (latest) demands “should have been called much earlier”. I fell off my sofa when Chaturvedi added that had Soniaji been here, “things would have been different”. He seemed to suggest that the whole Lokpal Bill fracas had started after the UPA chairperson had left India for medical treatment.
I have written about Hazare and his associates being stubborn and conducting their own line of manic-depressive behaviour. But by being a self-enclosed body of Keystone Cops running here one day, scampering there another day, and bumping into each other practically every day, this government has shown itself to be a strangely incompetent entity when it comes to crisis management. With back and forths now a part of its script, what does the government really have in mind when it says that it wants a strong anti-corruption law? What does it have in mind, some may jolly well ask, when it says anything?
With the government having unofficially junked its own draft Lokpal Bill, I certainly don’t know what the UPA government's idea of a strong, pragmatic anti-corruption law is. But I guess I’ll then just have to shut my eyes hard and believe Team Manmohan when it says that it really, really wants to fight systemic corruption. And wants a strong Lokpal Bill.