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Stick to the plan, Anna

He is the ‘Gandhian’ face of a ‘people’s movement’ and no doubt still carrying a great deal of popular goodwill with him. But when Anna Hazare starts to refer to himself in the royal third person (“Anna is not afraid to face bullets”) and goes on a finger-wagging overdrive (“I will teach this government a lesson”), let’s face it, we have a right to be perturbed.

india Updated: Jul 02, 2011 23:04 IST
Chanakya

He is the ‘Gandhian’ face of a ‘people’s movement’ and no doubt still carrying a great deal of popular goodwill with him. But when Anna Hazare starts to refer to himself in the royal third person (“Anna is not afraid to face bullets”) and goes on a finger-wagging overdrive (“I will teach this government a lesson”), let’s face it, we have a right to be perturbed.

Hazare’s intentions are good. Unlike the yoga instructor who had planned to hijack the ‘corruption’ issue by getting sins mixed up with crimes, his demands are clear: bring the prime minister, higher judiciary and the bureaucracy under the purview of a genuinely independent and empowered lokpal. But, of late, he has been behaving more like a spoilt child who pushes away his vegetables than a mature activist pressurising a government bent on stonewalling a solid anti-corruption law. Because of his shenanigans, the man seems to be on the brink of losing the plot — a plot that is not only legitimate but also necessary at a time of unchannellised outrage against corruption from all quarters. The merit in what Hazare and his supporters are demanding is getting blurred in his silly atmospherics. And that suits the political class just fine.

In all this silliness, the government finds it easy to not only come across as a victim of an unreasonable man, but also craft a Lokpal Bill that suits its purpose. Better a workable law, than a law hatched by a righteous rant, Sibal, Khurshid and Co. seem to be saying with increasing authority. And never mind the fence-sitters, but even some of us tired of the government’s by-now infamous ‘magic shows’ are listening.

But it should have been the other way round. Government ministers argue with much concern that the Anna version of the Jan Lokpal Bill will result in the creation of an unwieldy behemoth. That, frankly, isn’t the government’s concern. It’s the lokpal’s business to figure out the logistics of how the machinery will function once the system is ready to go. The real reason for such ‘concern’ is that the government doesn’t want to cede its privileges, and the political class doesn’t want to hand over its chips.

Take the case of the state lokayukta, a model of sorts for the national lokpal. No attempt has been made yet to explain why, if the Delhi government’s intentions are so good, chief minister Sheila Dikshit did not sanction the prosecution of the local government Public Works Department (PWD) minister charged under the lokayukta. It’s perfectly fine for a chief minister to reject a lokayukta’s demand for dismissing a minister. But what is expected is for her or her government to provide a reason — a defence — for such a rejection. Lack of transparency is not a good advertisement for a well-meaning government. The lokayukta has now asked the home ministry to explain why his recommendation was rejected by the president, who acted at the behest of the state government. If the lokayukta model is anything to go by, the proposed lokpal definitely needs to be empowered if it has to have any real functional role.

Anna’s points are kosher. Bringing the PM, the higher judiciary and the bureaucracy under the proposed bill provides as foolproof a model as humanly possible. But going about it in the way that he and his supporters have been, is, simply put, bad politics. For the fact of the matter is that Anna’s demands are political — in the sense of an attempt to change the polity in this country.

While trying to engage the government on an inclusive lokpal, it makes no sense to get off the starting block by saying that the PM seems “scared of the lokpal” and that he is under the thrall of a “remote control”. That’s like trying to convince a man to lay down his arms by telling him what a weakling he is.

So as Anna starts his run-up to the sequel of his earlier hungerstrike, we can only hope that he and his followers play matters out in a more mature manner than they are at present. There are many who are critical of what they see as the government’s posturings. But Anna’s ‘performances’ are making them seriously wonder whether this is the alternative that will see a tough anti-corruption law through. Anna needs to refocus on the core issues without going off on one of his many headline-friendly tangents. Otherwise, my fear is that we’ll just have a clean-shaven version of Ramdev in white khadi holding the can.

Whether Anna likes it or not, the chattering middle-class will play a big role in seeing the Lokpal Bill through. But the same middle-class that is tired of the political class’s shenanigans regarding fighting systemic corruption earnestly are the same who are now wondering whether their flagbearer should be an irresponsible, loose cannon who, even if he’s asking for something specific, sounds increasingly as if he’s asking for the moon.

Anna changed the landscape of poverty-stricken, drought-wracked Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra in the 1970s. He didn’t do it with rhetoric, but with action. Almost 40 years later, what he needs in a very different tug-of-war is stubborn determination and not playing to various galleries. As the man himself might say, “Anna cannot let down his people.”