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Rising from the ashes

Publication Date : 09-08-2012

 

Whether Anna Hazare’s activism translates into votes is yet to be seen. One thing in his favour is that he is seen as an alternative to India's two political parties--the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It is not the first time that the comptroller and auditor-general (CAG) of India has disclosed the government’s involvement in a scam. What is disconcerting this time is that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been accused of keeping away the CAG report from Parliament on coal bungling.

The Prime Minister told Parliament on May 23 this year that the CAG report was only a draft while the fact which has come to light is that the final report was received on May 11, both by the government and the president’s office. It means that there is nothing sacrosanct for the Congress-led coalition, even parliamentary privileges, much less transparency that one expected from a government headed by Manmohan Singh.

The government is only a forwarding agency as far as reports by the CAG are concerned. He directly reports to Parliament through the government as he did in the case of corruption in coal, a portfolio directly under the prime minister. How he rationalises the delay--he is a master of procrastination--is something I am eagerly awaiting. Yet the corruption part is really serious. Certain private parties and individuals are said to have been extended benefits. They must have rendered service in kind and cash to the ruling party.

The sad part is that when a movement against corruption is needed most, Gandhian Anna Hazare changes his strategy and thinks about contesting the general election in 2014. Although he looked reluctant and expressed doubts in public, he seemed to have been prevailed upon by those who have always focused on electoral politics. Some of them may well be members of the team that Hazare has now disbanded.

Yet, abandoning a movement that had come to ventilate the resentment of civil society was abandoning a job midway. True, the government was obtrusive and does not really want to install an effective Lokpal (ombudsman). Equally true, the opposition parties were indifferent. All the more reason why the movement for Lokpal needs to be intensified.

The failing health of some members who had gone on fast was one reason why the movement had to be restructured so that no one needed to fast any more. In fact, fasting is a wrong strategy to begin with. Mahatma Gandhi’s fast was never personal. He had always fasted for the larger objective of wresting freedom from the unwilling hands of the British.

With no immediate challenge, the government has blessed the move of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to not challenge the Supreme Court’s decision to quash the disproportionate assets case against former UP chief minister Miss Mayawati. Even her party’s 21 votes in the Lok Sabha are important for the Manmohan Singh government to maintain its majority in Parliament.

And it seems obvious that the Congress-led government will stick to office for the rest of the term, roughly 22 months, even if it has to resort to foulplay as it has done in the case of CAG report on coal and even if it has turned a blind eye to Miss Mayawati’s inexplicably-large assets. She has reportedly amassed a wealth of 116 crore rupees since 2003.

Indeed, this is the best time for Hazare to enter the political field. But can a party rise from the ashes of a movement that had swept the intelligentsia off its feet and had kept the media focused on it for 18 months? In concrete terms, the movement has nothing to show. But nudging awake civil society is itself an achievement of sorts.

Whether Hazare’s activism translates into votes is yet to be seen.  One thing in his favour is that he is seen as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP--the two main political parties. People generally want a change and neither of the two principal parties appeals to them much any more.

Gandhian Jayaprakash Narain (JP) was forced into a similar situation but accepted the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of BJP, after the Jan Sangh promised to cut off relations with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Hindu nationalist organisation). He was betrayed but in the process, the Jan Sangh acquired the credibility of a non-communal setup.

Hazare is likely to face a similar situation if Ramdev wants to join forces with him. Secularism and parochialism do not mix well. JP made the mistake and parochial forces gained from it. Hazare should not traverse the same path. The culture of Ramdev and his musclemen is different and civil society is not willing to accept them.

The mantle of JP has fallen on Hazare. But JP travelled throughout India to awaken people to the need for an alternative and defeat the rulers who had mutilated the very system to serve their purpose and sustain the status quo that gave them power and unfettered control.

I am not against Hazare taking part in elections. He himself is having second thoughts. Yet it would have been far better if he had held wider consultations with activists such as Medha Padkar and Aruna Roy. Such consultations did take place before Hazare had launched his stir against corruption. He must string together different movements, however small, that are visibly working at the grassroots. These activists will provide grist to the mill of change that Hazare is contemplating.

Maybe, a political platform, instead of a party, may serve a wider purpose. Some can work with people’s movements and some can contest elections. They will help each other and together will be a force to reckon with. Mahatma Gandhi had separated constructive workers from those engaged in the legislative field.

JP did not form his party until after winning polls. Yet he saw to it that his candidates fought on one election symbol. What proved to be his Achilles’ heel was the wrong candidates he chose. They were not the people to effect changes. They only used the system to benefit themselves.

And then JP’s health failed and he could not reach out to the people. Hazare should be careful about his health and slowly but relentlessly harness support among those close associates who have the commitment and faith in basic values. He should take time. But he cannot afford to fail for the second time. Politics is not bad. Those who dominate it at this time have given it a bad name.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator

 

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