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Between the line

Another people’s movement
August 17, 2011


WHEN WHEN Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan was arrested by Mrs Indira Gandhi
after imposing the emergency (1975-77), he cited a Sanskrit saying:
Vinasha kale vibareta buddhi, meaning that when the ruler faces bad
times, his thinking also gets warped. Anna Hazare, hitherto an
unnoticed leader from Maharashtra, was arrested at Delhi because he
had inspired a movement to have a Lokpal (ombudsman) to eliminate
corruption in the country. He should have also quoted JP’s words
because the government flip-flopped, first arresting him in the
morning and then offering to release him in the evening. It is another
matter that he has refused to come out of jail on conditions.
The Manmohan Singh government has made a fool of itself. First, it
asks the obliging Commissioner of Police (CP) B.K. Gupta to arrest
Anna Hazare and tells the world that it was CP’s doing. Then the
government or its core group decides to release Hazare. The scene by
then seems to have shifted to the Congress headquarters where the
prime minister was also present. Here Rahul Gandhi is the boss in the
absence of his mother Sonia Gandhi. He meets the Prime Minister and
the decision to release of Hazare is apparently taken. Once again the
poor CP is made a scapegoat for having gone wrong on the arrest. He
too retraces his steps by offering Hazare a conditional release.
The role of a local magistrate is comical. He follows the CP’s path
under pressure. He first sends Hazare to judicial custody for seven
days. There is no law under which he could act against a person who
says he would go on fast. It is a pity that the Delhi High Court does
not act suo moto to quash the order which had made a mockery of the
judiciary. The same magistrate revokes the order, again under
The entire exercise has made me sit up and notice how the police and
the judiciary act on commands. This is exactly what happened during
the emergency. Whatever Mrs Gandhi-Sanjay Gandhi wished was
implemented, overriding all rules and regulations and precedents.
Significantly, like today the Congress was ruling at the centre at
that time. Then the government functionaries acted because the
emergency had suspended the constitution and therefore had no
recourse. This time they are doing so without the emergency. They have
got used to unconstitutional governance to such an extent that they
have become a willing tool of tyranny imposed by political masters.
This speaks volumes about India’s democracy. And even the most
undemocratic country, called America, has the temerity to say that the
US expected India “to exercise appropriate democratic restraint in the
way it dealt with peaceful protests.” A nation which treats its Muslim
nationals as third class citizens has the gumption to point finger at
India, which despite its limitations, has sustained a pluralistic
I fear the worst scenario for the ruling Congress which has become
arrogant and has cut off itself from the people. I can see the demand
for Lokpal translating itself into a demand for the resignation of the
Manmohan Singh government. It is beginning to happen sooner than
expected. The stock of the government already battered after the
disclosures of numerous scams running into hundreds of thousands of
dollars has gone down still further. Whatever it does is going to
boomerang on it.
The reason why I think a mid-term election is inevitable because the
Hazare movement has taken the shape of people’s movement. The Lokpal
bill has been put aside and the resentment against the government is
being ventilated through the denunciation of rulers. The core group of
ministers may argue that the Lokpal bill initiated in parliament has
the scope of improvement. But the public is far ahead and may
ultimately ask for new representatives in the Lok Sabha.
The political parties, except the ruling Congress, may change their
stance before long. The BJP is already supporting the movement,
expecting some recognition from Hazare. Gujrat chief minister Narendra
Modi has unilaterally praised the movement. His purpose is, however,
to extricate himself from the pariah position to which he has been
reduced after planning and executing the pogrom for ethnic cleansing.
The Anna Hazare’s team is doing well to keep Modi and the BJP at a
distance. Muslims in India are still suspicious of Hazare, although he
has withdrawn the praise he had expressed for Modi in one of his
statements. The Hazare’s team has to be doubly cautious lest the BJP
should sneak in at some time.
I recall how the Jana Sangh, the first reincarnation of the BJP, went
back on the understanding it gave to JP. The Jana Sangh vowed to snap
its connections with the RSS after it (the Sangh) was taken into the
Janata Party. Little did JP suspect then that they wanted credibility
which the membership of the Janata Party would give. Let the BJP sever
its connection with the RSS if it wants to be part of the movement.
I am hoping for the emergence of a third alternative after the success
of the ongoing movement. JP too began haltingly. The government went
on making one mistake after another and enabling him to convert the
movement into people’s outcry against the centre. He did not give a
call for new elections initially. But when the government’s attitude
remained intractable, he had no choice except to say: Let’s go back to
the people. Mrs India Gandhi was trounced to such an extent that she
and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, lost the election. The Congress should see
the writing on the wall.
The party has dug its own grave. It should have compromised on the
Lokpal bill. Hazare was willing at one time to concede a bit of ground
on Lokpal’s authority over the judiciary and the prime minister. The
government should have redrafted the judicial commission bill to allay
Hazare’s doubts. The prime minister could be arraigned before the
Lokpal only on matters involving his corruption, not his governance.
Prime Minister Inder Gujral was strongly against the Lokpal because of
the dangers entailed in exposing the office to Lokpal. But he was not
opposed to having some provisions against the prime minister if, prima
facie, a case was established. We have had two corrupt prime
ministers, P.V. Narasimha Rao arrested in the Jharkhand case for
buying votes. Rajiv Gandhi was exposed on the Bofors kickbacks. We
cannot afford to keep the office of prime minister outside the purview
of the Lokpal.
Civil society should be commended for throwing all its weight behind
Hazare. But it has to devote its attention to many other ills that
have crept into the society, like vulgar consumerism against the
backdrop of dire poverty

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