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Between the line

Prime Minister is fed up
June 08 , 2011


THE terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket. This was proved again at Delhi this week when a religious leader, Baba Ramdev, was fasting before thousands of his followers. Policemen of different organisations belonging to the centre and the states came like tons of bricks on the sleeping crowd and dispersed them, using even the tear gas. The Baba was physically removed, leaving many injured, some seriously.

All this happened at midnight on the lines the British would do. The demand was that the government should promulgate an ordinance to declare the black money stacked by Indians abroad as national asset and bring it back. The rough estimate of the black money is more than 280 lakh crores. Getting back the money may be somewhat difficult because foreign banks and their governments have to be involved. President Barrack Obama, however, made it easy by freezing in the US the assets of Switzerland, a haven for unaccounted money. He got the list of American nationals having money deposits in Swiss banks within 48 hours.

It is obvious that the ruling Congress would not go to that extent because some of its own stalwarts in the party and the government are reportedly involved. But if the party has nothing to hide or fear, it can declare the money stashed abroad as national asset. The country has the experience of how kickbacks from the Bofors gun deal were never brought back. So much so that even the go-between Italian businessman, Ottavio Quattrocchi, was allowed to go out of India when numerous charges were pending against him. Obviously, he had the protection of the Congress.

When the matter of corruption has come to the fore again, the government is found evading the issue. It feels as if political rhetoric or brutal force would suppress the demand. And the worse it has done is to swing public opinion in favour of Baba Ramdev. His credentials were being doubted and he looked like wearing communalism on his sleeves. When the BJP and its mentor, RSS, threw their weight behind him, people began to distance themselves from the Baba. When the police action followed, doubts about him receded into the background and the police methods became the topic of debate. The dutiful Prime Minister again comes to the rescue of the police by saying that the action was “unfortunate but inevitable.” Since when has lathi-charging peaceful demonstration become “inevitable”? Why couldn’t it be avoided?

One, a peaceful demonstration is guaranteed under the constitution. We won independence through satyagraha and such other non-violent methods. Two, must police action be conducted furtively at the middle of the night? And should teas gas be used on women and children sleeping at the pandal? Manmohan Singh and Kapil Sibal, a major domo, of the government policy against corruption, are nice people. But why do they change the when they come to occupy chair in the government? Why do they behave like rulers when the democratic system enjoins upon them to be elected representatives?

Another thing which the police action has done is to bring the agitation of Baba and the Gandhian Anna Hazare on the same page. The latter had to defer talks with the government on the establishment of Lokpal (ombudsman) to supervise the machinery to eliminate corruption in high places. Again, Sibal was indiscreet in his remark that the government would go ahead with the drafting of the Lokpal bill even if the Anna Hazare team, representing civil society activists, does not participate. They have never talked about the boycott. Why does the government behave in a manner that reflects arrogance? They are people’s servants, not the masters.

The CPI has woken up to the question of sanction behind talks between the government and civil society. The party cannot appreciate that there can be movements outside trade unions and kisan sabhas (congregation of farmers). Civil society matters and the Left parties have ignored it to their peril. In fact, the CPI (M) is reading the situation realistically because it has condemned the police action.

When it comes to tackling the agitations, the government is clueless. The Congress comes to abuses and the government resorts to force. See in comparison the reaction of the Anna Hazare team. It asks for permission to go on fast and when one site is not given it chooses another with the approval of the police. Thousands collected there in support of Hazare. Had police lathi-charged the peaceful participants in the fast, the authorities would have faced the same situation which they did where the Baba fasting was disturbed at midnight.

However, the question before the nation is corruption, neither Anna Hazaare nor Baba Ramdev. They have only articulated the debate. The government looks like clouding the real issue by resorting to diversionary tactics. There may be some more scams which it is trying to hide. It is difficult to say with certainty who among the ministers or the Congress leaders have not stashed away their “commissions” abroad. Belatedly, the prime minister has asked his ministerial colleagues to declare their assets and business connections, along with statements by their spouses and near relations.

The anger against the government for not taking up charges of corruption and black money earnestly is so high that you could taste it. The Congress would lose heavily if elections were to be held in the next few months. Since there does not seem to be an acceptable proposal emerging on fighting corruption, the country is relentlessly pushed towards fresh elections. Probably, there is no way out.

Had the constitution been amended, as former Chief Justice M. Hidyatullah had suggested to provide for a referendum, the present crisis could have been averted. The matter could have been referred to the people through a referendum and arrived at a decision one way or the other. But the Congress is behaving as if it does not owe any explanation to the nation. This attitude does not help.

The movement against corruption may take such a dimension where the government may find it difficult to cope with. I believe the Prime minister is fed up and says that “he had enough of it.” By threatening to resign, he may be able to jolt the party from its slumber. But the manner in which the Congress distances itself from the government makes me suspect something ominous. Manmohan Singh was not invited to a recent meeting of top Congress leaders and ministers to discuss the fallout of both fasts. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who presided over the meeting, is mum. She has to take a stand. The loss is that of her party.

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