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Between the line

Alternative only option
January 04, 2012


How different are the dynamics of people’s politics fromthe dynamics of electoral politics was clear by the turn the bill to constitutethe institution of Lokpal (Ombudsman) to deal with corruption took in theIndian parliament. The first, dependent on the popular support, got nowhere.But the second, dictated by number game, succeeded because the politicalparties could interpret the status quo, the non-passage of the Lokpal bill, inthe way it suited them electorally.

When Gandhian Anna Hazare was on fast and thousandswere on the streets, the Lok Sabha passed the sense of the house resolution to promisean act to cover the three points: 1. Citizen’s Charter including his right tohave water and electricity, 2. the lower bureaucracy under Lokpal and (3)establishment of Lokayuktas in the states. The bill has conceded only onepoint, that is, the appointment of State Ombudsman (Lokayukta). And thegovernment continues to retain the control of Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI).

When the resolution was adopted, the dynamics ofpeople’s politics worked. Subsequently, the same house accepted a watered downbill because Anna was not on fast and the people were only watching the outcomeof the debate in parliament. There was no pressure on the government.

Still something worse happened in the Rajya Sabhabecause the bill emerging from the Lok Sabha was not even put to vote. True, thehouse had consumed the day, till midnight in speeches alone. But the manner inwhich the chairman, Vice-President Hamid Ansari adjourned the house sine dieleaves many questions unanswered. The government could have extended thesession but did not. Obviously, it was influenced by Anna Hazare breaking hisfast one day earlier than the period he had announced and the venue, shifted toMumbai from Delhi,did not draw an impressive crowd. Too many adjournments interrupted thehouse—Laloo Yadav, the joker in the pack, was handy—lessened time for thedebate.

Whatever government’s compulsions, it was a betrayalof the Lok Sabha resolution. That was because the dynamics of electoralpolitics took over when the bill was not going through in the Rajya Sabha, eachparty calculating how many seats it would get in Punjab, UP, Uttrakhand, Goa and Manipur.

There is a lesson for those who have put their faithin people’s politics. I do not want to indulge in the I-told-you-so argument.Yet I recall the warning I gave on suspending the agitation. My fear, justifiednow, was that the momentum of demonstrations would be difficult to rebuild oncestalled. Today the impression that has gone around is that those leading themovement are whimsical, switching it off and on too often.

Now that the strategy is being reworked, it would becounter productive to clutter people’s mind with too many details on theweaknesses of the bill. Let the movement concentrate on one point: Independence of the CBI.The agency cannot be under the government which uses it as a politicalinstrument. Cases have been followed, dropped or kept in abeyance, depending onthe support the government needed from a political party at a particular time.The Manmohan Singh coalition is not alone to blame. It was the same story whenAtal Behari Vajpayee of BJP was the prime minister or Narasimha Rao.

The weakening of the movement has once again thrown upthe same old question: Should people’s movements continue to stay away from participatingin elections? So far they have kept themselves out. Some argue that the gamutof polls is so much ridden by money and caste that the people’s movements wouldhave to make compromises if they propose to contest.

Yet in a democratic polity, there is no running awayfrom elections. The state assemblies and parliament are manned by therepresentatives of people who choose them through the ballot box.Representatives are the arbiters.  Shouldthe pressure on them be from outside with uncertain or limited results orshould ‘we the people,’ as the constitution’s preamble says, give the countryan alternative which would be from the grassroots. Both the Congress and theBJP, the two main parties for the last three decades, have failed the people.Their agenda is power which for them is the end by itself.

Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan who successfully oustedthe Indira Gandhi government, constituted the Janata Party which won a majorityin the Lok Sabha. He too had first confined himself to the agitation alone. Hemet the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to beseech her to deal withcorruption and the use of large sums of money in elections. She said that herparty had no money and that it was fighting against corruption ruthlessly. TheCongress has taken more or less the same line today.

The only difference is that the Manmohan Singhgovernment has brought to parliament an apology of bill to show that it wascommitted to deal with corruption and got it through the Lok Sabha. Anna andhis team can tear a leaf from the book of the communists. They had to take theway of electoral politics even when their ideology dictated them to revoltagainst the bourgeois system which was based on the principle of elections. Infact, they are caught in a comical situation: They preach communism whichbelieves in dictatorship but participate in elections which follow the dictatesof democracy, an anti-thesis of dictatorship. This is the reason why their influenceis limited. It will remain so until they shed their doctrinaire approach. Toexpand their base, the Left has to adopt a democratic, liberal stand thatattracts civil society. The Left enjoyed that position till partition and lostits way after that.

Mahatama Gandhi fought against the British throughelectoral system, however weak and limited. And he had to have the Congressparty as an instrument to push the freedom struggle. He was not the party’smember because he wanted to build man so that he or she would rise abovepersonal gain for the good of society. He failed but won independence.

Anna may not be a Mahatma Gandhi or a JayaprakashNarayan. But Anna has come to represent people’s resentment against corruptionand all that they suffer in their daily life. He does not have to go after oneparty. He transcends parties and parochial politics. He is pursuing an idealwhich should remain unsullied because that is an ideal. All NGOs should help hismovement, however impossible some of his team members. A failure of people’smovement is the failure of the principle of peaceful protest againstmis-governance or non-governance. The nation cannot afford to lose. EOM

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