Once again in its chequered history, the country is caught in an unseemly situation it is finding it difficult to tackle. A sort of confrontationist atmosphere is developing and if unchecked, it can push the nation towards political uncertainty, possibly a drift no one would know how to arrest it.
Anger or corruption has become a major issue sweeping across the country; rising prices and unemployment are adding to the people’s anger.
While corruption has affected most of the states, the focus of protest is the Centre --- much to the relief of most Chief Ministers, who are happy that they are not in the eye of the storm. The Centre’s response has been experimental and tentative, and measures aimed at controlling the damage at best.
Anna Hazare and Ramdev with different constituencies, background and objectives have in their own ways sought to ride the wave of anger, but their responses and company are different.
Anna Hazare is voicing urban middle class mood; Ramdev, on the other hand, represents the mood of the people in smaller towns.
Both have changed the course of public discourse. Anna Hazare has used fast as a weapon to what he simplistically thinks will abolish corruption from the land. Ramdev with all his yogic following has been springing surprises for the people by his mannerisms and shrillness and language, fair and foul.
A satyagrahi doesn’t change his mask, wears a dupatta just to escape arrest by the police; and comes out with a statement threatening armed struggle against the government. A sadhu with a gun in hand can be his election symbol taking into account that till the other day he was threatening to launch a political party of his own! He was to be upstaged by the Sangh Parivar which got worried about the possible division of BJP’s vote. Willy-nilly, the Parivar adopted him as its hero.
Anna Hazare is a seasoned Gandhian satyagrahi, but many non-Gandhians have climbed upon his platform. He is a simple man who tends to believe that just the appointment of a Lokpal will banish all corruption from the country.
The government does not know how to deal with Ramdev. As many as four ministers chose to drive to the airport to meet the man in saffron robes in the ceremonial lounge. They did extract an assurance next day from him that he would call off his fast. As expected, it turned to be a false promise. The government need not have believed it. He should have been externed from the city rather kept away somewhere for further talks. The police action at Ramlila ground was simply avoidable and uncalled for.
The government has to come out with a credible plan to tackle corruption, but for Anna Hazare to insist on the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to be brought under the purview of the Lok Pal is not workable. The PM and the CJI are the two high offices which cannot be placed in a position of perceived accused under inquiry by the Lokpal. No Prime Minister can function if he or she has to daily answer questions from Lokpal and with his/her hands tied at the back.
Has Anna Hazare thought about the possibility of a not-so-credible person being appointed a Lokpal? Who will keep a watch on him and his staff?
The running of the nation of over a billion people and a parliamentary democracy require an executive head like Prime Minister who is essentially accountable to Parliament and none else who has not been elected by the people.
Anna Hazare may not be having a personal political agenda beyond a wish to represent a sagging conscience of the nation. He could as well campaign to convince the people that they should elect to Parliament only those who are honest in serving the wider public interest – and not personal interest. Going out of the existing constitutional scheme is risky for a nation-state, just 64-year-old.
Eradication of corruption will need massive reforms of the political system, not undermining the existing parliamentary institutions.
(The writer is a senior journalist and now a Member of Parliament.)