Friday, July 22, 2011

Public, Legislators and Jan Lok Pal Bill !

By : PK Khurana
(Pramod Krishna Khurana)

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Pioneering Alternative Journalism in India

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Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari had dubbed Gandhian and anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare as an “unelected dictator”. The UPA Government and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi seem to agree with Tiwari. However, before we delve into the issue, it is essential to understand the sequence of events that has led the Dr Manmohan Singh government and Congress party to come out so strongly against Hazare.

When Hazare had started his campaign against corruption at Jantar-Mantar, Congress leader Digvijay Singh and Cabinet Minister Kapil Sibal had raised several questions on his protest. Even the government had termed Hazare’s crusade a mockery. However, when the entire nation and the media came out in large numbers to support Hazare, Congress and UPA had to turn around to strike a compromise.

The support that Hazare got from all quarters was so overwhelming and unprecedented that no one, including Anna, had expected it.

Initially, spiritual leaders Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had offered support but only in the form of press statements. But the extraordinary support that Anna got brought Ramdev into the forefront of things – probably because the astute Baba did not want the campaign against corruption, which was originally started by him, to be hijacked by Hazare. He could not let all the credit go to Anna, after all.

Among those who supported Anna right from the beginning include RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, former super cop Kiran Bedi and veteran Supreme Court lawyer Shashi Bhushan along with his advocate son Prashant Bhushan. The support from these big-wigs became the strong point for Anna’s crusade.

When support started pouring in from various quarters, shrewd politicians were forced to sit up and take notice. Former Chief Minister of Haryana Om Prakash Chautala was the first one who tried to cash in on the campaign that had assumed the proportions of a mass movement. He was soon followed by former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Uma Bharti. But Hazare and his men continued to protest in a peaceful way, keeping politics out of the agenda. They even went a step ahead and dismissed Chautala and Bharti somewhat contemptuously.

As a result, the campaign won accolades from all corners and people’s trust in it was upheld. It was also saved from being a pointless protest against the opposition.

Mass and media support forced the government into a compromise which agreed to include social leaders into the committee set up to frame the draft Lok Pal Bill.

It is often said when the prime ministers of two nations together announce an agreement, it is nothing but a policy decision. Later, senior officials of both the countries together frame an implementation plan which needs to be reviewed repeatedly in order to make it flawless. Similarly, the government’s compromise with Hazare was also a policy announcement and cannot be taken to be the final decision until all provisions are agreed upon by both the sides.

At this juncture, things took a dramatic turn. Baba Ramdev announced his own campaign against corruption. The campaign, clearly, was not non-political, as was being portrayed.

Somehow, with a shrewd play of words, efforts were made to make the masses believe that Hazare’s protest was anti-political while that of Ramdev was non-political. However, the role of Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS) and Govindacharya as policy makers of Ramdev’s campaign was clear right from the very beginning.

Yoga guru Ramdev has a huge following across India and cash flowed freely right from the onset for his campaign. All arrangements were five-star. Anna Hazare lent support to Ramdev because the initial aim of both, Ramdev and him, was the same.

To avoid any misinterpretation, Hazare offered support to Ramdev but the latter’s list of demands was so long and ambiguous that it threatened to cast its shadow on the achievements of Hazare’s campaign.

How dissimilar both the campaigns were from each other, and how contradicting their aims were, is now clear. Perhaps, both the protests were opposing in nature.

Ramdev’s campaign lost fizz soon after government action against him forced him to flee. At this, the government lost no time in declaring that it would not bow down to pressures from non-elected people and that, the final decision would eventually be of the elected representatives.

The intentions of the UPA Government were as it is not too good. The fate of Ramdev’s campaign added fuel to fire. The government, which was determined to dodge Anna and his supporters, first launched an offensive against the Yoga Guru and later, against the Gandhian Anna.

Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari went a step ahead and dubbed Hazare an “unelected tyrant”. Tiwari perhaps forgot that this was the first time since Independence that the powers were vested in the hands of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and not at the Centre.

Another noteworthy fact is that not all of Tiwari’s associates in the National Advisory Council (NAC) are elected members. In fact, they are not even accountable to the public. These IAS officers, who have gained entry into the NAC through bureaucracy, behave like ‘super ministers’. Can Tiwari explain what authority these ‘unelected’ people have to pass directions to the country’s elected leaders? And if they are doing so, then why is there objection over inclusion of social representatives in the draft committee of a Bill?

However, we should not ignore the other aspect of the system of public partnership. For example: If a situation turns violent, riots break out and several innocent lives are lost, who will be accountable – elected representatives or social servants? Is the fear unfounded that yet another public figure might adopt the path of hunger strike to blackmail the government into accepting his demands? And in case Anna’s Lok Pal Bill is framed but is fraught with problems, then who will be answerable?

Hence, logically speaking, the extent of public participation should be clearly defined to avoid anarchy-like situation in the times to come.

Today, however, the situation is different. There is widespread corruption in the country and the government is not ready to resolve the issue. This is a peculiar situation. Hence, Anna’s intervention has been wholeheartedly welcomed.

Questions have been raised and fingers have been pointed at Hazare as well but the Ramdev episode drew much flak. The Yoga Guru’s statements and his acts have endangered Hazare’s achievements as well.

It is time to make a wise and carefully thought-over decision as to what degree and form of public participation is required to keep the government’s autocratic activities under check. If a decision in this regard is not made immediately, the nation will have to suffer anarchy in the times to come. 

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Pioneeering Alternative Journalism in India : PK Khurana

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