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Ironies of the Hazare versus government tussle

Last updated on: August 18, 2011 15:42 IST

In this mindless game of the back-and-forth, the government and its several eloquent but stubborn actors seemed to have lost the plot. Too much of spewing to spin a fact deluded them into thinking that the game was already won; that Hazare would quietly leave Delhi, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Anna Hazare versus the government of India, also known as the United Progressive Alliance II: this fight has thrown up ironies, which ought to render us speechless or at least bemused.

They speak eloquently of how the authorities, especially the Congress party and the strategists, shot themselves in their feet.

Here are a few:

One, Anna wanted freedom to protest, as long as he wanted or was required to, to get the Jan Lokpal Bill accepted for consideration by Parliament. Instead, they threw him and his aides in jail.

By evening, the authorities wanted him out of the Tihar. Anna refused and remained inside, seeking freedoms outside. He feared another arrest.

Two, the police said he was arrested due to apprehension of law and order breaking down. By evening, they wanted him released because the situation had 'changed'.

How had the situation changed, really? Things had actually gotten out of hand, from the police point of view. They had worsened it by triggering waves of people on the street to the extent that by nightfall people decided to keep a vigil outside Tihar jail.

Three, the anti-corruption crusader was thrown into the same prison whose inmates include senior political leaders who once swaggered and strutted -- Suresh Kamadi, A Raja, Kaninozhi -- and are now accused of corruption.

Four, the police, which detained him and with an order from a magistrate took him to Tihar, ended up appealing him to comply with its prohibitory orders. Anna spent the night sleeping in the cell, the police and politicians helplessly placed.

Five, as many as three ministers -- P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, and Ambika Soni -- who pretended all through the day that the government does not but only the police do what they did after a full appreciation of the situation. That is why they had put him behind bars.

Yet, by the evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Sngh, via Home Minister Chidambaram, according to television reports, conveyed to the Delhi police that it was better Anna was released. This was apparently because Rahul Gandhi thought so. No, they were not playing politics, you see, only going by the law.

Because, when Hazare had written to the prime minister seeking his good offices to sort out the issue of permission for the fast, Manmohan Singh had told him that it was not his turf and he should go to the statutory authorities instead, which implied either the police or the courts.

Six, Team Hazare's 'referendum' in Chandni Chowk seeking out the level of support for the Jan Lokpal was mocked at by Kapil Sibal saying "why is it only 85 per cent in favour, why not 100 per cent?" Chandni Chowk is Sibal's Lok Sabha constituency. It is known that many from his bailiwick, as from elsewhere, had streamed to protest Anna Hazare's detention.

In this mindless game of the back-and-forth, the government and its several eloquent but stubborn actors seemed to have lost the plot. Too much of spewing to spin a fact -- I am talking about the over-jealous spinmeisters called party spokespersons -- deluded them into thinking that the game was already won; that Hazare would quietly leave Delhi.

Seven, when Hazare was given two options -- fast only for three days, limit the crowd to only 5,000 at the venue -- or leave for his village, the Maharashtra government, also run by Congress at the helm, seemingly lost its nerve. It told the Centre not to send him back to Ralegaon Siddhi for the state was preparing for local bodies elections and he could queer the pitch.

This too smacks of politics. After helping the party spokesperson Manish Tiwari with a copy of the Sawant panel report on Hazare's trusts, and in the face of the sudden upsurge of support across the country, including Mumbai, the Maharashtra government began to quake in its boots. They just did not want him around.  

Just in case you missed the point, the spinmeisters did not tire pointing out that Hazare's campaign of forcing Parliament to do his bidding ran counter to the norms of parliamentary democracy. They bayed that Parliament was being belittled, its sovereignty undermined.

They'd forgotten from the start that Team Anna had been insisting on what kind of a law they wanted and wanted Parliament to enact such a law. They failed to grasp that the people suspect that Parliament members -- as distinct from Parliament as an institution -- would not countenance any law that curbed corruption.

It was in their interest not to do so because as elected representatives, they had subverted the institution from within by a range of their acts: not discussing, not considering issues but only scoring political points, disrupting proceedings et al. Corruption and elected representatives have become synonymous save a few rare exceptions. People see refusal for decades to have an anti-corruption law was a self-serving ploy to save their self-interests.

It was the lack of faith in the people who constitute Parliament, not Parliament itself. Either this no-brainer was ignored, or it did not register with them. They invoked Parliament's supremacy, which no one has doubted, at least not yet.

Nothing underscores this better than the prime minister's Red Fort speech. He mentioned 'corruption' 16 times, but left it dangling, saying there was no single action by which could curb it. What he failed to say was that the single and most significant need was political will.

That is what Team Anna and rest of the people dislike -- the political will. Had he only said, 'law or no law, no more corruption; there are enough laws to deal with it. They would be unleashed without fear or favour', Hazare need not have attempted his fast a day after that proclamation.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.

Mahesh Vijapurkar