India seems to have decided that 2011 was the 'Year of the Scam'. How about 2012?
It could be the 'Year of the Street, the Court, and the Polling Booth.'
That is a messy title; it is going to be a messy year ahead. But let us look at each element in turn.
The 'Street' will, probably, belong to Anna Hazare, and to such elements of 'civil society' as choose to follow his lead.
I believe that we will see at least one more round of agitation over the Lokpal Bill for the simple reason that the Manmohan Singh ministry does not truly want a Lokpal on the lines suggested by the Gandhian veteran.
Truth be told, watching Anna Hazare sit on a fast I feel like I am watching a film that I have seen more than once. The script does not change, nor do the actors.
In the first act, Anna Hazare puts forward a list of demands. In the second act, the government goes through the 'good cop, bad cop' routine; Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee speaks soothingly of 'wide consultations' while someone else -- generally HRD Minister Kapil Sibal -- rubbishes the demands.
In Act III the government capitulates.
The next act begins when the government tries to retrieve lost ground by spreading tales about Anna Hazare and his group. And this leads us right back to where we started.
At the moment of writing, the debate has not run its course in Parliament. But I am reasonably certain that the final legislation that emerges shall be deemed unsatisfactory by enough people that the Lokpal agitation shall continue.
Let us now move from the clamour of the streets to the quiet of the courtroom.
On December 17, the redoubtable Dr Subramanian Swamy testified as a witness against P Chidambaram in connection with the 2G case. He was seeking to prove that Chidambaram, who was the Union finance minister when the scam took place, played an active part in the mess and should be summoned as one of the accused.
Dr Swamy commented: 'The judge said if on the four documents you give a certified copy, then it is possible that you may not need any witnesses, in which case we can go straight to trial, if necessary. Therefore, by the seventh, I'll have given those certified documents and then I will move a prayer under section 319 CrPC, that Mr Chidambaram be summoned to the court as an accused.'
In other words, the home minister of India could be in a whole lot of trouble starting with the very first week of the new year. We shall know one way or the other on January 7 (the date set for the next hearing in the case).
What happens if the judge should accept Dr Swamy's arguments? Can P Chidambaram continue as home minister if he is an 'accused' in a scam? Leave aside the morality of it, will he be able to function in his highly sensitive post if he is distracted by legal battles?
P Chidambaram may find little support from his own party because a. he is not terribly popular, and b. there are a lot of Congressmen who would like to sit in Sardar Patel's chair.
Whatever happens on January 7 it will be open to both sides to appeal the decision. And long before the case runs its course we will, once again, be in full election mode.
The Election Commission has set the wheels in motion for Vidhan Sabha polls in Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.
Manipur goes to the polling station as early as January 28; Punjab and Uttarakhand get to vote on January 30; giant Uttar Pradesh has a seven-phase pattern on February 4, 8, 11, 15, 19, 23, and 28; Goa writes a brief coda to the proceedings on March 3.
The Vidhan Sabha polls are, of course, a test for Chief Minister Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, but they are equally a judgment on the political and organisational skills of two young guns -- Akhilesh Yadav, son and heir apparent of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Congress 'Yuvraj'.
It is a little unfair actually but the glare of the spotlight will fall more on Rahul Gandhi, simply because the Congress insists on treating him as its future leader (definitely) and on touting him as a future prime minister of India (possible).
Like it or not, either the victory or the failure of the Congress will be placed squarely at Rahul Gandhi's door.
The results of the 2009 Lok Sabha election surprised us all as far as Uttar Pradesh was concerned. Of the 80 seats Lok Sabha in the state, the Samajwadi Party won 23 and the Bahujan Samaj Party bagged 20, but it was the Congress performance -- 21 seats -- that was amazing. (The Bharatiya Janata Party, Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, and an Independent made up the rest.)
Can the Congress continue its seeming revival in the state, or was it just a flash in the pan performance?
Forecasting results before a single vote is cast is a fool's game, but at this stage I believe the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party are the two parties to beat. First, local issues loom larger in an assembly election. Second, the impact of the various scams is only now being felt.
The real question, given that the current trend continues, is how the Congress shall be placed. Will it be a podium finish as in 2009? Or will the Congress finish with fewer seats than even the BJP?
There is some talk of the Congress coming fifth -- behind Ajit Singh's RLD, currently allied with the Congress -- but that is an incredibly long shot.
(These won't be the only polls to matter in 2012, with Gujarat electing an assembly late in the year. In fact, there will be elections deciding the fate of other major nations too, with the United States, Russia, and France holding presidential polls, and the Chinese performing their usual secretive manoeuvres for a change of leadership in 2012.)
But Uttar Pradesh will also prove to be the acid test for another group, the 'civil society' activists around Anna Hazare, who have vowed to campaign in the assembly polls. (This has drawn the scrutiny of the Election Commission.) Which brings us right back where we began -- the street.
May 2012 prove happier -- or less miserable anyway! -- than 2011.