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Why all-party meet on Lokpal is crucial for Congress and UPA

August 24, 2011 13:12 IST

The government may finally take a decision on the withdrawal of the Lokpal Bill depending on the general mood of the all-party meeting, says Sheela Bhatt

Sources in the government have claimed that if most political leaders are in favour of withdrawing the government's Lokpal Bill -- at the all-party meeting scheduled to be held on Wednesday afternoon -- the government may agree to withdraw it.

The all-party meet will be held on Wednesday at 3.30 pm at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's official residence at 7, Race Course road. According to top Congress leaders inside and outside the government, "The issue is a complex one. It's far from over. No government can do anything that will showcase India as a banana republic!"
The United Progressive Alliance government is trying to pass the buck to the all-party meet which will be held later in the day. Opposition parties are likely to give a patient hearing to the opening speech by Dr Singh at the event. Although the government is trying hard to paint the ongoing tussle between Anna Hazare and his supporters against the government as a battle between Hazare versus Parliament, main Opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party is unlikely to play along with that.
As of this moment (1.30 pm), the government is in no mood to relent beyond a point. The UPA government, particularly Dr Singh, is standing strong against "surrendering" the rights of Parliament and the structure of "Parliamentary democracy". 

Unless all the political parties take a unanimous decision to "withdraw the Lokpal Bill", the government or the Congress are unlikely to agree to do so on their own.

Dr Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, sources claim, are both on the same page; they will not allow the "subversion of the democratic system or Parliamentary system" by agreeing to the demands of Team Anna to withdraw the Lokpal Bill and instead introduce Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament.
A source in the government, privy to the talks held on Tuesday between Team Anna and Mukherjee, said, "More than Hazare's demands and the nitty-gritty of the bills, the process now has become more important. The big thing is the process to be adopted by the government inside Parliament."
A Congress leader and party office-bearer said, "Mukherjee is more of a hard-liner than Dr Singh on the issue of Anna Hazare's fast."
The Congress has been arguing covertly that Hazare's team can't claim that they have the "support of entire India." They claim that Dalits and Muslims have not shown an overwhelming support for Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill.

Secondly, the agitations, protests and street shows have been visible mainly in certain states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab. Karnataka also witnessed some protests against the UPA but those, claim Congress leaders, were organised by groups linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They also contend that compared to last Sunday and Monday, which were holidays, fewer people are going to Ramlila Ground in Delhi to express their support for Hazare.

Most senior Congress leaders view Hazare's fast as "dictatorial". They believe that wherever non-government organisations were powerful, demonstrations were held against the government's Lokpal Bill.
But party leaders have accepted that Hazare enjoys significant support and they acknowledged the euphoria around his protest fast. He has been able to dent the standing of the government through the media, but if the government agrees to the conditions dictated by Team Anna, it will result in a long-term loss to the government and the established system of the country.

"Anna Hazare has got such support only because at every step ordinary people have to pay out a Rs 500 note. How long can they tolerate this?" said a senior leader of the Congress. But he added that even to address people's issues, no government can allow the subversion of a legitimate democratic process.
A senior minister told, "You want us to accept the demands of Anna Hazare only because Annaji has been able to draw the crowds. Is crowd-pulling capacity the only criterion? Don't you remember that there was huge support for the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya? The so-called crowd pulled the Babri mosque down. Each government has certain functions to perform. Mob psychology can't run the government."

He added, "The crowd which is supporting Anna should imagine a situation where poor Muslims decide go on a fast-unto-death at Qutub Minar to press for reservations or some Dalits, who have suffered atrocities, go on a fast at the Taj Mahal to demand special status. Should the government accept their demands too?"
He said, "The government's argument is -- let us first decide how you want democracy to function. Is it by a show of strength on the streets?"
But the confidence of the government might be shaken if the peace at Ramlila Maidan gets challenged. Also, the government is aware that Team Anna is politically savvy and it has successfully checkmated senior ministers who were handling the issue.

When Hazare was arrested, Home Minister P Chidambram, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and others who were handling the issue had assumed that he will rush to court and seek bail. Instead, Hazare preferred to go to Tihar Jail and turned the tables against the government to create history.
Since Team Anna is a formidable force and the government is unwilling to "surrender the processes of Parliamentary democracy", the all-party meeting is crucial in the government's scheme of things.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi