For the past few days, the 74-year-old fasting captain of the Jan Lokpal team has been criticised severely by one leading intellectual after another. By now everyone knows the central arguments. That his fast tantamounts to blackmail, his disrespect for the parliamentary process amounts to subversion of democracy, and so forth.
In return, Anna's team has as expectedly argued in a way that resonates with the angry movement they helped create. The nation's Parliament and its standing committees that did little for over 40 years suddenly do not merit the right to invoke the hallowed ground of due process. A government that placed a weak bill into Parliament could not be trusted. India Against Corruption has instead become a movement where Anna has led lakhs of people on the streets of our cities who are demanding change now. The spectre of waiting for another three months of procedure-induced debate amidst half-credible MPs does not appeal to the Hazare camp. The risk of a diluted bill being put to vote in Parliament was too high to take.
In the Twitter and Facebook world, a growing sphere of young intellectuals has thus already started mocking Anna.
In the meantime, here's the flak the government got. The harshest words used against them on national television were Chetan Bhagat's. He was blunt and called the UPA stupid. The rest of the flak has merely been focused on the 'bungling' of the arrest of Anna last Tuesday. The government was found fault with over and over again over how it played into the Gandhian's hands by arresting him.
That's all? Is it just 'bungling'?
The real villain in this drama if you are looking for one is Manmohan Singh and his team of canny ministers. First they called for a joint committee. Even before that, it appears the wily Kapil Sibal and his team had clearly decided that if the Govt-Anna committee did not converge on a consensus bill, the cabinet would anyway send its own bill to Parliament. Thus they set it up to make a mockery of the committee. Why form a joint committee if two bills or more were going to be possible?
At the very least, when talks broke down in May-June, the government should have stopped short of going ahead with sending its bill to Parliament. It should have called an all party meeting, publicly, to the discuss the divergent issues in the glare of the media. It would have given a chance for every party to put their stake on the table. Every thing from corruption in election funding to large contracts to scams from the abuse of power could have been analysed.
Ironically, forced on the defensive, Manmohan Singh asked for a national consensus on Lokpal just on Sunday, August 21st. Yet, his team made no attempt to generate a consensus earlier. Pranab Mukherjee's sending letters to chief ministers of the states and others is at best an excuse of an political engagement. Letters alone don't count for much.
Second, the NCPRI draft had been public for several weeks. Nothing prevented the government from responding to Aruna Roy's request to table those views into the Anna-Govt discussion. It's a separate matter that NCPRI and Hazare's team had already diverged in their views in March, as Roy now says. Still, nothing prevented the government from using inputs from the NCPRI bill.
Third, if Manmohan Singh and his team have so much faith in the ultimate wisdom of the standing committee and Parliament, why could not they not have sent a more powerful bill (taking cues perhaps from the Jan Lokpal bill and the NCPRI bill) to the body? Why this effort to keep the CBI's anti-corruption wing under the government instead of Lokpal? Why the need to treat whistleblowers as if they might be culprits too? (Some will argue that it is a government filled with culprits that thinks this way).
In fact, sending a harder bill to Parliament would have forced objections from the unwilling lot out into the open -- across all parties. It is much easier to force debate on clauses that create fear than expect our parliamentarians to demand those very clauses in a debate over a weak bill.
Yet, the government's bill went to Parliament almost as if the government was merely going through the motions. What kind of government does this unless it was not serious about fighting corruption? The truth is that for decades now, few politicians have themselves respected what parliament is for.
The public gets this.
The government's response to anti-corruption was typical: it was the politics of betrayal at the highest level. One force is corrupt and it underestimates the other. It is this betrayal, if you will, that brings out a reaction in Hazare that few appear to understand even today. Weeks of television coverage and reams of print are not helping.
Hazare, for his part, knows only too well that Aruna Roy's argument is true that the RTI Bill was modified a 153 times in the standing committee. But the RTI Bill was not going to send crooked politicians and bureaucrats to jail. Worse it was never going to threaten an entire system of fund-raising that politicians and would-be politicians have been using for years to run their electoral races. The RTI Act is really a necessary and powerful starting point for forcing our public books open. With an independent Lokpal on the other hand, if you are guilty, you're likely to land up in jail in two years. It is over.
Hazare could wait to see through the parliamentary process. He chose not to. This is his direct response to the immediate dynamic of betrayal. It starts with refusing to accept the lofty arguments of the corrupt force you are fighting. That forces a deadlock, which is what the Hazare team always wanted with public support to bring the government back to the mat.
In principle, Hazare and his equally motivated team are being outright disrespectful of due process in Parliament, by insisting on a bill with on a deadline that seems artificial to any thinking Indian. Let there be no doubt about this.
Still, what most people do not understand is that this is the Gandhian's response to betrayal. Hazare's civil disrespect of Parliament is very likely going to be seen by historians years later as another avatar of civil disobedience against corrupt governments that step for step did not match sincerity with sincerity.
The nation is thus in an extraordinary situation, with no easy way out for the government. If the UPA cabinet was really sincere, its experienced and wily ministers including Singh himself ought to have anticipated that a problem as deep rooted as this could not be tackled in the way they did. Instead they stand exposed today, once again. Sincerity, my foot. So if you want to beat up Hazare for his stubbornness, go right ahead. But before that, start with the Union Cabinet.