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Now it’s time to say three cheers for Anna

  By Vijay Darda | 05-09-2011

I am tempted to call it the biggest victory for our democracy. But then one should be cautious while using superlatives in the context of history. Yet, I feel confident in asserting that both the Gandhian crusader Anna Hazare and Parliament demonstrated extraordinary courage and understanding to bring a historic celebratory end to an agitation, that at times ran the risk of becoming rather corrosive for the health of our constitutional democracy. The people’s desire as expressed strongly through the agitation has been endorsed, and the sanctity of the constitutional process has not been violated.

This is what we call a win-win solution. Within five months of launching his fast from Jantar Mantar, the 74-year-old former army truck driver who had been hitherto confined to the rural areas of Maharashtra has been transformed into an iconic international figure. When he came to the national capital in April this year, people hardly knew him outside Maharashtra. But such is the power of an idea –in this case the national desire to root out corruption that is surely eating into the vitals of our national body politic –that Hazare is now a celebrity. Expressions like ‘Brand Anna’ and ‘Team Anna’ have become the norm in the public discourse.

The beauty of Hazare’s victory lies in the complete lack of triumphalism in his moment of crowning glory. He was still modest enough to accept that it was just half the battle won, and also pledged to continue the struggle. He shunned all expressions that could have suggested that he was pleased with the idea that his ‘struggle had forced’ the government and Parliament to finally bend to accept his demands.

We are all aware of the severe lack of moral authority in our public life. Ungrudgingly, we must accept that Anna has brought this back. We can all argue till the end of the world, that there are deficiencies in the way he conducted the agitation. Many sincere Gandhians have called it ‘duragraha’ and not ‘satyagraha’. There have been reports about the infiltration of the usual suspects from Nagpur into the campaign, and also reports that it had a presence only in saffron-ruled states. There have also been reports that there were differences in Team Anna, and he was kind of ‘held hostage’ by the Kejriwals and Bedis. I would have been surprised, if such reports had not emerged. In the given situation, these aberrations would surely creep into any such phenomena. Anna may be a political, and he would have no axe to grind, but then there are opportunists galore in our country, and who wants to miss the golden chance to take a dip in the Holy Ganga when it has come into the neighbourhood at the Ramlila Maidan? An expression of support for the Anna movement was seen as a sure sign of your being on the side of those who want to fight corruption. So, this was also an “I am clean” statement by the participants.

But then, this is not the time to get into the veracity or otherwise of such reports. The main element being that there is a strong concern among the people to root out corruption, Anna voiced this popular feeling, and Parliament in one voice assured the nation that it would seriously find a remedy for the problem. In the current political context, it would not be out of place to borrow a cricketing term that the batting is as good as the bowling makes it look. Team Hazare was obviously the batting side, and the politicians were the fielding side. The batting side quite easily capitalised on the dropped catches by the fielding side, and the absence of a seasoned captain in the form of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi was acutely felt. Senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee clearly stepped in to save the situation by his forceful interventions in Parliament and astute backroom strategy meetings that ultimately saw the end of the stand-off.

A fast is admittedly a political weapon. In our national ethos, it has an elevated moral dimension because of its association with Mahatma Gandhi. Without this moral dimension, it remains ineffective. Simply out it turns into starvation, and not a penance for a cause. But then this is a weapon that has to be used sparingly. Its efficacy also depends on the cause for which it is deployed. In this case, the cause, the weapon and the persona all complemented each other and the results are there for all of us to see.

We politicians are a much maligned class. I would not say that this is without reason, but then even the worst critics of politicians would have to accept that this is a lot of exaggerated statement. In this session, from personal experience of participating in the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha, I can assert that cutting across party lines members have expressed their opinions and acted purely in the national interest. The unity of purpose expressed by Parliament in unanimously endorsing the three sticking points that had been the irritants in resolution of the standoff between the government and Anna is symbolic of the constructive power of the consensual constitutional process.

With a lot of justification there is an element of pride for the Marathi manoos in this entire episode. First a little known retired army truck driver from a village in Maharashtra fired the imagination of the nation. Then after virtually every one had failed to break the logjam, another Marathi manoos –this time our former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh –stepped in to bring about an understanding between the two sides. We in Maharashtra have all along been familiar with the skills and talents of Vilasrao, but then it is the first time that Delhi has recognized this reservoir of political drive, energy and administrative capacity. So long, he has been shuttling from one portfolio to another with hardly the time to settle down in any assignment to make a difference. Now this should change, and must become a case of being better late than never.

There are questions floating around about the future course of events. I believe that it is now the time to allow the parliamentary process to run its course. The time for doubting the motives of each other is over, and there is a need to accept that framing a law that is effective, simple and workable can never be a rush job. Every small bit has to be taken into account, and every aspect has to be looked into. This has to be a thorough and exacting process. So, setting deadlines is impractical.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a man of impeccable integrity and once he has taken the initiative to bring all the possible drafts of the Lokpal Bill into the ambit of the parliamentary process, we should all trust that he will be a hard task master, and would not allow a weak anti-corruption institution to come into existence. After all, it is now a question of his personal legacy as well. In this sense, events seem to have intertwined the prime minister’s standing with Anna Hazare’s status. This by itself is a major turning point. So, here is three cheers for Anna.


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