Saturday, June 25, 2011

HEADING TOWARDS A RISKY CONFRONTATION

B.RAMAN
The country is being inexorably pushed towards a confrontation of unpredictable consequences as a result of the seeming reluctance of the Prime Minister to assert his authority and steer the country out of a messy situation in which it finds itself. This situation is characterised by a widening divide between the Government and large sections of public opinion on the issue of setting up a permanent and independent investigating and prosecuting machinery to be called Jan Lok Pal to deal with corruption.


2.The movement for setting up an independent and powerful Jan Lok Pal can no longer be dismissed as purely a movement spearheaded by a politically conscious and manipulative elite claiming to represent the so-called civil society. Growing sections of the people identify themselves with the objectives of the movement as a result of Anna Hazare, an anti-corruption activist with no political ambitions till now, assuming its leadership.


3. His fast and the surprising public response to it made the Government realise belatedly that it can no longer drag its feet on the demand for setting up such a machinery as successive Governments have been doing for nearly 50 years. A government rattled by the extent of the public response to the fast swung from one extreme of inaction to the other extreme of a series of ill-advised actions as a result of which the moral authority to steer the anti-corruption movement has slipped from the hands of the Government into the hands of some civil society activists headed by Anna Hazare.


4. The Government let itself be stampeded by the increasing public anger on the issue of corruption into recognising the questionable credentials of Anna Hazare and his close advisers as representatives of the civil society as a whole. They did not represent the civil society. They represented strong segments of non-governmental opinion which demanded immediate action on the Lok Pal issue.


5. There are many dimensions to the movement for the creation of a powerful and independent Jan Lok Pal such as the procedure for its constitution, its powers to investigate and prosecute the corrupt and its jurisdiction. Civil society in any democracy is not monolithic. Nor is the world of non-governmental opinion. There is always a plurality of centres of non-governmental initiatives, leadership and ideas.


6. A confused Government reacted to the growing public support to the movement headed by Anna Hazare in a manner that made the civil society appear to be monolithic and conferred on Anna and his small circle of advisers the right to speak exclusively on behalf of the entire non-Governmental society. The existence of a plurality of centres of opinion was lost sight of in the panic response to the growing public support for Anna’s fast. This plurality of centres existed not only in the non-governmental segment having no formal role in policy-formulation, but also in that segment, which was not governmental, but had a role in policy formulation in the form of different political parties and their elected representatives in the Parliament and the State legislatures.


7. As a result, the exercise to give shape and structure to the Jan Lok Pal mechanism came to be restricted to the Government or the State on the one side and an articulate, but over-projected segment of non- Governmental opinion which sought to reduce the exercise to one of forcing the Government to accept its point of view as representing that of non-Governmental India as a whole.


8. When the Government realised the inadvisability of such as exercise, its valid reservations on the manner in which Anna Hazare and his advisers were seeking to monopolise the national debate though they had no national following were sought to be misrepresented by Anna and his advisers as reflecting the Government’s unwillingness to create a powerful and independent machinery. Differences on important individual issues such as whether the proposed Lok Pal should have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the Prime Minister and members of the judiciary too have been sought to be misrepresented as additional arguments reflecting the Government’s opposition to the creation of a Lok Pal.


9.Non-governmental bodies act as advisers on policy-making. It ought to be left to the Government to decide which advice will be followed and which will be rejected. The Government has the right to reject or modify for valid and cogent reasons. It is so in all democracies.


10.Since independence, we have had dozens of non-Governmental groups----some permanent, some temporary--- which had advised various Governments on what policies should be followed. The Government did not always accept all their advice, even if it was given unanimously.


11. For the first time in our history, we have created a non-Governmental group which is trying to dictate policy to the Government. When any of its advice is rejected, it is threatening to take the issue again to the streets in order to force the Government to accept it. Anna Hazare has put the Government on notice that he would go on fast again from August 15 if a solution satisfactory to his group is not found.


12.No Government worth its salt can let itself be dictated by a segment of non-Governmental opinion. The Government has to reject firmly, but politely the pretensions of Anna and his team to be the custodian of the morals of our society as a whole. They have to have an important role in policy-formulation on anti-corruption issues, but as advisers with a restricted mandate and not as non-governmental dictators with a self-assumed, unrestricted mandate.


13. The Government has done well to initiate an exercise for consultations with the other political parties to reach a national consensus. It is incumbent on the other political polities to respond positively to the Government’s initiative. Any attempt to take advantage of the Government’s self-created difficulties will be short-sighted and could weaken democracy in the long-term.


14. Even while initiating this exercise, the Government should not burn its bridges with the Hazare team. It should try to give the new exercise a larger format by bringing in other non-governmental segments while not diluting the primacy of the Anna Hazare group. It should play the role of the first among equals, but not as the sole arbiter of the national debate on the Lok Pal issue.


15. The unfortunate rhetoric emanating from individual Ministers of the Government as well as from individual leaders of the Congress (I) should be lowered in order not to add to the heat and bitterness of the debate. There is a need for deft handling and political delicatesse which could come only from the Prime Minister and from no one else. It is time for him to take the debate to the people through the media as well as through direct interactions with the people during tours across the country.


16. If these steps are not taken, there could be a danger of the debate getting out of hand and leading to unpredictable consequences.


17.The dithering has to end---NOW.( 26-6-11)


( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com . Twitter:@SORBONNE75 )

9 comments:

shaan said...

All these problems are because the government has consistently refused to give the opposition the space it deserves in a democracy.

ambi said...

sanity demands that, digvijay singh n kapil sibbal are removed from party membership, this government says sorry n resigns n elections are taken. or else there will be confrontation. nothing can stop this from happening now.

alas that wont be happening. as in the movie V for vendetta "sutler knows only one way to handle the situation (through brutal force), and that will be his biggest mistake. It ll start a chain reaction."

Esoteric said...

This is hypocrisy.Why is NAC a legitimate institution to 'dictate' to the Govt but a movement of a section of society not?

If you dont like Anna's fast,just do as you did to Ramdev.Its a choice the Govt has.

It cannot have its cake and eat it too.It will 'show' everyone that Govt considered Anna's views and do as it wishes.It has the 'power' to do so,let them go ahead; what they cannot 'demand' is that even if Govt hoodwinks everyone into bringing a weak bill people shouldnt protest.

In other words,what you've proposed is anti-democratic.There are many democratic options with the Govt..1)Let Anna protest and pass a bill of their choice. To manage the post Aug 16 scenario they could a) Arrest the protestors b) Let them fast to death c) Do a Ramdev..a variation of a)..2) Agree to all Anna's demands.

Why do you want to stifle the voice of India?

Raj said...

Good article!

I would like to add the following:

1) Role of media - Media has played a very mediocre role in the whole Lokpal story (as has been the case in almost every issue in last several years). Where are well researched documentaries where scholarly presentations of all the issues involved with the Lokpal Bill are done, with interviews of constitutional and legal experts? CNN in the USA would have come up with such a special documentary done by a prominent media personnel at quite an early stage. And, in my personal opinion, english language media's bias toward Congress is utterly obvious to everybody. The opposition (BJP specifically) always gets a negative coverage - less negative if it does something really good, more negative if it does something not so good. Also, media personnels hardly ever ask tough questions to the government/ruling party spokespersons.

2)The opposition in India, given the circumstances (especially unfriendly media), is very good and has played a decent role on the issues of Lokpal/corruption. It is not at all bad as it has been made out to be by some 'neutral' observers in media. Most importantly, having at least 2 well functioning political parties is in everybody's interest ( regardless whether one supports Congress or BJP). What worries me most is that there is only one good political party in India, and in the long run that's not good for India.

Paresh said...

The UPA Govt. mishandled, disrespected and denigrated the Civil Society members, in the process disrespecting one billion Indians. They have completely disregarded the sentiments of the Indian public. It is similar to the Communist Govt. of China playing for time by making sham negotiations with the Dalai Lama to evade public outcry before the Beijing Olympics. On top of that the monster Digvijay Singh (followed by other Congress 'chamchas') are already planning to topple MMS in favor of Yuvraj Rahul Gandhi, who has not made a single comment about any of the major issues facing India today, but rather sought to pass rumours and false stories about atrocities against farmers in UP!

kl said...

There is no dearth of armchair analysts in our country who are jealous about Anna Hazare. Team Anna is representing the mood of the nation. The govt that does not sense this mood is going to be doomed. The corrupt Politicians and the beaurocrats protected by flawed constitution which is without proper checks and balances have fleeced this nation. We are in extraordinary circumstances and it demands extraordinary measures. In the process if the so called democracy as defined by our great constitution gets undermined, so be it. The Constitution, the so called elected government & the so called democracy if do not protect & serve the interests of the people, be damned.

Sarang said...

@Kl

I would not necessarily become so negative. Every Constitution is flawed at some point or the other. That is why countries have a parliament which debates new laws, which is in effect, a change in their constitution. India has flourished for 62 years only because of its beautiful Constitution. Ofcourse with time, it has to be updated and that is normal.

Indian democracy is mostly good, but the goodness does not make sellable news and hence is never reported. Whatever is bad always finds front-page in the newspapers. Shunning our democracy and constitution will only drop us from the boiling pot into the fire.

We need to improve the system from within. An opportunity was offerred by the present events surrounding LokPal, but the UPA Govt. in their arrogance, wasted this opportunity. Now the people of India should teach them a lesson in the next elections.

One may argue that all political parties are selfish and hence elections make no difference. To this I would say that it is possible for good minded people to get together and form an entirely new political party for the betterment of the people and citizens of India can then elect this party to power.

What do you think?

Ravi Kanth Akkinepalli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ravi Kanth Akkinepalli said...

The government has no interest in real democracy. IF Democracy means protecting politicians who loot my national wealth then we DONT need democracy.

Anna and Team are representing aspirations of millions of honest Indians. Why should there be any limitations to the Jan Lokpal Bill ?

If the Govt tries to stifle Anna and team from leading this movement, it will trigger a new Revolution which will decimate the corrupt political class

Jai Hind