1 lakh people came together for Lokpal? Think again

by Ritwik on December 29, 2011

As the government heaves a sigh of relief and the media makes merry over the sparse crowds seen at Anna Hazare’s latest fast, let us try and go beyond the obvious and look at the Lokpal tangle with a little more clarity.

I have been struck by the complete absence from recent commentary of the reasons for the public support enjoyed by India Against Corruption in August. The huge crowds that were seen at  Ramlila Maidan at that time had not assembled just to protest corruption  and to demand an anti-corruption ombudsman.

Let us not forget that the central government and its agencies had clamped a set of unfair restrictions on the right to assembly and peaceful protest. These included bizarre mandates such as a limit on the number of cars and two-wheelers which could be parked at the protest venue, apart from seeking to limit the number of protesters, as if protests happen by invitation and rsvp.

Following the midnight crackdown on the followers of Ramdev, the government’s high-handed attitude which saw the preventive arrest of Anna Hazare led to great public consternation and resentment. The crowds that gathered in Ramlila Maidan were asserting their right to protest far more than they were uniting against corruption. This is not new. The Indian public has a long history of punishing those who seek to usurp democracy. Even a leader of Indira Gandhi’s stature lost her own Lok Sabha seat due to the excesses of the emergency.

However, this painfully obvious fact was ignored by the much vaunted strategists of ‘Team Anna’ who allowed themselves to believe that the vast crowds were a result of the topicality of Lokpal and Anna Hazare’s magnetism, not to speak of their own skillful organization.

After defusing the crisis in August by passing a meaningless ‘Sense of the House’ resolution the Government  got time to retrace its steps and put its house in order. Having burnt its fingers, the Government learned its lesson from the Anna arrest fiasco and got cracking on taking the wind out of the Lokpal sail through legislative jugglery and good old political drama. The Congress party is a past master at political maneuvering and this is once again in evidence given the sort of Lokpal Bill they have introduced in parliament. Importantly, they did not try and prevent Anna or his team from protesting. By allowing people to protest freely, the Government removed the major cause of people’s anger in August.

The final Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011 introduced by the Government in parliament exhibits the following features –

– It successfully divides the opposition by introducing provision of reservation for minority communities in the proposed Lokpal. Reservations have become a holy cow of Indian politics, with no party daring to bell the cat on this score. The BJP has found itself in all kinds of difficulty by opposing reservation for minorities. Most other parties have to preserve and trumpet their “secular credentials” and hence cannot oppose minority reservation. Thus the government has successfully driven a wedge between the BJP and its NDA partners.

– The bill militates against the federal structure of the Union by mandating each state to have a Lokayukta on the lines of the central Lokpal, thereby taking away the autonomy of states to make their own laws. This is especially piquant as several states like Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Delhi already have Lokayuktas in place through state-level legislation. As such it may be difficult even for UPA partners like Trinamool Congress to pass such a bill. The government wouldn’t be too upset with this scenario – I think the best case scenario for the government [and also for the country] would be if the Lokpal goes into permanent cold storage due to the lack of political consensus.

– The Lokpal as proposed will be little more than yet another body in the vast maze of commissions that already exist in this country. It will make no real difference as far as reducing corruption and penalizing the corrupt goes.  The system will continue to work in the ‘show me the man and I’ll show you the rule’ style that we are are all accustomed to. A few more retired bureaucrats and other eminent citizen types shall gain the benefits of lal-batti etc.

However this does not mean that Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill should be adopted. That is a remedy worse than the cure. The Jan lokpal bill envisages the creation of a super authority which would not be accountable to the people or their elected representatives. That is a recipe for fascism. As has been said, “the way to hell is paved with good intentions” and unfortunately the Jan Lokpal bill is a prime example.

The government has played its cards in a very canny manner. If the Lokpal bill is passed, we will  see a toothless and largely decorative body which will make much noise but business shall go on as usual – somewhat like the minorities, human rights and sundry noise-making but ultimately toothless commissions that we’ve legislated into existence in the last three decades. At the same time, the Congress party and UPA government would be able to claim that they have worked towards tackling corruption.

If, on the other hand, the Lokpal bill is not passed due to a lack of political consensus, the government can palm off blame to the opposition and lose nothing in the process, as nobody in the political class wants any kind of Lokpal in the first place.

3 comments

I am a little late but bang on. We’ve discussed the contents but I especially like the style of writing in this one.

by Neelakshi on January 2, 2012 at 11:12 am. #

The kind of protest I saw in Delhi was uncannily RSS-like. All the slogan chanting, effigy burning etc. It’s the kind of high-decibel protests we see in most right-wing movements. Some of the slogan chanting even targeted certain Congress leaders personally :P. The RSS may have infiltrated the movement silently, via its massive cadre strength, thus creating an image of a lot of public support. But I wonder why that didn’t work in Mumbai. Considering that the RSS has a strong support-base in Maharashtra.

by USR on January 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm. #

@Neelakshi – Thanks :)

@USR – The RSS was providing support but not making the bulk of the numbers. Even a very well organized group needs crowds to work with, which were missing in Mumbai for reasons outlined above.

by Ritwik Agrawal on January 2, 2012 at 8:21 pm. #

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