By K.N. Pandita
In her customary address to the nation on the eve of 65th Independence Day, the President seemed to be obsessed by the controversy over the Lokpal Bill. On this issue the civil society and the government are at loggerheads. Though she touched on other aspects of importance as well like terrorism, education, agriculture, economy, inflation etc. but she seemed to be unhappy about the logjam on anti-corruption issue. Thus her main stress was on preserving and promoting the democratic institutions which our constitution has created and the state has preserved. In other words, the President would want to send a message to the civil society that all issues including the all-encompassing Lokpal would be decided by the Parliament alone where it will come up for debate in the shape of a draft bill tabled by the UPA government.
There are no two opinions about the authority and jurisdiction of the Parliament. The civil society is well and adequately represented in the parliament. But the fact remains that it is the Parliament first and foremost that must uphold and respect its independence, dignity and authority. A Parliament degenerating into a fish market, a parliament where personal vendettas are freely traded, where intimidating speeches and insinuations are made, where issues of public concern are trifled away, where scams are sought to be kept under wraps is not a parliament that is committed to holding its prestige. A parliament that is unable to make the government implement the verdict of the Apex Court as well as of the Head of the State to punish the culprits who attacked parliament using brute force with the motive of taking lives of peoples’ representatives does not mean to maintain its prestige and status. Will such a parliament be trusted to protect the democratic institutions? This puts a big question mark on the otherwise very passionate address by the President on the eve of Independence Day.
As the nation was preparing to celebrate 65th year of its Independence, ministers of Indian National Congress (I)-led UPA coalition government unleashed scathing attack on the civil rights activist Anna Hazare and his team. It is government versus civil society. And the government elected by the people of India wants to behave like a ruling oligarchy. Intensification of anti-civil society campaign and even handing out veiled threats to disrupt the proposed fasting rally of Anna Hazare is to tell the Congress chief in absentia that her team of henchmen is more loyal than the king. This is a symptom of the culture of servility that marks our political behaviour. Carrying the discourse on corruption to the fringes of vendetta, the Congress spokesman went on to say, “If someone was suffering from a combination of grandeur and grandstanding, then he needs to be shown his place.” He also accused Hazare of trying to spread unrest. ‘If someone thinks that creating unrest is their birthright, then there has to be political response.’ This type of vengeful discourse is far removed from established norms of statesmanship which a representative government is desired to adhere to. Trading threats and accusations is the culture of oligarchies and not of popular governments. Earlier, the UPA government “politically responded” to Ramdev’s
rally nut country’s Apex Court found it feasible that the government explain its action.
Not feeling confident that intimidation would work to dampen the spirit of Anna & Co, the Congress spokesperson went a step further and interpreted the US’ comment for restraint as reaction to the action of the civil society leadership. The US does not deal with civilian organizations but with the governments. It warned the government not the civil society. And the argument of one senior minister that constitution allows the freedom of protest but not at a “particular place or site and time” is a classical example of understatement. This is strange argument. Did this argument hold well when his party held mass rallies in the past and at present at Ramlila Grounds* or the Jantar Mantar**? Why impose the ban on holding the rally in Jantar Mantar? Did not the rallies of other parties disrupt the traffic and why make a discriminatory decision against the civil society for anti-corruption steps.
As regards bringing accusation of corruption against Anna Hazare, if any formal enquiry had established a misdeed against him, why did not the government prosecute him all these years but let the case collect dust? Why exhume it now and brandish it to denigrate him while he is sitting at the neck of the government to make anti-corruption mechanism foolproof?
However, having said that much in defence of the struggle of civil society, it has to be made clear that in a democratic state things, howsoever crucial to society’s health and integrity, are not done through intimidation, fast unto death or by instilling the mobs with some sort of histrionics (disambmiguation). If Gandhi adopted the fast unto death as the style of his political struggle, we should not forget that he was struggling against a colonial power where the Indian masses were suppressed and repressed endlessly. But Anna Hazare is living in a time when India has a parliament of elected representatives responsible and answerable to the people. He is not fighting a colonial power. Therefore he has to address the Prime Minster or the Congress Chief or other ranked personalities with due courtesy keeping in mind his or her status. It is unacceptable to tell the Prime Minister of India things like “with what face will you unfurl the Tricolour on 15th August at Red Fort”? This brings down the moral status of the civil rights activist. There is much truth that the Lokpal Bill even if not entirely to the satisfaction of Anna and his group, will be debated in the Parliament by peoples’ representatives. Why become jittery about it being pushed by the government?
In final analysis, both sides should stop trading accusations, sarcasms, and insinuation. This is much below their dignity and status. This will show that they are running personal vendetta rather than caring for the interests of the people and the state. Let sanity and restrain prevail on both sides.