It is quite apparent that the gulf between the government and Team Anna on the Lokpal Bill is unlikely to be bridged. Whatever amendments the government may move, the final result will be considered inferior by the man from Ralegan Siddhi and his followers. This is not a wholly unanticipated development.
On Tuesday, the lines of division in Parliament were clear. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other opposition parties have termed the Bill as a product of haste and have recommended amendments. There are those who contend the proposed legislation is weak (primarily due to the Central Bureau of Investigation being kept out of the Lokpal’s administrative control) and there are others who argue it is too strong. These issues, which deserve careful consideration, do not carry any weight for Anna Hazare and his team.
A great deal of the current mess has its roots in how the two sides—Hazare and the government—have read each other’s actions. In a dynamic and changing situation any group of adversaries evaluates each other’s actions and then makes countermoves. On the one hand, the government did not think through the issues carefully; for a large part it was reacting to the demands of Hazare and his followers. This was a part of the problem. On the other hand, the government’s weaknesses have been exploited by Team Anna adroitly. By every passing day, their ambitions grow by leaps and bounds. No longer is the Lokpal Bill their sole cause—as it was initially. Today, they have much bigger ambitions. There has been wild talk of “direct democracy”, the power to recall representatives and so on. Unless the situation is arrested now, it has the potential to acquire anarchic proportions at a later date. This will only weaken the institutional foundations of the country.
In any case, this is no longer a civil society initiative; that label was lost after Arvind Kejriwal and others campaigned in the Hisar by-election (held in October). Today, Hazare said he would campaign against “the government” in the assembly elections ahead. This is clearly political behaviour and needs to be countered politically.
The novelty of the situation lies in the fact that this is a new kind of politics. It is not a traditional contest between two political parties. Instead, the Hazare group is a collection of urban professionals who have political ambitions, but do not have the will to enter traditional politics. Much like their urban supporters, they have a certain distaste for “dirty politics”, the contemptuous euphemism reserved for mass politics this country has known since the Swadeshi movement in 1906. The challenge before this government is to craft a strategy to counter this type of politics.
Anna Hazare: politician or civil society activist? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org