New Delhi: The Congress party, by sharpening the rhetoric and stepping up personal attacks against civil rights activists, seems to be obfuscating the larger issue of endemic corruption in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that it leads. The main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also appears to be making similar attacks against its rival.
While a political analyst said that the rhetoric was derailing the system, two others pointed out that the Congress was just trying to survive by retaliating against the attacks against it.
Reacting sharply to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s accusation that Anna Hazare and yoga guru Ramdev, who have been campaigning for an anti-graft Bill, were using “unconstitutional” methods, an activist said the statement betrayed “distorted understanding of democracy and arrogance of power”.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “The greatest threat to democracy is the tyranny of the unelected,” referring to the anti-corruption campaign.
Subrata Mukherjee, a retired professor in the department of political science at Delhi University, said: “Of course, they (both Congress and BJP) are trying to divert attention but this kind of diversionary tactic will not work. Because in politics, this is when the other groups come to fill in. They will have to restore the primacy of Parliament and use it effectively to create the institution to tackle the problem.”
The five members of the civil society in the joint drafting committee for the anti-graft or Lokpal Bill wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking a response on why the government was reluctant to include the prime minister in the ambit of the legislation. Calling it a “retrograde step”, the letter accuses the government of “shrinking the scope of the anti-corruption regime”.
Activist and civil society member on the panel, Arvind Kejriwal, while addressing media persons on Monday, said: “Why is the Prime Minister scared of being under the Lokpal Bill?”
While Hazare had forced the government to accept his demand for a joint committee to draft the Bill, Ramdev, who had been on fast for nine days for legislation to bring back the alleged black money stashed in foreign banks, failed to make the UPA agree to his demand and ended his fast on Sunday.
The anti-corruption campaign by Hazare and his co-activists had generated public interest in the wake of the UPA government being embroiled in multiple scams and controversies.
The BJP, which has openly sided with Ramdev, continued its attack on the Congress.
“Congress stands isolated on the issue of corruption. There is anger brewing and growing against the Congress across the nation... In a stunning revelation, Mukherjee admitted there is an Emergency-like situation today. This vindicates our position that the situation is chaotic,” said BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy. “The Congress party, which is neck-deep in corruption, has no moral right to pose these questions to the civil society activists,” Rudy said.
The BJP has also asked the Prime Minister to make his stand clear on his inclusion in the Lokpal Bill.
Some political analysts took strong exception to the ongoing rhetorical exchanges.
B.G. Verghese, visiting officer of the Delhi-based think tank, Center for Policy Research, called it a “slanging match” which could have been done in a different language. “That is rhetorical. You cannot say that the elected politicians are secondary and that the unelected representatives are not... This whole idea that you can be blackmailed and everyone comparing himself to Gandhi or someone else is completely off the mark.”
Jyotirmaya Sharma, a writer and a political analyst, said all three—the Congress, the BJP and the activists—are wrong. “Anna Hazare and group think that the truth and God are in their side. The Congress has invented corruption, so it can’t purify it. The BJP cannot still bear the fact that it is out of power.”
However, he justified the Congress’ statements. “It is not running an NGO (non-governmental organization) or a creche. What it’s doing is for its survival and to stop being attacked.”
Meanwhile, the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. The government has said that it will produce a draft before 30 June. A meeting of the joint drafting committee was boycotted by rights activist members because they were protesting against police action on Ramdev’s agitation in Delhi last week.
Ruhi Tewari contributed to this story.