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Unsure government finds itself cornered once again

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS,

There are several factors behind the Manmohan Singh government’s predicament. One is that the government has seemingly lost its nerve because its reputation is at its lowest ebb. Hence it appears to be bowing and scraping before civil society. Its nervousness is related to the curious indulgence shown earlier towards the dubious deals of politicians belonging to its ally, the DMK.

It is noteworthy that this particular saga hasn’t ended with the incarceration of Andimuthu Raja, former telecom minister, and Kanimozhi, MP, because the activities of another DMK minister, Dayanidhi Maran, are in the spotlight.

The government’s leniency towards Raja and company was known to have been motivated by the short-sighted tactic of keeping the DMK in good humour so that it wouldn’t withdraw support. After the scare which the government received when the Communists withdrew their support, it clearly did not want to take a similar risk.

However, the government failed to anticipate the price it would have to pay for turning a blind eye to the allegations of malfeasance. The explanation for this myopia was the confidence bred by the Congress’ two successive general election victories and the declining fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left.

However, the vacuum in the opposition arena evidently blindsided the government to the possibility of non-political elements filling the breach.

The government’s obliviousness to this aspect of the political scene is understandable. There haven’t been too many instances of private individuals posing a challenge to established authority. Probably the last such attempt was by Jayaprakash Narayan prior to the emergency rule of 1975-77 by then prime minister Indira Gandhi. But notwithstanding J.P.’s preference for partyless democracy, he was, after all, a well known political figure. This cannot be said of either Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev.

There is another feature of the scene which the government and the Congress do not seem to have taken into account. It is the huge growth in numbers, assertiveness and visibility (because of television) of the middle class with its means of instant communication such as e-mail, sms, Twitter, Facebook, and so on.

None of these innovative methods of mobilisation were there earlier. Nor was the judiciary as active as now unlike in J.P.’s time when the Supreme Court upheld the emergency only to apologise for this flawed stand recently.

It is factors like these which have cornered the government. But it might still have been able to put up a determined fight if it had not been so casual over the question of corruption. Not only did it fail to act in time against Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, the former Commonwealth Games chief, and others, it was seemingly pushed into doing so by the Supreme Court.

It is this show of incompetence or worse which has given the chance to Hazare, Ramdev and company to hog the limelight. But the problem with the entry of these apolitical elements into what is essentially a political and legislative field is the possibility of the situation becoming more messy.

For a start, the presence of diverse opinions in the two groups is a recipe for confusion and acrimony. Hazare, for instance, does not believe in elections since he considers the voters ‘bikaau’ or purchasable. Besides, he has people like Swami Agnivesh with him who does not believe in representative democracy at all. Ramdev, on the other hand, focusses not only on bringing black money home from abroad, but in giving Hindi and regional languages a status equal to English at the higher educational level.

In addition, their method of compelling the government to act is to threaten to go on a fast-unto-death, which means resorting to moral blackmail. This coercive ploy might have been unavoidable in Gandhi’s time because the country did not have a representative government. But it is a tactic which can lead to prolonged disturbances as the Telangana issue shows.

Since neither Hazare nor Ramdev head a structured organization and are dependent on popular fervour to carry on their movements, the possibility of internal bickering in their ranks is high, not least because they are not guided by any formal ideology. Nor is it clear how long the popular support for them will last if no tangible progress is made soon enough.

Already differences have cropped up between the government and civil society representatives on the Lokpal bill while Digvijay Singh has apparently been fielded by the Congress to trash Ramdev’s claims to be a sanyasi since the yoga guru runs a flourishing business in yogic exercises and medicine.

While the government’s guilt complex on corruption makes it susceptible to the civil society’s pressure, the latter is unsure about its own sustaining power and the government’s sincerity. The prospects of a prolonged logjam – and the situation even taking unpredictable turns – are high.

(04-06-2011-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at ([email protected])