Anna’s future may be less rosy than his past

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS,

It is possible that the Congress will finally succeed in outflanking Anna Hazare. It isn’t only the decision to introduce the Lokpal bill which is likely to take the wind out of the latter’s sails, another piece of legislation to tackle corruption at the lower level will send the message that the government is at last serious about purposeful legal measures and not insipid ones, as was the earlier perception.

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True, the Lokpal bill is unlikely to be passed during the winter session, as the civil activists want. The government may even engage in a bit of filibustering to ensure that the debate stretches into 2012. There are enough critics of the measure outside the government, like the Congress’ old friend Lalu Prasad, who can help prolong the discussion on the grounds of a closer look.

Even then, once the consideration of the bill is taken up by parliament, it will be extremely difficult for activists to rev up their campaign. Certainly, there can be no question in this context of a third fast, as promised by Anna. The movement can continue, of course. Even suspicions can be voiced about the dilatory parliamentary tactics. But anything smacking of pressure tactics will be counter-productive. What this means is that the Anna camp has lost its trump card that compelled the government to accept its terms, namely, its version of the bill, by exerting relentless pressure.

Till now, the group has been fairly successful – in fact, more successful than any such movement in the past, including Jayaprakash Narayan’s. The latter’s pro-democracy movement was actually a failure considering that JP himself was jailed along with scores of other top-ranking leaders and the period from June 1975, to March 1977 was largely uneventful. It was only Indira Gandhi’s erroneous reading of the prevailing calm which made her call for elections with disastrous results for the Congress.

Anna’s success, on the other hand, was based, first, on the deep disquiet among the aam admi about the prevailing corruption and, secondly, on the Congress’ initial mishandling of protests, mainly because it seemed to have no idea about how the many scams have undermined its position. But now the wheel has apparently started turning the other way.

Anna’s problem is that he wants to operate outside the system because he regards it as corrupt to the core. However, in trying to place himself above it – above parliament, in the words of an acolyte – he has been acting in accordance with a certain traditional viewpoint which maintains that the present Westminster system is essentially alien to the Indian ethos. What the adherents of this belief hark back to is a glorious Indian past, where the kings were subservient to the sages.

Hazare apparently fancies himself in that role, which is above and beyond the existing system, not least because it reflects Mahatma Gandhi’s lifestyle and JP’s concept of a partyless democracy. Although his austere image has helped him carry conviction, some of his followers have proved to be his Achilles’ heel. Hence his decision to frame a “constitution” for his group. But it is a dicey path since it carries the whiff of politics, which the Gandhian claims to shun.

Already some of his followers have dropped out because of the movement’s political role during the Hisar parliamentary by-election in which Anna’s men campaigned against the Congress. Now the constitution may be another contentious issue. For instance, how will Anna’s position be defined? Will he be above the movement as well – someone whose word will be law? It has been said that the constitution will have an ethical content in the wake of the allegations about income-tax evasion, the parking of campaign funds, the fudging of travel expenses, a pro-separatist stand in Kashmir, etc., which have been levelled against some of Anna’s followers. But who will be the judge and jury and what will be the punishment?

Evidently, when Anna launched his anti-corruption battle, he did not anticipate that it would become such a big affair, capturing the imagination of the people who were looking for a hero in a dispiriting time and attracting activists from various walks of life. It was all very well when the government was on the retreat. But now the difficulty of sustaining the two basic ingredients of the movement – hype and a lily-white image – have come to the fore.

The government, on its part, can carry on much as before since the focus will be on parliament rather than on it. But Anna will have to ensure that the movement does not flag, that the bill does not go off track and that no other allegations of dubious transactions are made against his followers. Clearly, Anna’s future will be less rosy than his past.

(05-11-2011-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])