Thursday, 1 September 2011

Battle lines are drawn.

Anna is recuperating; catching his breath and so is the Indian nation. The last couple of weeks have been momentous in the history of independent India. The dust has settled on the historic Ramlila grounds after the tenacious non violent battle between Anna and the government which has resulted in an uneasy ceasefire. There have been various historical places associated with legendary battles in our great country. Kurukshetra in the times of Mahabharata was the scene of an epic battle led by the Lord himself, Panipat had seen three decisive battles in the medieval times, Haldighati had been a witness to the dogged valour of Sisodia King Maharana Pratap and believe me you can go on and on. But all those battles of yesteryears saw some of the most terrible bloodshed but Anna Hazare staged a bloodless victory over the mighty Indian state at the battleground of Ramlila maidan. People are still dissecting the Anna phenomenon but I dare say it would be extremely difficult to put the entire movement in true perspective.

The last fortnight has been full of tumultuous agony and ecstasy. The script changed almost every hour in the last few days of the movement. The media coverage was unprecedented and the tension was visible in almost every household. After the arrest fiasco of Anna Hazare, government allowed him to protest at the Ramlila grounds. In the initial few days the government waited and pretended to ignore Anna Hazare. The crowds at the venue were increasing by the day and protests in support of Anna were taking place all over the country. Anna’s deteriorating health coupled with swelling crowds had the government visible shaken after the first week. With their backs firmly to the wall, the government opened negotiations with team Anna. It was very clear from the negotiations that both sides had to climb down from their stated positions for an amicable settlement. But the government had to bow down and concede much more to Anna Hazare. Team Anna in its approach was clearly more cohesive than the government. The continuous flip-flops from the government indicated a divided house. It was widely believed that the hardliners like Kapil Sibal and P.Chidambaram were totally against any truce with team Anna. The duo had earlier successfully managed to break the protest of Baba Ramdev in a violent night time raid and therefore they believed that same could be done with Anna Hazare. The government’s main problem was that it didn’t want to bow down to the civil society on the question of supremacy of the Parliament in the law making process, since they believed it could set a wrong precedent. The government had to undertake some delicate maneuvering so as to make sure that supremacy of the Parliament in law making was maintained. But the problem was that precious time was wasted by the government initially and in the last couple of days of Anna’s fasting, there was absolute panic in the government ranks. Traces of panic were also visible among the team Anna members as every passing hour was jeopardizing the life of the 74 year old man. Neither the government nor team Anna wanted to face the ignominy of having to shoulder the blame for any untoward incident happening to the health of Anna Hazare. Therefore a compromise was desperately needed and it was widely expected that the Parliament would pass a resolution accepting the three main demands of Anna Hazare, in principle.

The focus now shifted to Parliament. But a day before that Kiran Bedi did her famous “Ghungat Act” on the podium at Ramlila grounds. She mocked the Politicians as having many faces and speaking in many tongues. The act was an instant hit with the people but deep down one could sense the terrible anguish of Kiran Bedi. She had actually witnessed the constant backing out of the government from its commitments given to team Anna and her frustration was totally shared by the people. Veteran actor Om Puri added more fuel to the raging fire by launching a diatribe against the Parliamentarians and he called them “Ganwar” and “Anpadh”. Quite obviously that didn’t go down too well with a section of people and of course the Parliamentarians were absolutely livid. But the brighter side of our Parliamentarians was revealed when the debate on Anna Hazare’s proposals was initiated. Sushma Swaraj opened the debate and quite masterfully put the entire sequence of events in the right perspective. She accused Rahul Gandhi of launching a needless tirade against Anna hazare thus undoing the good work done by the Prime Minister to reach a consensus on the previous day. She even took a dig at the Lok Sabha Speaker for allowing Rahul Gandhi to give a “Sermon” in the Parliament the day before. Most importantly, she skillfully clarified her party’s stance on the demands of Anna Hazare thus clearing the confusing haze surrounding the political class. She managed to strike an amicable chord with the masses and was universally applauded for her speech. Some other speeches were also good thus sending the message that not all Parliamentarians are “Ganwar”. After a couple of more twists in the sordid drama, the Parliament unanimously accepted the three demands of Anna Hazare and the message was conveyed in writing to him. There was jubilation all over the country and finally Anna broke his fast on the 28th.

The movement of Anna Hazare brought out the pent up anger of the masses and the political class was at the receiving end of some rather nasty attacks, which of course they richly deserved. The mishandling of the whole movement by the government clearly indicated that they were almost totally disconnected with the masses. The Ministers seemed to be living in their Ivory Towers from where they were running some sort of a dictatorship. They not only grossly underestimated the public anger but also went to the extent of calling it an international conspiracy against India. Every powerful person in the Congress party ended up with an egg on his face. The PM, who was lauded for his statesman like speech in the Parliament, had initially justified the arrest of Anna Hazare and called his movement a threat to the nation. Thereafter he was saluting the same Anna Hazare. What a climb down! Rahul Gandhi, surrounded by his young cronies, unilaterally intervened in the Parliament with the blessings of an overly generous Speaker Meera Kumar and vouched for a constitutional body to tackle corruption. Afterwards, while talking to reporters, he rather snootily declared that his idea was a "Game Changer", which further enraged the public. P.Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal were universally acclaimed as the villains, who consistently took a hard-line, which was totally incoherent with the prevailing popular sentiment in support of Anna Hazare. Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari had to publicly regret his statements calling Anna Hazare corrupt from head to toe. The government as a whole had to climb down from its dubious argument that the Parliament was supreme and hence it can by pass the people’s will to protect the sanctity of the institutions. The irony was not lost on the people since the sanctity of the same Parliament was routinely violated by the same politicians to achieve their own selfish ends. The middle class took the centre stage on the Indian political scene and it unleashed its hidden powers. The middle class has always been somehow ignored by the politicians since they don’t count very much as a voting block. Middle class generally remains indifferent to political processes and it is revealed in their low voting turn out in elections. Politicians had always known that it is the rural India which makes or breaks the elections.  Politicians financed elections from the rich people, managed the poor voters with that money and totally ignored the urban middle class. This arrangement never politically hurt them and that is what brought a combination of complacency and sheer arrogance. One thing the politicians bitterly realized was that the middle class had the power of media on its side and that the internet can be used to devastating effect against them.

In all fairness, we must not forget that politicians are extremely smart in managing their vote banks. When push comes to a shove, these politicians can switch tracks quite swiftly. They always try not to be on the wrong side of the popular public mood which was generously visible in the way they climbed down. Good politicians will try to bring necessary reforms in the system and more devious among them will device newer ways to manipulate the same system. The battle as Anna Hazare himself said is only half won. The Lok Pal bill is no where near the stage of becoming a law. The politicians can still play dirty tricks but in all likelihood it will be difficult under constant public scrutiny. Anna Hazare is already talking about new challenges ahead. Electoral reforms, including transparency in electoral funding, right to recall, the right to reject and barring criminals from entering the Parliament are on the agenda. Believe me; all the three points would require another movement since it is a direct challenge to the “Kursi” of our politicians. A strong public opinion has to be gradually developed to put pressure on the politicians to undertake electoral funding and electoral decriminalization reforms before the 2014 general elections. A long and turbulent journey lies ahead but with Anna Hazare on our side, “We the People” shall win our right to live in a more transparent and corruption free India.

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