OVER the Jan Lokpal and Government issue the general opinion of the media is that the latter has made an ass of itself. Even the pro-government Hindustan Times (August 17) has found it difficult to defend the UPA rule. The paper said that “the government’s ham-handed response has allowed Hazare and Co to get the upper hand” and that Hazare has an audience “eating out of his hand”. The score, the paper noted, is: Team Anna: I, Government: 0. As the paper put it, “it has become all about humble Anna taking on a mighty government” with the government “which should have played this with the finesse of a Zen master” instead opening up “the metaphorical water cannons on Anna and Co.” The paper regretfully noted that the government’s “ham-handed response has allowed Team Anna to get the upper hand” and it has “certainly lost the advantage with its iron fist in an iron glove approach”.
The approach of The Asian Age (August 17) has also been wishy washy. After what has happened, the paper noted, “no proof is needed that Indians are tired of corruption”. The paper said that “it is a commonly held view in this country that there should be no restrictions on peaceful protests”, adding “many among those who are not in step with the social activist’s approach do uphold his right to stage a peaceful public protest”. By way of advice to the government, the paper said: “A democratically elected government, when faced with mass discontent on a given issue is well-advised to take a calculated risk and allow a public gathering even if the numbers threaten to be large”. But who, within the government, finally saw to it that Anna Hazare was released?
According to The Telegraph (August 17) which quoted unnamed ‘sources’, “Rahul was among those who argued against fuelling confrontation with civil society”. “Rahul Ensures Release Order” said a front page heading. The lead story was headlined Headless UPA Chickens Out in DNA (August 17). It fully exposed UPA’s tactics and also its lie that it was the Police who were responsible for the arrest of Anna Hazare giving the impression that the government in Delhi was being run not by the UPA but by the police and a more despicable excuse it would be hard to find.
Actually, according to DNA on the night before Anna Hazare’s planned fast, the UPA’s key managers – Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, I&B Minister Ambika Soni, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal got into a huddle to finalise the strategy, coming to the conclusion that arresting Hazare “would be a better idea this time”. The tragedy is that it hasn’t worked. Worse, it has forced Hazare to say that he won’t quit till Jan Lokpal Bill is passed. What is the Government’s reaction?
In an interview to The Economic Times (August 20) Law Minister Salman Khurshid argues that the Jan Lokpal Bill would turn India into a police state and is “against the federal fabric of our country”. Khurshid says that his government cannot accept “what is being demanded, as the Constitution does not allow it to do so” However, he adds: “We hope to have a robust debate in Parliament and appoint a strong Lokpal. The Standing Committee or Opposition Members, can suggest amendments and these can be debated”. There is no reference to the Jan Lokpal Bill also being discussed and amendments suggested to it. The trouble is that the UPA Government is run by a bunch of arrogant politicians unwilling to compromise. They try to safeguard their own arrogance by saying that the Parliament is supreme and cannot be ignored. Parliament is like a sword, ineffective unless used. It is not the Parliament but the party that has the majority in Parliament that runs the show. What if the party refuses to listen to the public? Does someone like Anna Hazare have any other option but to hold out?
But the best reply to Khurshid is provided in an article in the same paper attributed to “Agencies”. Says the article: “A democratic government only holds legitimacy when it reflects the will of the people and upholds their fundamental rights. All our gut wrenching challenges indicate that we as a country do not have a single legitimate government (emphasis added). While a waiter requires a bachelors degree to work in a decent hotel or restaurant, the Constitution empowers illiterate politicians (the list is endless) who cannot sign their names to make policy decisions”. The trouble is that the name of the game is Arrogance. Messers Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram & Co are models of arrogance such as we have not witnessed for decades. They think they can get away with anything. Nobody knows who is in power in Delhi. Is it Sonia Gandhi? Is it Dr Manmohan Singh? Was it really Rahul Gandhi who forced the government to come to terms with Anna Hazare? Why was he been silent, he who is supposed to be a putative Prime Minister? The Congress Party has tried every trick of the trade to damn Hazare; communalism has been introduced; Hazare himself has been charged with corruption. It has even been suggested that a “foreign hand” is involved, the finger pointing at the United States. Messers Chidambaram & Co would do well to read the views of Rajiv Kumar, FICCI’s Secretary-General, expressed in an article in Business Line (August 20) A little humility would do them and the country, a great deal of good.
Rajiv Kumar notes that “the middle class now has unprecedented means to express its frustrations and mobilise public opinion” and “rooting out corruption and rent-seeking from the system will require systemise changes and not merely a single bill, howsoever well-crafted”. With a dumb Prime Minister, an arrogant set of Ministers running the show, the country is steadily being pushed to disaster. A wiser course would be to hold midterm elections and throw the UPA out. The country has had enough of it. And isn’t that what the public has shown in recent days? Why blame a foreign hand when the UPA government has on its own splashed mud on its face?