Before Delhi's winter froze Anna
Hazare's campaign plans in the national capital, the government
was very much on the backfoot, not least because the Congress
shied away from the opportunity to present its case before the
anti-corruption crusader during his one-day fast at Jantar Mantar.
Since then, it has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with Anna by
conceding some ground, such as bringing the prime minister under
the Lokpal's ambit with several caveats, but trying to retain its
control over the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
In addition, the governent is also entering uncharted territory by
proposing reservations for the backward castes, Dalits and
scheduled tribes in the Lokpal panel to placate sections of the
opposition which tend to support the government such as the
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the
Samajwadi Party. The move may also delink the Janata Dal-United
from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As is known, the BJP had lost no time in jumping on to Anna's
bandwagon since he no longer regarded the politicians with
contempt as when he had called them 'bikaau' or purchasable and
shooed away those who tried to join him on the stage last summer.
Only time will show how much it will gain from its proximity to
Anna considering that the sight of Brinda Karat of the Communist
Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Arun Jaitley of the BJP sitting
on either side of the campaigner cannot but be embarrassing for
these two parties from the opposite ends of the political
For Anna too the interaction with the politicos did not go
entirely in his favour since the Communist Party of India's (CPI)
A.B. Bardhan reminded Team Anna that they were not the
repositories of all wisdom. A member of the parliamentary standing
committee on the Lokpal bill, Pinaki Mishra of the Biju Janata Dal
(BJD), also pointed out that the committee's report could not be
It is clear, therefore, that none of the three sides - the
government, Team Anna and the opposition - has been able to outwit
the other. Anna, therefore, may have no option but to go on a fast
from Dec 27, as he has threatened. But a fast in Mumbai will not
have the same impact as one in Delhi. Besides, the fact that he
had to run away from the cold is bound to expose him to ridicule.
His halo has also dimmed a little. First, his overtures to
politicians showed that his earlier diatribes against them were
more for effect than a genuine expression of his feelings. The
change of stance is not unlike his earlier backtracking from his
praise of Narendra Modi.
Secondly, some of the recent reports about his penchant for
flogging habitual drinkers in his fiefdom of Ralegan Siddhi has
earned him a note of dissent from Amartya Sen. Thirdly, the
charges of less than honest conduct by some of his close
associates like Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi have cast a shadow
on Team Anna's reputation. To most people, therefore, the
description of Anna as a well-meaning but "slightly dumb"
neighbourhood elder by social commentator Ashis Nandy will ring
If the government has been unable to take full advantage of these
setbacks, the reason is that it remains mired in a myriad
difficulties. For one, its intentions about the Lokpal bill are
still in doubt. In fact, the reconvening of the standing committee
to make some last-minute changes has fuelled speculation that
someone is pulling strings from behind. Hence, Anna's allegation
that Rahul Gandhi is the backseat driver.
For another, the government's failure to push through its decision
on foreign investment in the retail sector has confirmed the
impression of policy paralysis, which its latest initiative on the
passage of the bills on citizen's charter, judicial accountability
and whistleblowers hasn't dispelled. On the other hand, the
virtual shooting down of the much-hyped unique identification
scheme by the standing committee on finance headed by the BJP's
Yashwant Sinha has shown that the government continues to stumble
Moreover, if and when it bestirs itself, the government lands in
further trouble as when Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal suggested
censoring the websites carrying offensive material. To make
matters worse, one of its senior ministers, P. Chidambaram, has
become involved in charges relating to the telecom scam not long
after the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, had to intervene to
make peace between him and another senior minister, Pranab
Mukherjee, over the leakage of documents about the scam.
Since the government still gives the being all at sea, Anna has
succeeded in dictating the Lokpal agenda to a considerable extent,
including the move to extent the parliamentary session.
As for the opposition, the Left has a long way to go before it can
recover from its recent setbacks while the BJP has not succeeded
in either resolving its leadership tangles or imparting some
clarity on its policies.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org