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Anna holds centrestage as government plays cat-and-mouse game

Saturday December 17, 2011 07:01:24 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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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 spectrum.

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 written off.

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 true.

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 along.

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






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