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Government has edge, but civil society not loser

Saturday June 18, 2011 03:07:01 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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The virtual breakdown of the dialogue between ministers and civil society representatives may not be an unmitigated disaster. Although the government has had its way and will probably ultimately push through parliament its own version of the Lokpal bill, the final product is unlikely to be as insipid as the original one.

The reason is that the government seems to have understood the depth of the popular disenchantment with its time-wasting tactics and insincerity in the matter of tackling corruption, whether it is unearthing black money or setting up a worthwhile ombudsman to nab the venal elements.

It is possible that the realisation had dawned even before civil society warriors took to the field. The arrests of Andimuthu Raja, Kanimozhi, Suresh Kalmadi and the corporate honchos showed that the government had become aware of the heavy political price the ruling Congress would have to pay if it continued to dilly-dally in the matter of acting against the corrupt.

However, the primary achievement of Anna Hazare and company and, to a lesser extent, of Baba Ramdev was that they pushed the government so much on the defensive that for a time, it seemed to run around like a headless chicken as when four of its ministers, including the number two in the cabinet, Pranab Mukherjee, went to the airport to receive the yoga guru as if he was a head of state.

If the government subsequently managed to recover its poise, it was because of the missteps of civil society. First, Baba Ramdev showed that he did not have the political skill to take on the government. By trying to escape dressed as a woman during the police crackdown, he lost his earlier aura of spirituality and exposed his business ventures to intrusive official probes, which have the potential of further besmirching his name.

Secondly, Anna Hazare too showed that he lacked an understanding of how far to go while agitating. The success of his first hunger strike in compelling the government to form a joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill appeared to have convinced him that he had found the 'brahmastra' or ultimate weapon for fighting the government.

But even more than his second fast of 12 hours, the threat of going on another one if the bill is not passed by Aug 15 has exposed him to ridicule, as is evident from newspaper headlines like "Anna ends fast, lines up the next" or "Anna hungry for more fasts" or "It's all about fasting, not drafting".

What the simple-minded Gandhian does not realise is that the same tactic cannot be used over and over again. Moreover, like his threats to put his own life at risk if his demands are not met, his team, too, seems to pursue a similar all-or-nothing policy where the terms of the bill are concerned.

An accepted part of any negotiation is a process of give-and-take. If the civil society representatives do not see the talks with the government in this light, the reason is their belief that they constitute the forces of good while the government is on the side of evil. Such a black-and-white approach is bound to lead to a dead end.

Arguably, if Baba Ramdev's campaign did not end in such a fiasco and if Anna Hazare's team had shown greater flexibility - for instance, in the matter of leaving out the judiciary and the lower bureaucracy from the Lokpal's ambit - the government and the Congress might have continued to be on the defensive instead of stepping up their verbal attacks on the "unelected dictators" and sarcastically asking someone young like Arvind Kejriwal to go on fast in place of the septuagenarian Anna Hazare.

But once the government realised that the earlier momentum of the anti-corruption movement had dissipated, it stiffened up its stance. It will be making a mistake, however, if it believes that the scene is back to what it was before the agitation started.

For a start, civil society's demand to turn the Lokpal into a powerful centre of authority with the right to investigate and punish whoever the ombudsman suspects might be a cure worse than the disease. But it nevertheless turned the spotlight yet again on the failure of existing institutions such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to act professionally because of political pressure.

If the CBI is finally showing some evidence of its autonomy, it is because a government accused of siding with the venal no longer has the courage to twist its arms. Given this atmosphere, even a Lokpal bill prepared by the government may have more teeth than what the ruling parties in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) earlier envisaged.


Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at








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