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
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
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)
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org