Sunday, 19 June 2011

Is Anna Hazare asking for too much?

Should the prime minister come under the purview of the Lokpal Bill?

Yes, says Team Anna. No, says the government. That's one of the main reasons talks between the two broke down yesterday. The stand-off is also giving rise to another question: Is Anna Hazare asking for too much?

Hopes of a consensus faded when Team Anna said two separate drafts of the proposed law against corruption were likely. In any case, it would have been unrealistic to expect the talks to go on without any hitch. One side represents politicians, and the other civil society, and they are clashing interests. (Who's civil society? P Sainath offers some definitions in his article in The Hindu today).

With the government trying to dilute the law to a point where it just becomes another piece of paper, are we going to get a Jokepal Bill, as RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal quipped yesterday?

Many people are now suggesting that Anna Hazare, while being right in demanding that corruption be curbed, is being unreasonable in some ways. Sainath writes: "Pushing a coherent vision is a good thing to do. So is demanding that the government do its job. Beyond that lies trouble."

The agitators and the government are also speaking different languages, and not just metaphorically. When Baba Ramdev sent the government a letter in Hindi, Tehelka reports, not one of our cabinet ministers could read it. That should give us an idea of how distant the two groups are from one another.

As reports emerged that the negotiations had broken down, and that Anna Hazare would go on a hunger strike from August 16, Law Minister Veerappa Moily quickly tried to cover up the cracks, asserting that he would ensure only one draft was presented. Home Minister P Chidambaram evenpromised a draft of the bill by June 30. The government also warned Anna Hazare not to keep threatening it.

Meanwhile, voices sceptical about the agitation continue to pipe up. There was Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, advising members of civil society to change their attitude to the process of law-making. No one will be surprised by Digvijay Singh's point of view, but even non-partisan observers like journalist Sainath aren't happy with the way Team Anna and Baba Ramdev have sought to lead the agitation against corruption. The award-winning author and journalist writes: "There is nothing wrong in having advisory groups. Not a thing wrong in governments consulting them and also listening to people, particularly those affected by its decisions. There is a problem when groups not constituted legally cross the line of demands, advice and rights-based, democratic agitation. When they seek to run the government and legislation — no matter how well-intentioned they are."

Anna has received support from an RSS ideologue. M G Vaidya writes in Open magazine: "The Lokpal has no authority to lay down policies in matters of defence or the national economy or foreign affairs. Who has ever doubted that that is the Government's prerogative? But if all was well with our hallowed Constitution, our sovereign Parliament and our powerful Government, why would there be Quattrocchis, Rajas, Kalmadis, Hasan Alis et al?"

So what do you think? Should Anna push hard in the face of a government trying to scuttle his agitation with some lame law-making? Or should he accommodate their point of view and let democratic institutions do their duty?

After all, we already have laws against corruption, and if the government had any intentions of implementing them, we wouldn't be here agitating for change. What guarantee do we have that another law will radically change things?

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