New hope

The compromise between the government and social activist Anna Hazare over the Lokpal bill is a victory for civil society. Hazare has graciously called it a victory for everybody stressing that it siginifies a mutual resolve to combat corruption. At the same time, he has made it clear that the government’s acceptance of the demands on the drafting of the bill is a sign of only a battle won.

The war over finalising the provisions of the bill and getting it passed by parliament still lies ahead. The government has  made a climb down from its position by agreeing to equal participation from civil society and the government on the drafting committee, sharing of its chairmanship and notifying the formation of the committee.

The softening of the government’s position was obviously the result of the mass support that Hazare’s fast attracted.  The fast was becoming a popular movement and the government could oppose or ignore it only at its peril. Though opposition parties supported the movement, the backing  could not but have been opportunistic and in most cases, insincere.

The entire political and official class is the target of the movement, though the government was its immediate target.  The usual strategy employed by politicians and even by the bureaucracy to scuttle a proposal is to support it in public and then undermine it secretly.   Everyone agrees that the present draft of the bill, as prepared by the government, will not make any difference to corruption in the country.

The civil society representatives in the drafting committee, including  Hazare, are known for their social commitment and moral uprightness. Some of them also have the legal acumen needed for the job. That being so, the government may not be able to wriggle out of its commitment to finalise the bill’s provisions  by June 30 and introduce it in the monsoon session of parliament. Hazare has said that he wants the bill to be passed before August 15.

Hazare’s fast, the wide support he received and the discussion on the Lokpal bill appear to have somewhat lifted the national mood of despondency. The scandals that unspooled in the last few months had drawn attention to pervasive corruption, depressed  most countrymen and made many of them cynical. The fast has at least provided some hope of resistance and remedies, and veered the discussion towards how to handle corruption rather than on how to accept it.

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