Going overboard

Fight against corruption

M F Husain, a most respected and loved Indian died in enforced exile in London last week, mourned by millions, a cruel victim of ‘cultural-nationalist’ blackmail. There were many protests. But who in ‘civil society’ undertook a ‘fast unto death’ or otherwise against this symbolic murder by some of these self-same elements of civil society of the Idea of India, which of course lives on.

Consider more recent times. The DMK was quick off the block to call an executive meeting and let it be known that withdrawal of its ministers from the Union cabinet might follow as Kanimozhi had been denied bail in the 2G case. No anxious call from Delhi ensued. The bluff was called. There is perhaps a lesson here. 

Meanwhile, the Ramdev circus took a not unexpected turn with the Baba’s most zealous followers twisting in the wind from the sixth day of the ‘indefinite fast’ to get him off the hook. The issue here is not a brave fight against black money. His demands include a mixed bag of the frivolous and irrelevant. He seeks kudos in furtherance of a political agenda with gleeful support from the Sangh Parivar. He has vouchsafed a declaration of his trust assets but not of his commercial companies, extensive lands and a private jet in which he travels. What does he have to hide?

Ramdev sought police permission for a yoga camp for 5,000 persons at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds but did not spend a minute in yoga instruction. The question asked of government is that, knowing much of this, why did it depute four ministers and the cabinet secretary to Delhi airport to negotiate with him?

The government admittedly acted ham-handedly and failed to explain its conduct. What has been informally suggested is after the Anna Hazare ruckus, the object was to inform Ramdev of the steps taken and contemplated to deal with black money and thereby dissuade him from further agitating the matter by going on a fast. Over the next two days, Ramdev was largely persuaded and said he would only undertake a token 36 hour fast and then ask his followers to disperse. The matter was reduced to writing by Ramdev’s aide but on this being made known he resiled from the agreement and accused the government of cheating and lying.

Nevertheless, talks with the government continued late into the night to no avail. Ramdev appeared adamant on fasting along with many of his followers. With tensions mounting and many more thousands likely to join the gathering the following day, the authorities decided to revoke the permission granted for a yoga camp as this had now clearly become a pumped up political rally with people like Sadhvi Rithambara on the dais. The police moved in after midnight as it was turning into a law and order issue.

Laughable claims

References to Jallianwala Bagh, ‘a second freedom struggle’ and the Emergency are laughable. Critics bemoan the fact that a ‘peaceful, sleeping crowd’ was attacked and plead the fundamental right to freedom of assembly, citing Article 19 (b) of the constitution. Would they but read Article 19 (2) they would find the answer. The government acted pre-emptively to prevent a possibly explosive situation developing on the morrow with sundry political elements eager to fish in troubled waters outside and beyond the fiction of a ‘yoga camp.’ Had anything gone wrong, these same critics would have come down heavily on the government for not taking timely, anticipatory action. Heads I win. Tails you lose!

Now to Anna Hazare, a simple man increasingly in danger of going overboard. His definition of ‘civil society’ is self-centred. Recourse to an ‘indefinite fast,’ which he has again proclaimed from August 16 if the Lokpal bill is not enacted by then, is emotional blackmail. Means are as important as ends. Subverting parliamentary democracy and the basic structure of the constitution is to invite or advocate fascism.

True, successive governments have been lax in dealing with corruption and have turned a blind eye to it. The UPA too has much to answer for. Yet action is gradually being taken under public pressure. Reform and legislation take time and political consensus building. The ‘Jan Lokpal’ is no magic wand and it would be idle to imagine otherwise. Many inter-locking measures and actions will be required to deal with the problem as it exists and in its new manifestations. 

The issue of whether the prime minister, the higher judiciary and MPs should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal can be debated. There is a case for including the PM, with suitable safeguards, but this need not be a stumbling block. Bringing the apex court under the jurisdiction of another body is a contradiction in terms and MPs may best be left to be dealt with by parliament and the courts. None of these issues constitutes a breaking point.

The Hazare group had better get on with the drafting of the bill. Parliament will, of course, have the last say. All talk of blackmail through fasts must end and the country can do without coercive politics.

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