People's power

Congress at wit's end

When Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan was arrested by Indira Gandhi after the imposition of the Emergency (1975-77), he cited a Sanskrit saying: ‘Vinasha kale vipareeta buddhi,’ meaning that when the ruler faces bad times, his thinking also gets warped. Anna Hazare, hitherto an unnoticed leader from Maharashtra, was arrested at Delhi because he had inspired a movement to have a Lokpal to eliminate corruption in the country.

He should have also quoted JP’s words because the government flip-flopped, first arresting him in the morning and then offering to release him in the evening. It is another matter that he has refused to come out of jail on conditions.

The Manmohan Singh government has made a fool of itself. First, it asks the obliging commissioner of police (CP) B K Gupta to arrest Anna Hazare and tells the world that it was police’s doing. Then the government or its core group decides to release Hazare.

The scene by then seems to have shifted to the Congress headquarters where the prime minister was also present. Here Rahul Gandhi is the boss in the absence of his mother Sonia Gandhi. He meets the prime minister and the decision to release Hazare is apparently taken. Once again the poor CP is made a scapegoat for having gone wrong on the arrest. He too retraces his steps by offering Hazare a conditional release.

The role of a local magistrate is comical. He follows the CP’s path under pressure. He first sends Hazare to judicial custody for seven days. There is no law under which he could act against a person who says he would go on fast. It is a pity that the Delhi high court does not act suo moto to quash the order which had made a mockery of the judiciary. The same magistrate revokes the order, again under pressure.

The entire exercise has made me sit up and notice how the police and the judiciary act on commands. This is exactly what happened during the emergency. Whatever Mrs Gandhi-Sanjay Gandhi wished was implemented, overriding all rules and regulations and precedents.

Significantly, like today the Congress was ruling at the Centre at that time. Then the government functionaries acted because the emergency had suspended the constitution and therefore people had no recourse. This time they are doing so without the emergency. They have got used to unconstitutional governance to such an extent that they have become a willing tool of tyranny imposed by political masters.

Boomerang effect
I fear the worst scenario for the ruling Congress which has become arrogant and has cut itself off from the people. I can see the demand for Lokpal translating itself into a demand for the resignation of the Manmohan Singh government. It is beginning to happen sooner than expected. The stock of the government already battered after the disclosures of numerous scams running into hundreds of thousands of dollars has gone down still further. Whatever it does is going to boomerang on it.

The reason why I think a mid-term election is inevitable is because the Hazare movement has taken the shape of people’s movement. The Lokpal bill has been put aside and the resentment against the government is being ventilated through the denunciation of rulers. The core group of ministers may argue that the Lokpal bill initiated in parliament has the scope for improvement. But the public is far ahead and may ultimately ask for new representatives in the Lok Sabha.

The political parties, except the ruling Congress, may change their stance before long. The BJP is already supporting the movement, expecting some recognition from Hazare. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has unilaterally praised the movement. The Anna team is doing well to keep Modi and the BJP at a distance.

Muslims in India are still suspicious of Hazare, although he has withdrawn the praise he had expressed for Modi in one of his statements.  I am hoping for the emergence of a third alternative after the success of the ongoing movement. JP too began haltingly. The government went on making one mistake after another and enabling him to convert the movement into people’s outcry against the centre.

He did not give a call for new elections initially. But when the government’s attitude remained intractable, he had no choice except to say: Let’s go back to the people. Mrs India Gandhi was trounced to such an extent that she and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, lost the election. The Congress should see the writing on the wall.

The party has dug its own grave. It should have compromised on the Lokpal bill. Hazare was willing at one time to concede a bit of ground on Lokpal’s authority over the judiciary and the prime minister. The government should have redrafted the judicial commission bill to allay Hazare’s doubts. The prime minister could be arraigned before the Lokpal only on matters involving his corruption, not his governance.

Inder Gujral as prime minister was strongly against the Lokpal because of the dangers entailed in exposing the office to Lokpal. But he was not opposed to having some provisions against the prime minister if, prima facie, a case was established. We cannot afford to keep the office of prime minister outside the purview of the Lokpal.

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