B S Raghavan

Government facing moment of truth

Updated on: Apr 07, 2011
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By its stubbornness, the Government is only going to further infuriate the people and confirm their worst suspicions about its seriousness in weeding out the corrupt in politics and society.

A good proportion of those behind the tens of thousands of tweets, Facebook chatter and Web site exchanges on the indefinite fast undertaken by social activist, Anna Hazare, demanding the enactment of the Lokpal Bill, are seen to be in a feverish pitch of excitement as if the tocsin has been sounded for a tsunami-type emotional upsurge of the kind that brought down the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, some of them are exultingly fantasying about the various forms of physical torment they will be inflicting on the politically high-profile freebooters when they fall into their clutches.

A highly experienced and usually staid commentator on international strategic issues could scarce forbear to warn that, unless the Government showed the needed sensitivity to people's sentiments “We might be faced with a Jasmine Revolution type situation with the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from where the movement has been launched becoming India's Tahrir Square.”

Angry crowds

Mr Harish Salve, former Solicitor-General of India, participating in a TV debate, wanted the country to know that, in his opinion, the explosive fury of the people was fully justified, and had he been younger, he would have himself whole-heartedly been taking part in the movement.

Certainly, the angry crowds captured in the TV visuals at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, the venue of Mr Hazare's fast, and elsewhere in the country, are such as to pump heavy doses of adrenalin into the most unflappable of persons. I, for one, was exhilarated to watch Mr Om Prakash Chautala, Ms Uma Bharathi and Mr Madan Lal Khurana being given a short shrift when they came to Jantar Mantar and shooed away by the large concourse in no time.

Ministers and leading lights of political parties too, appearing on the TV channels, for once, are not their overbearing and arrogant selves, but are subdued and on the defensive, while the younger sections of the population from various walks of life are using strident language, such as has never been heard before, condemning the Government's seemingly apathetic attitude towards corruption of astronomical proportions pervading every nook and corner of the entire polity.

Languishing

The short point is that no, repeat, no political party is, or has ever been, in favour of any legislative measure vesting powers in any independent agency to take cognisance of allegations of extortion and corruption, and loot and plunder of public coffers, indulged in with impunity by politicians occupying positions of power and authority, and visit them with condign punishments after a quick investigation and prosecution. For the political class, to establish such a mechanism is the equivalent of committing mass hara-kiri .

That was why even the watered-down version of the Lokpal Bill has been languishing for 42 years, having been introduced and allowed to lapse eight times during the period, on one pretext or another. But, of course, politicians from time to time keep throwing dust into the people's eyes, promising to pass it without further delay only to shamelessly go back on it thereafter until the next Lok Sabha election.

The last such false hope was given in September 2004, soon after the UPA-I came into power, by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, while addressing the Conference of Lokayuktas. Declaring that “the need for Lokpal is much more urgent at present than ever before”, he undertook to take effective action in this regard “without any further loss of time.” (Mark the words)

Total inaction

In fact, he buttressed his earnestness by including in his speech two quotations from Mahatma Gandhi, no less; one in which he said, “Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court…” and another, from a prayer meeting in January 1948, bluntly stating, “Today politics has become corrupt. Anybody who goes into politics gets contaminated.”

The Prime Minister owes an explanation to the people of India, the sovereign masters, for the total inaction for the full 78 months after he gave his solemn commitment. He also should share the blame with Ms Sonia Gandhi for driving Anna Hazare to the desperate step of fasting unto death by keeping silent over the letters that, Mr Hazare says, he had been writing to them on the subject-matter of the Lokpal Bill.

It will no longer do for the Government to expect to get away with the kind of duplicity that has characterised its stand on corruption. No issue, since the Salt Satyagaraha of Mahatma Gandhi has stirred the people to the very depths of their being as corruption, which has made India ‘a rotten state' in the eyes of the rest of the world. No event, since the struggle for freedom has shaken them to the very core throughout the length and breadth of the country as the indefinite fast of Anna Hazare.

To dismiss it as ‘premature' or ‘instigated by extraneous interests', as some spokespersons of the Congress have done, is brazenness bordering on barbarism, of a genre not displayed even by the Imperial British, when they were ruling the country, towards the freedom heroes.

Legitimate insistence

All that Anna Hazare wants is the setting up of a joint committee comprising an equal number of members from the side of the Government and the civil society to go into the clauses of the draft Lokpal Bill that he had got prepared, reflecting the legitimate insistence of the civil society to make the provisions stringent and escape-proof.

It is sheer nonsense to suggest, as the Government spokespersons are doing, that induction of “unelected” outsiders to examine the provisions of a proposed Bill jointly with the representatives of the Government detracts from the powers of the executive and legislative branches. The finalised version will, in any case, still need to be debated in Parliament before it is passed.

By its stubbornness, the Government is only going to further infuriate the people and confirm their worst suspicions about its seriousness in weeding out the corrupt in politics and society.

> blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

Published on April 12, 2011

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