B S Raghavan

Uncertainty, again, over Lokpal Bill

Updated on: Apr 14, 2011

Even before the ink was dry on the notification constituting the Joint Drafting Committee for finalising the Lokpal Bill, the ruling political establishment, on the one side, and some squabbling fringe groups, on the other, have collectively begun engaging themselves in what they are eminently good at: Talking at cross purposes and tying themselves into knots!

The discomfiture felt by the ruling political establishment is understandable. They were made to yield to Anna Hazare's demands on equal representation of the Government and civil society — and on the issue of an official notification to that effect — within four days of Anna starting his indefinite fast, whereas they were able to dig in their heels against the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for going into the 2G spectrum scam for nearly three months.

Having been forced to act with lightning speed — frightened, no doubt, by the tsunami-like emotional upsurge generated by Anna throughout the country, coming suspiciously close to the scenes of mass uprisings witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt — the powers-that-be are now trying to sow as much confusion as possible to make the Bill once again a non-starter.

There can be no other intention behind the senior leaders of the Congress Party wanting to bring the corporate sector and the NGOs within the purview of the civil society's draft and demanding to know the sources of funds spent on pandals, media coverage and rallies in connection with Anna Hazare's fast.

They are also raising the question why Anna Hazare has not campaigned against the Gujarat Government headed by Mr Narendra Modi not having enacted a Lokayukta Bill on the lines of Anna's Lokpal Bill for the last seven years.

Intemperate virulence

The Nationalist Congress Party, one of whose leaders (Sharad Pawar) was made to quit the Group of Ministers going into the official Lokpal Bill following aspersions cast on him by Anna, has reportedly organised a smear campaign against Anna himself. All this is to be expected as part of the Government's time-(dis)honoured effort to get over its loss of face and recover lost ground whenever it is driven to beat a retreat by a people's movement.

But what is most inexplicable is the intemperate virulence of the attacks on Anna and his associates by some of the non-official outfits and Internet newsgroups. They have begun bad mouthing Anna and those behind the campaign in terms that even official spokespersons have not employed, calling them ‘fascists', wreckers of the Constitution and democracy, and the like, and depicting them as unsavoury characters with their own personal and political axes to grind.

Anything and everything about Anna's campaign seems to come within the ambit of their pungent epithets: Presence of Swami Agnivesh, Baba Ramdev, Art of Living exponent Ravi Shankar on the same podium as Anna Hazare; the participation of Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Medha Patkar; Ms Sonia Gandhi's appeal to Anna saying his views will receive the Government's full attention (this has been described by the fanatical fringe groups critical of Anna as “a palace coup to destabilise Dr Manmohan Singh (and) a calibrated urban relay-revolution tapping into the Facebook-Twitter crowd's quest for a ‘worthy cause' to espouse, with prime time TV playing ball with the patrons of the draft”); Anna's passing reference to the good work done in respect of rural development in Gujarat (portrayed as evidence of Anna's communalism); and the “nepotism” of including Prashant and Shanti Bhushan in the Joint Drafting Committee. (Both have outstanding legal credentials and their being father and son is only incidental)

These groups have also been insisting that Anna and all those supporting him should disclose their and their kith and kin's assets — a demand that Mr Digvijay Singh, the senior Congress leader, has been quick enough to endorse. Can't even one initiative aimed at a paramount public good move smoothly from start to finish in this God-blessed country without busybodies falling head over heels to spike it?

Published on April 17, 2011

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