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13 June, 2011

Anti-graft stir at crossroads

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Two months after Maharashtra social activist Anna Hazare put the issue of high-level corruption at the top of the national agenda through a Gandhian campaign, the movement is in the doldrums.

Hazare’s indefinite fast at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, under extensive visual media coverage, had drawn wide support from the urban middle class, and forced the government to set up a committee to draft a new bill to set up a Lokpal with powers to investigate charges against top functionaries.

Political parties were cool to the goings-on. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition, was unhappy that it had no role in it. Hazare had turned away its leaders when they went to Jantar Mantar to pledge support to him. The Communist Party of Inda-Marxist, which views the civil society with suspicion, distanced itself from Hazare’s ‘apolitical’ movement.

As the drafting committee, with equal representation for the government and civil society, started work it became evident that the two sides differed so widely on certain crucial matters that an agreed formulation was unlikely to emerge.

Hazare and his colleagues want the Lokpal to have the power to look into complaints against all top functionaries including the Prime Minister, members of Parliament and judges of the Supreme Court. The government wants to keep the PM beyond the Lokpal’s reach. Also, it favours internal mechanisms to deal with charges against members of Parliament and the Judiciary.

There is little chance of the government and Hazare agreeing on the composition of the Lokpal. The former envisages an authority which will be somewhat amenable to the Executive’s influence. The latter wants an independent authority, which, political parties fear, may become a Frankenstein.

Against this background, it is not surprising that political parties are playing games with a view to advancing their own interests. The government and the opposition are trying, in their own ways, to weaken the civil society movement. Recent statements by Kapil Sibal, a minister and member of the drafting committee, indicate that the government is preparing to announce the failure of the efforts to produce an agreed bill and place before Parliament its own draft.

Even as the drafting committee was continuing its work, Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru who has built up a cult following with the help of his own television channel, announced he would go on an indefinite fast at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi demanding that black money hoarded abroad by Indians be declared national asset and steps taken to bringing it back.

The BJP saw in Ramdev’s plan an opportunity to carve out a role for itself with assistance from the Sangh Parivar associates. The government viewed him as a possible foil for Anna Hazare who was proving a difficult customer. As Ramdev flew into the capital in his private aircraft it gave him a grand reception at the airport with three ministers in attendance.

Ramdev’s fast and television coverage of it set the stage for another urban middle class carnival. The government realised that the saffron-clad Ramdev could be more dangerous than the khadi-clad Hazare. Late in the night a large police contingent was sent to break up the Ramlila Grounds show and fly the guru out to his ashram in Hardwar.

The opposition parties from the BJP to the CPI-M and the Maoists came together to condemn the high-handed action against the Baba and his followers. Since Ramdev continued the fast at Hardwar, he was removed to a hospital in Dehra Dun and given glucose drips.

The government will be making a grievous mistake if it imagines it can get off the hook by outwitting Hazare and Ramdev. The issues they have raised have made a deep impress and cannot be wished away. With former Communications Minister A. Raja in jail since April, pending trial, and his predecessor Dayanidhi Maran apparently set to join him there, the United Progressive Alliance government stands discredited as one reeking with corruption.

Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Arun Kumar, who has studied the black money problem, has estimated that India has a parallel economy of Rs20, 500 billion (about $500 billion), half the size of the official economy. As much as 80 per cent of the black money is generated from legal businesses.

The Executive’s inability to act except under pressure from the Judiciary has exposed it as an accomplice in illegal activity and a possible beneficiary of it. Unless it exorcises the ghosts of corruption and black money they will haunt it relentlessly.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 13, 2011

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