PERSPECTIVE : Insincerity, insensitivity and innate selfishness expose
By Sanjay Kaul
The part that rankles most is how the incumbent government exhibited animal displeasure at the first attempt by ‘civil society’ to invade their space as it were and how its actions continued until the very end to be laboriously in the same direction of destructive disdain, camouflage, obfuscation and plain contempt.
It is another matter that in the euphoria of the final moments the media lost all track of the chain of events and in the final analysis showered kudos on the very establishment that had attempted to pulverise and demolish public opinion until the opposition party forced its hand.
Anyone looking at the highs and lows of the entire episode from any vantage point would not miss the attempt by the Congress led regime to use every trick in the book to first discredit the movement, then the persons involved and when it promised to balloon into another dimension with another round of activism by Baba Ramdev to use force to crush the attempt. Then the second round of attack which started with more obdurate posturing and the imprisonment of Hazare and cohorts and then the public bashing, the abuse by street fighter spokespersons and threatening ministers and then the pull back and the correction, but only in name while all along every trick in the book was used to delay, defray and defibrillate the movement and national mood and when all else failed, the final attempt at rousing up its allies in the Parliament with an echoing editorial media on its heels to paint it as an attempt to usurp the role of Parliament.
Never did this government exhibit grace, never good intentions and at no time any suspension of its innate belief that it is a monarchy invested with perpetual governing rights until it bought opprobrium to the institution of democracy and led to one of the greatest humiliations of Parliament ever seen by us even as members rose to piously defend the people’s will while they cursed under their breath.
The crass insensitivity of the Congress mandarins towards the movement, the will of the people and above all to the life of the septuagenarian Hazare were witnessed by all in as transparent language as it possible. Even the cleverly assuaging words of the PM when the government found itself facing a wall of public outrage were relegated to mere posturing with the pompous and overbearing intervention by Rahul Gandhi only illustrated what we knew all along – that the entire episode was either bereft of leadership in the first instance or it was turned to become a national platform to launch the scion of the Gandhi family as a messiah once it peaked enough.
Insincerity, insensitivity and innate selfishness shone through every move of the Congress in this episode and yet in the final hours, everything was forgotten and the PM actually canonised by many for his leadership. The media all through was biased, everyone agrees and some forgot their creed and tried to become the news but their collective failure to sift fact from fiction and record the episode in its correct perspective is still the crime they should not be forgiven for.
The BJP may like to analyse too, how a party that was accused of propping up Anna Hazare and the movement in its first outing, then Baba Ramdev, came under attack for not revealing its position on the issue. It fails reasonable analysis that a party that blew the bugle on the corruption in the UPA regime last year and provided the enabling conditions for campaigns like Anna and Baba Ramdev’s to develop and catch momentum was relegated to the same corner as the Congress, having to explain its complicity, is a matter for serious introspection in terms of strategy and tactics.
For all the delicious praise now being heaped on the parliamentarians, the shining democracy of the country in glowing terms is really a mind-numbing reminder of how an entire nation can reduce itself to wildly hallucinating people under a dose of TV-led jingoism when in fact they uprooted whatever soil there remained around our institutional pillars.
That a pack of activists can bend the Parliament to its will is only representative of not anything fundamentally incorrect with the demand but an illustration of the sloth and hubris that is eating away at the vitals of our democracy. It is—and as the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha touched upon this – the inability of Parliament to reflect the will of the people for so long that brought it to such a shameful capitulation.
The absence of our parliamentarians to get a ‘sense’ of the popular desire to root out corruption for decades coupled with an administration that has shown itself to be a peddler and protector of some of the gravest acts of corruption in our history has brought one of the singular edifices of our democracy to this low point. That, parliamentarians now sing the tune of acknowledgement, of the will of the people is not to be mistaken for any evidence of a strong democracy, but a weak one.
The craven capitulation by exalted members within the circularity of the Parliament hemisphere when the government had its back to the wall will remain etched in public memory and this ghost will haunt us again, and again. The generation which saw the crown of Indian democracy mocked will choose to play its hand again, some time later, some time soon. The Congress will bear the scar on itself for it just as it inflicted on the edifice that day. And there must be penance. Or there will be punishment.
The plethora of sudden solutions that have appeared since the Anna movement acquired its momentum and achieved its end has thrown up a confounding miscellany of ideas none of which seem to hover around the critical aspects espoused earlier viz. citizen empowerment and institutionalised intervention or institutionalisation of public consultation or pre-legislative consultation.
It was not unusual therefore to see the sleeping dragon of electoral reform step out of its cave with many related proposals though it has to be admitted that the team Anna’s indications and utterances on the right to recall set tongues wagging more than anything else. The debate is in the right direction, for any discourse towards better governance through transparent mechanisms is welcome but now that the second silly season is upon us it would be worthwhile to ponder on some of these ideas just so the discourse is not compromised by some ungainly, disproportionate ideas.
Between the right to reject and the right to recall is a chasm of interminable width for one is the lazy man’s solution to the problem whilst the other is the plodder’s recipe. Whereas the right to reject suffers from conceptual infirmity, the right to recall defeats itself in practice. Noble ideas, in intent both, their authors are passion more than intellect, for both are in themselves unaccountable to reason.
Consider that the average urban voter chooses to cast his vote far more reluctantly than his rural counterpart. The same bias holds for economic classification, the rich vote less than the poor. Consider then that the right to reject is an act that permits a voter to first queue for voting, and then at the moment he is expected to vote, chooses to actually not. Pioneers of this idea think that by doing this they might produce a verdict of None-Of-The-Above, indicating a re-match, so to say. But the idea is frivolous. People are not ingrained to make investments in status quoist options. Affirmative action, yes; negative voting, yes too. But parapsychology does not support the theory that man will move to achieve nothing. And before another argument is unsheathed, remember that the other part of the problem stays unsolved. Even if it were to force a re-election, where would the new candidature come from? And can you really democratically cauterise the right of a candidate to stand for re-election? The systemic environment as it stands is severely antithetic to easy candidature and the chances that a new, better candidature emerging is a false alarm at best. Anyone who knows politics as it is practiced and in the circumstances it is practiced would immediately understand the impotency of this idea.
The other idea, the right to recall is sounder to the ear although unrealistic to the test. Recall is sexy, when put in context of the current mire of party politics but it is weighed down by the conditions that would be needed for it to be acceptable to all. It might be possible to take a leaf out of the election laws of the state of California but even then the right would be unenforceable in 99 per cent of the cases for the sheer weight of effort.
The essence of the movement towards better governance cannot be faulted, but the effort must not be misdirected. Civil society activism on such issues, particularly when they are launched on the back of previous successes in rousing public opinion may lead to missing the wood for the trees. Earlier activism on the right to reject has ended up putting that idea on the list of electoral reforms sought by the Election Commission of India—an institution that might serve us better by creating a national network of independent offices not dependent on state machinery. It also forces them to deviate from their real mandate and start to compensate with another unrelated activity if it cannot show enough progress on such ideas. For example Election Commission has started spending millions of rupees in advertising campaigns trying to get the youth to vote or urban voters to queue up on Election Day—patently irrelevant for an institution whose essential job is to conduct free and fair elections. People not voting are already communicating a choice. It is not for the EC to fret but the political establishment to respond, and if possible, reform. Besides, it has always been the domain of the political party to mobilise voters. How did the EC come into the picture? The EC is wasting precious money and time, led by the nose on such matters by wanton activism.
It might therefore serve governance – and indeed democracy – better, if civil society groups applied this energy to far more serious and productive enterprises such as strengthening the movement of institutionalising public consultation through models like the Resident Ward Committee scheme that the Municipality in Delhi has launched.