Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Corrupt UPA capitulates to civil society vigilantes

Sonia Gandhi's letter to Anna Hazare changed the tone and tenor of the confrontation

A UPA government weakened by corruption charges, a weak-kneed prime minister Manmohan Singh who is ever anxious to keep his personal credentials clean and a worried and clueless Congress president Sonia Gandhi had capitulated to the unreasonable demands of forming a committee and issuing a notification in the drafting of a fresh Lok Pal bill. The committee has a co-chairman – former union law minister Shanti Bushan of 1977 Janata Party vintage – and other so-called civil society activists. Finance minister and UPA's habitual troubleshooter is the other chairman. Anna Hazare will himself be one of the members as a representative of the self-proclaimed civil society groups, and he will recommend the names of others from his side.

The initial resistance crumbled even as television channels exaggerated only as they can the popularity of the garnered by Anna Hazare's four-day fast-unto-death. There were a few thousand at Jantar Mantar, the venue of the fast, and there were a few thousand more at the candle-light – a style statement of sorts of the hoity-toity -- vigil at India Gate a little way away.

Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal who initially adopted the filibustering style of a lawyer in the beginning and soon climbed down, turned conciliatory and finally conceded every unreasonable demand made by the agitationists. Anna Hazare and his associates are indeed justified in claiming outright victory though Hazare couched it in the euphemistic language that this is the victory of the people of India.

It would indeed be a matter of interpretation how cleverly each side played this game of confrontation. The first turning point of the game came when Sonia Gandhi wrote that supportive letter to Hazare on the importance of combating corruption and pleaded for him to end the fast. It was a clear clue to the government that they will have to change tack and deal with the man and his associates. That is when, Sibal changed tactics.

The UPA, and especially the Congress, hope to retrieve part of the tainted and shattered image of being a corrupt government. It is a classic political ploy: co-opt the opponent and that takes the sting away of the criticism. Gandhi, Singh and the rest of the Congress leaders hope to take the moral high ground and say that they are as serious about the menace of corruption as the do-gooders. It is a political bonus point.

Hazare and associates are jubilant that they have scored a point and made their entry into the citadel of power through a small hole in the wall. But they are quite ambitious as well. They see this just as a toe-hold and they want to incrase their presence much more on every subsequent issue. That is why, the Hazare themesong is that this is just the beginning of a long battle. There will be other issues and they hope to force a morally vulnerable political establishment on its backfoot every other time as well.

Hazare and friends would want to remain in the vanguard of this power struggle and snatch as much of the space as they possibly can. But this could fire the imagination of other civil society groups who have been lingering in the wings for years to strike success are sure to see this as an opportunity to strike a governmental system that has lost its credibility.

There is an interesting moral in al this. You can be in a minority but if you can fast and create enough noise, use Facebook and Twitter and SMS and create the illusion of a huge support base, then you can beat a bigger and a better organised foe. This is guerrilla poliitcs at its best. The naxalites must be watching the unfolding Hazare drama with interest because they too are keen students of the strategy and tactics of the war for political power.

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