Saturday, August 20, 2011

Opposition refuses to fight UPA's battle against Hazare

Part of this report appeared in the DNA Newspaper, Mumbai edition

Focuses on government's Lokpal Bill and its inadequacies

New Delhi: Now that the UPA government has blinked and allowed Anna Hazare to go ahead with his protest at the Ramlila Maidan in the capital, the Opposition parties will have to face the embrrassing question: what to do with Hazare's demand, and the fast is about this demand alone, that the Jan Lokpal Bill should be discussed and passed in parliament.

The opposition which had eloquently defended the Gandhian activist's right to protest as his inalienable democratic and constitutional privilege on Tuesday and Wednesday will now be forced to distance itself from Hazare.

The final configuration will then have to be the political establishment, comprising all political parties on the one side, and the civil society group of Hazare and their young and middle-aged middle class metro supporters.

Politicians may have to sink their internal rivalries and close ranks to counter the civil society group which threatens to take away their central role in the affairs of the country.

Opposition politicians are not however willing to stick their necks out and pit themselves against civil society. Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader and Lok Sabha member Sharad Yadav denies that there is absolute polarisation between the political class on the one hand and civil society on the other.

“This is a strange idea you are coming up with,” he snapped. Clearly, shrewd politicians like Yadav sense the public mood and would not like to be seen as opposing civil society. He said, “The parliament reflects the mood of the people. It is not separate from it.”

CPI's D.Raja and Rajya Sabha member is quite clear in his mind. “Where is the Jan Lokpal Bill? It is the government's bill that is before the parliament and we will consider only that. There will hundreds of documents outside parliament. They do not concern us. Mr Anna Hazare has a right as citizen to protest. Let him do it.” The opposition then has the convenient fiction that it will only deal with what is officially presented to it.

CPI-M's Brinda Karat and Rajya Sabha member said the government's Lokpal was very weak and her party was not satisfied with it. She thinks that the government is trying to use the parliament as a shield to fight Hazare, and turn into a battle between parliament and civil society whereas it is a conforntation between government and civil society. She says that it is undemocratic to say that parliament has a monopoly over making laws.

She said that there are points where her party agrees with the Jan Lokpal, which is for including the prime minister and members of parliament in the Lokpal's ambit. She also feels that the judicial accountability bill as it stands now is very weak and that it needs to be strengthened.

BJP's Rajya Sabha member Prakash Javdekar says that the only point that his party agrees with the Jan Lokpal version is the inclusion of the prime minister in the ambit of the Lokpal. Party's chief spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Ravi Shankar Prasad says that his party does not want the judiciary to be included in the Lokpal and that there should be a separate law for that.

He said that the government is playing the clever game of trying to pit parliament against civil society. “When Anna Hazare and his team visited the BJP office, they agreed that parliament was the supreme law-making body.”

RJD leader Lalu Yadav in the Lok Sabha was unambiguous in his opposition to the civil socety group's insistence on the Jan Lokpal. During his intervention in the House on Wednesday, he recalled his own political baptism in the Jayaprakash Narayan movement in the 1970s, the popular leader from Bihar said, “There cannot be another Mahatma Gandhi, there cannot be another Jayaprakash Narayan.”

His conclusion was loud and clear that it is the parliament, and parliament alone, which has the right to make laws and no outsider can be allowed to do it.

This is a sentiment that prime minister Manmohan Singh made in his characteristically mild manner in his statement on Wednesday, and which was reiterated by home minister P.Chidambaram when he replied to the debate on the Hazare issue on Wednesday evening.

The battle formations are then about to change as Hazare moves to Ramlila from the Tihar Jail on Friday to continue his fast. Until now, the opposition parties have been supportive of Hazare against the UPA government's insensitive handling of the situation.

But they are not willing to oblige the Congress. Opposition parties do not want to fight the UPA government's battle against Hazare and his civil society group. They are focusing on the government's Lokpal Bill and its glaring inadequacies.

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