Saturday, November 05, 2011

Congress romance with civil society continues despite Anna hiccup

Party leaders describe it as democratic inclusivism

New Delhi: Once bitten twice shy is not the lesson that Congress has taken from the Anna Hazare-led Lokpal movement and the consequent political crisis that has enveloped the UPA government.

Said a Union minister on condition of anonymity, “We have institutionalised the voice of civil society through the National Advisory Council (NAC) under Mrs Sonia Gandhi.”

There is a growing recognition among the party leaders that there is need for new ideas that civil society groups can provide, and that they can also serve as a lightning rod to gauge the political mood.

The innovative legislation of the UPA in its first and second terms came from the NAC, which included the Right To Information (RTI), the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), Right To Education (RTE) and the food security bill which is under consideration.

The party is adopting an almost aggressive stance in favour of civil society when asked as to what are the lessons the party had learned from the encounter with the Anna-spun popular movement against corruption. While the old guard of harliners are busy attacking Anna and his team for their affiliation with right-wing organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the more canny leaders are turning the impact of the movement on its head.

“People, especially the young are angry with corruption in the political and governmenatl system. It is an alarm bell,” they argue doffing their hat unwillingly and unwittingly towards the Gandhian social activist from Ralegaon Sidhi.

It is a view shared by senior ministers in the government. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P.Chidambaram. In the debate on the Lokpal in Lok Sabha during the monsoon session of parliament, Mukherjee had described the government's encounter with Team Anna as “an experiment” but did not distance the government or himself from the experiment. Chidambaram was more candid. He said that it might be that the experiment with Team Anna did not succeed but that would not mean the UPA government would not deal with civil society after this.

The Congress leaders are keeping the door open to civil society, and even to Anna and his associates. Some of the party leaders in the government feel the popular mood and they are of the view that instead of swimming against the tide, it is better to turn it into an opportunity to fight corruption and even take credit for it.

Anna Hazare might find it difficult to fight the Congress which refuses to be drawn into a duel. It is perhaps this realisation that made him announce that his team would not oppose the Congress in any election and that he would only go on yet another fast-unto-death if the by the end of the winter session of parliament in December the Congress fails to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill.

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