The week that passed by was indeed tumultuous. The political discourse in India has changed. Anna Hazare and his comrades have baffled, even those who empathized with the campaign with their perseverance. The fact is that it is clear now that Anna and his team are distinct, in all aspects, from Baba Ramdev. The surge of protests against the arrests is clearly a pointer to this. Baba Ramdev could not move an inch further after the police ``acted’’ against his followers. Anna Hazare’s arrest, on the contrary turned the whole of Delhi and the country into a venue for protest.
All this notwithstanding, there is criticism against the movement and in most instances the critics seem to be repeating chants that were heard in the early Seventies when JP had captured the imagination of a generation of the youth and rallied them against corruption. It may be placed on record, at the outset, that JP drew his inspiration from the Navnirman andolan that rocked Gujarat and where the students, who began protesting against hike in the mess charges in an Engineering college in Ahmedabad, ended up demanding Chimanbhai Patel’s resignation and fresh elections to the State assembly. Patel was considered corrupt by the people of Gujarat and it was not merely a perception. The movement achieved its demand and the victory of the Janata Morcha in the elections held in June 1975.
JP’s movement in Bihar too challenged the state in Bihar and as it grew in strength, the then establishment headed by Indira Gandhi pulled all the stops to crush the campaign. The rest – the Emergency, the 1977 elections and the Janata regime -- is history. The Anna Hazare campaign now has striking similarities with the JP movement. For instance, JP too was apprehensive of involving the parties that were then opposing the ruling Congress. He persisted with that until he was challenged by Indira Gandhi to ``prove’’ his own strength by contesting elections. JP bit the bait and witnessed his apprehensions come true. The Janata Party’s birth and its decimation in his own lifetime led a section of his followers away from the mainstream of Parliamentary democracy and spend their time and energy in building civil society institutions. Some adopted the path of receiving funds from abroad while a few persisted with organizing and orchestrating protests.
The point is that the soul of the JP movement had not died and the IT explosion in the past two decades lent a means to mobilizing protests that was not available to JP and his comrades then. In other words, censorship of the state controlled TV and Radio and the willingness of the print media to confirm had left JP without any other option than enlist support from the parties that were then in the opposition to mobilize in times of protest. This is not the case now. Some hard work during the past months with a dedicated set of IT professionals gave Anna Hazare and his team the cadre that could carry out protests, simultaneously, across the country. In other words, unlike in the past, technology has helped raise a political campaign without having to depend on parties, whether from the Left or the Right.
Only the naïve would have waited for one of the many parties to launch a campaign of this nature. Political parties across the spectrum are guilty of corruption and if the BJP and the CPI(M) have joined the campaign in their own way, it is guided by their survival instinct rather than any commitment to an effective institution to catch the corrupt. The nation’s middle classes as well as the poor and the oppressed are no longer innocent. They know the truth about the parties. And they waited for an alternative. There is, hence, now a possibility of an option emerging from this movement. It may or may not be a part of Hazare’s agenda and may or may not turn into another party in the long run.
The point now is whether the nation needs a law that creates an institution to catch the thief from among the political class, investigate their crime and prosecute them; and also do what is needed in accordance with law to take back such ill-gotten wealth? And if this is the question, whether the institution that the Government’s Bill seeks to set up will achieve the objects. The answer is that it will not do. The institution that will come into place will have to be empowered to receive complaints; must have the machinery to investigate under its superintendence; must be empowered to prosecute. And leave the judgment to the courts. This, after all, is what the CBI is meant to do: To receive complaints against the high and mighty, investigate and prosecute. The political establishment that is resisting a meaningful Lokpal is happy to allow a CBI with such powers! Only because they know that the CBI is their handmaiden.
Just think of this: Jaganmohan Reddy is now in the CBI’s grip. It is happening because he began irritating the Congress party. Not a day before he set out on his own. This is not to say that he is a victim. He is not. But he may manage to wriggle out if he negotiates and assures the Congress that he will behave in future. The CBI officers, drawn from among the IPS personnel, are indeed vulnerable because the agency comes under the Department of Personnel and Training and hence under the Prime Minister. An independent Lokpal, like the CAG or the Election Commission, can change the situation. It may not. But it can. And that is making the political class adamant that it cannot accept the proposals put forward by Anna Hazare and his team.
The Government side is now arguing that they may alter their Bill in a substantive sense but not within the time-frame set by Anna Hazare and his team. They say that Parliamentary Procedure will take longer and that August 31, 2011 is too short a time and that changing the law in such a pace will be an affront to the Constitution. The Congress leaders will only have to be reminded of the Constitution (Thirty Ninth Amendment) Act, 1975. The supreme law of the land was amended, in the middle of the Emergency. The amendment added Article 329-A to the Constitution by which election disputes involving the Prime Minister and the Speaker were kept outside the scope of the courts to decide. It was intended to save Indira Gandhi, whose election from Rae Bareili was held null and void by the Allahabad High Court.
The Constitution (Thirty Ninth Amendment) Act, 1975 was moved on August 6, 1975, the Bill was considered and voted in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 1975, in the Rajya Sabha on August 8, 1975 and endorsed by State Assemblies in special sessions convened on August 9, 1975 (though it happened to be a Saturday) and brought into effect on August 10, 1975 after obtaining assent the same day. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court was to take up the appeal by Indira Gandhi against the Allahabad High Court verdict on August 11, 1975! It is another matter that the Constitution Bench struck down the amendment.
The point is that it is possible that the Bill can be amended and made into a law in just a few days. It is, after all, an ordinary legislation.