First fast and the formation of the Draft Committee
5th to 9th April 2011, at Jantar Mantar
Initially the movement picked up very slowly with online petitions and SMS means of marketing, along with networking of NGO’s who provided the volunteers and funds for the first fast at Jantar Mantar. The support SMS were estimated at 60 million.
In Bangalore, people protested at Freedom Park. All the four metros and tier II cities joined the chorus demanding the passage of Jan Lokpal bill. On the third day of the fast, most state capitals had a spot where people gathered to protest.
This had not happened since the days of the Janata Party. Even business leaders like B. Muthuraman, Rahul Bajaj, Adi Godrej, Uday Kotak and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw had aired their support to Anna. Almost 30,000 taxis kept out of the roads in Mumbai, and High Court lawyers in Allahabad went on strike. Had the government been able to pick the trend and the extremely volatile situation in the country, the movement would not have assumed the monstrous proportions in Ramlila Maidan.
If the government had wanted to avoid any public arm-twisting at this point, it would have seized the moment to initiate a debate in Parliament. The least that could have been done is to combine the motley groups of NGO’s who oppose IAC to bring about a stalemate, and drive home the point that the civil society members themselves are not united.
But the government of the day bought itself time to delay the inevitable, by issuing a gazette notification on the formation of a joint committee with a politician chair and an activist co-chair. The five nominee Ministers of the government were Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, M. Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed.
The five activist nominees were Anna Hazare, N. Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal. This arrangement created an explosive situation which aggrieved the civil society members who saw the politicians switch to their old ways, and receive support from bureaucrats in an attempt to preserve their system.
The fact is that the bill was allowed to lapse 10 times since the year 1969.
History repeated itself when it was withdrawn in 2011 as well. On July 28th, 2011 the cabinet approved a draft that left the Prime Minister, judiciary and lower bureaucracy out of the Lokpal ambit. The civil society cried foul saying that it would leave 90 percent of the bureaucracy outside the law and those are the ones that are most vulnerable to corruption. The argument was that the correct draft had to be sent to the cabinet; however the draft prepared by the government nominees alone was sent for approval.
Ramdev’s Upmanship and Police Action
This arrangement failed not only for internal reasons, but also because Baba Ramdev, who obviously wanted to steal a march over Anna, converted his air conditioned yoga session in Delhi into a lavish “anti-black money” crusade. The welcoming of Ramdev at the airport by Cabinet ministers and the subsequent telecast of police action at midnight that crushed the protest, led to claims of political high handedness and comparisons to the “emergency” years.
In the following days, threats by the Anna camp to lead a protest again led to veiled threats that similar actions will be taken on Anna and his team. So, it is reasonable to believe that the Union Government was overconfident and emboldened after Ramdev’s fiasco.
There was a lack of public outcry in spite of the media coverage, and a subordinate police force that crushed protests, however non-violent they were, lulled the decision makers to a false sense of security. The stubborn refusals, denials, and blatant watering down of the draft, indicated that the government machinery was raring to have a go at Anna and his Team at the earliest, to recover its damaged pride, which was lost at Jantar Mantar.
The Congress party spokesperson seemingly employed psychological tactics by trying to discredit and rundown Anna Hazare’s character; questioning the accounts of his NGO which had spent some of the funds on his birthday, which was however dismissed as an innocent mistake by the Income Tax department, as it was reimbursed immediately. That particular party spokesperson was immediately removed from the anti-Anna campaign and he subsequently apologized.
After this fiasco, the government switched to overdrive to convert Lokpal into a BJP-Congress tussle, naming the BJP and the VHP as the handlers of the pawn.
Accusations flew around that Anna is a saffron proxy just like Ramdev, but it goes to the credibility of Anna and the media, that the spot light was fixed on the Lokpal bill. The public didn’t trust the government view, that it was just another trick of the BJP. So what was perceived as attempts by the government to divert the issue, failed.
The party by virtue of being people-elected could have magnanimously called for an all party meeting to issue a united statement, to check corruption. But instead it went on the defensive when its strategies failed, and waited for the use of force just like the kind used on Ramdev.
The main issues were that of the Prime Ministers immunity, the independence of the Central Bureau of Investigation, inclusion of the judiciary and lower bureaucracy, Lokayuktas in states and the Citizen’s Charter. These were the most contentious points over which the Anna team and government could not reach a compromise. But this was understandable since the government found it unreasonable to deal with an informal, unelected body.
The following table shows the difference of opinion between Anna and the government as well as the main players in the opposing camps.
The build up to the Second fast
20th to 28th August 2011, at Ramlila Maidan
The day of Independence was a golden opportunity for the ruling class to declare steps to curb corruption. On August 15th, Anna meditated in full view of cameras at Rajghat, giving precious indications of what he would do next.
Facebook, Youtube and Twitter trends were in favor of Anna Hazare for the next two days. But the government was not getting it right when it whisked him away to Tihar Jail on the morning he was to demonstrate at Jai Prakash Narayan National Park. This proved extremely short sighted in nature as preventive detainment was not a sustainable charge on the 73-year-old social worker. The Gandhian seized this moment and played a Shivaji!
To Be Continued…
Image Source [http://www.flickr.com/photos/lingeswaran/6095251443/sizes/l/]