When Santosh Hegde, Lokayukta of Karnataka, member of the civil society's representatives for drafting the Lokpal bill, says that Anna Hazare should drop his plan of going on indefinite fast on the 16th of august, the natural reaction of a common man would be surprise, or rather shock! After all, isn't every right thinking man in the country against corruption, supporting Annaji's fast?
But the problem is, not every right thinking man has cared enough or is capable enough to actually think over the issue keeping in mind the DNA of our democracy-constitution.
At times things are not as simple as they appear to be on the surface and we might do well to scratch, even that, which appears to represent all that is good and transparent. Startling though that may seem, Santosh Hegde's comment on the issue deserves serious contemplation.
Now before you start writing me off me for a mindless UPA loyalist who has written this piece to defend the Government's toothless bill on Lokpal tabled in the parliament a few days back, let me make it very clear that I am NOT against Anna Hazare or his Jan Lokpal bill in its entirety and I do NOT favour the version of the Lokpal bill drafted by the Government, again, in its entirety.
It is only the inherent anti-democratic tendencies behind the attempts at moral cleansing that appear disturbing to me.
I only question the method chosen by Annaji and not, in any manner, his intent.
The first time that he went on fast, the kind of public support he generated didn't come as a shock considering the direction the country has been moving in the last three years- a series of scams, from the CWG lootfest, the mind-boggling 1.76 lakh crore rupees 2G scam, the Adarsh society scam to ISRO's S-band spectrum scam, were a blow, one after another when the country had already been bruised badly by the 26/11 carnage. Add to that the soaring inflation and the Government's apathy towards the poor (foodgrains rot and millions starve) and the SC's observation that the Government was doing absoloutely nothing on the black money issue and you have a country that is in a state of rage, an air of distrust and suspicion everywhere to be felt, the atmosphere actually charged due to the huge governance deficit and people just waiting for somebody to initiate a sort of uprising, to tell the Govt. who the real masters were.
Anna Hazare was the man, or messiah should I say. Everyone will agreee that it was absoloutely necessary that Annaji went on fast the first time round for it drew attention of the general public towards a bill that successive governments had sat over, for nearly a decade. People who, a month back, were not even aware of the existence of Lokayukta in states and about the institution of Omsbudsman in the Scandinavian countries, are now asking why it can't work here if it can work there, why don't we have a Lokpal yet if the concept has been there in front of us, successful, all this while. So the act in Jantar Mantar, i feel, is totally justified (though one is tempted to feel that it might set a bad precedent).
But this does not and should not, in our minds, give automatic sanction to the second fast to be held on 16th august.
Here are my reasons, which i hope, every rational being will agree with who holds the parliamentary democratic nature of India dear to him:
1. August 16th is an arbitrarily fixed date. Considering the fact that the Monsoon session has just about started and not much time has been given to the parliament to debate and discuss on the issue, august 16th appears to be too early. Those who have the slightest idea of how a parliamentary democracy functions, will acknowledge that the bill that has been tabled does not hold the status of a bill that is passed and it will now be referrred to the Standing Committee on law, justice and personnel and there will be fresh debates between the Standing Committee and Anna's team, hence giving ample opportunities to both the sides to revise the bill. To add to that we have a vibrant opposition (of late) which to Anna's pleasure, is in favour of having the PM in the ambit of the Lokpal and the hence ideally shortcomings of the bill must be overcome by amendments in parliament, moved either by the government or the opposition and not by fasting outside it.
2.Referendums to gauge popular support can be myopic, for not every individual is an intellectual, well versed in the modus vivendi of a democratic nation and the nuances of governance. If Annaji says that 85% of those asked were against the government's version of the bill, that does not give him the concession to go on fast against it.
Picture this: Geelani conducts a referendum in J&k and subsequently sits on a dharna for Azad Kashmir or Arundhati Roy conducts a referendum on the 'armed Gandhians' as she chooses to call the maoists and subsequently sits on an indefinite hunger strike asking the government to step down, both having gained majority suppourt, does it make sense or can you even imagine the government giving heed to their demands, just because it has popular support?
You may say that Annaji's issue and image both are different from Geelani's and Arundhati Roy's and are the former is morally impeccable. But dear reader, I never questioned these; my only attempt is towards making you realize the folly of basing our judgement on popular support garnered through media and referendums.
The mob does not always think.
3.The fasting method is fast turning out to be a sort of blackmail. If the country's lawmakers are held hostage constantly by activists then it is very much possible that India, someday, plunges into the status of an anarchic mobocracy. Annaji should let go of this method lest it should backfire and shake the very innards of our constitutional state, in the hands of obnoxious elements in the future.
4.For the largest democracy in the world, having a multy-party, pluralist nature, it would be a disgrace to let a non-representative, extra-parliamentary force influence the proceedings of the parliament. Yes there is always a place in democracy for civil society movements but the responsibilities of governance rest exclusively with an elected leadership.
Having hijacked the public mood, the civil society activists are now aiming for nothing short of a parallel system of governance which might prove to be disastrous.
What hence is imperative is that the civil society puts pressure on the government within the frameworks of law, by lobbying with the MPs and holding discussions with the opposition, if doing so with the ruling party has reached a dead-end, and not try to usurp it.
The following lines of renowned columnist Swapan Dasguta eloquently conclude my take on this issue, "If the moral depravity of politics is substituted by the pious tyranny of the self-appointed, it would be an equal disaster."
SUDHA SHAHSWATI SAHOO