India – Crossing the Rubicon

It may well be viewed as a spectacular triumph of one ordinary but incredible Indian. But the irrefutable fact is, in his victory lies also the victory of many millions of ordinary Indians who have chosen to believe and support and follow that one man – Kisan Baburao Hazare, more popularly known as Anna Hazare – who’s relentless campaign against rampant corruption in high places and low has recorded such a resounding success.

By Anand Sagar

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Published: Tue 30 Aug 2011, 10:08 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:45 AM

To his credit is the fact that eventually, and against all possible odds, he could prevail and convince even the most Machiavellian of politicians and the government of the day (the United Progressive Alliance coalition led by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh) to agree to endorse almost all the key elements listed out carefully, clause by clause, in the stringent draft of his Jan Lokpal (Ombudsman) anti-graft bill. This was, indeed, the imperative of the hour and indisputably it has indeed been answered well...on all sides, by almost everyone.

It should thus also be said, that to the credit of all parliamentarians on both the treasury and the opposition benches, they did rise rather admirably to the occasion in honouring the indomitable will of the people. And that they did pass a rare, unanimous, resolution in both Houses of India’s bicameral national parliament in support of Anna’s demand for a powerful, autonomous, Jan Lokpal – making it an absolutely unforgettable, historic, moment.

And, for once, its immediate impact can well be gauged by even the Aam Admi (the common man) anywhere out on the streets of India as he has begun to realise what precisely is meant by People’s Power and how it can and ought to be exercised in common public interest. This realisation alone, especially in the world’s largest democracy, may not suffice to ensure that the people eventually do get the government that they deserve. That’s the reason why Anna himself has been quick to acknowledge, “This is just a battle half won.”

Such momentous battles against such odds are never fully won too easily. That there is still a lot more to be done on many fronts is obvious. That a single Lokpal bill, irrespective of the sweeping scope and ambit of its envisaged jurisdiction, might not be enough to combat the spreading cancer of corruption is equally so. But it is primarily in the resurgence of the hope that it can-be-done, that there lies Anna’s real achievement.

The people now know that they no longer have to helplessly suffer a frustrating status quo in any sphere and that things can be changed for the better. And also, that sometimes all it takes for that to happen is one man with one idea – provided he has the kind of personal credibility and moral authority that Anna now commands.

Eight times earlier, in the past 43 years between 1968 and 2011, various versions of a Lokpal bill have been introduced in the Indian Parliament. All eight times, for one inexplicable reason or another, they met the same fate and were conveniently allowed to lapse into oblivion. But when Anna, the indefatigable 74-year Gandhian crusader, stepped out on August 16 and later began his indefinite protest fast at the Ramlila Maidan in the Indian capital New Delhi; and when millions turned up all across the country to join his campaign even in the midst of all the political turmoil it triggered, it was clear that the very fundamental dynamics of Indian democracy and how it functions is beginning to change. Or certainly will, in days to come.

For the moment, however, the parliament, irrespective of whether it was more by compulsion than choice, has somewhat restored the faith of the people in parliamentary democracy. It’s now up to the people to ensure that they are willing to hold themselves just as accountable to the same high standards of probity and propriety that they expect from those in power or public office.

But, if now, the question is What Next? Let me, here and now, say this: There are still some reasonable fears that an ‘omnipotent’ ombudsman may decidedly do more damage than good, if given all the wide powers over the central and state legislatures, the bureaucracy, and the judiciary et al…as is being demanded by Team Anna.

There are still some doubts about the justification of the means Anna has used to achieve his ends. And, lastly, if persuasion and not ‘coercion’ is the keystone of a true liberal democracy…Anna and his followers must now master this fine art as well. Or else, let us not forget in the ecstatic euphoria of the moment, that all that has been gained can all be lost too easily.

Anand Sagar is a former Foreign Editor of Khaleej Times

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