Lokpal, A Reality; Realpolitik Widens Anna-Arvind Rift

When political parties across the spectrum (except Samajwadi Party and Shiv Sena) in two Houses – Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha – rushed through and worked overtime – both on stage and off it – on two successive days – 17&18 December, 2013 – to pick up the thread from where they had left nearly 2 years ago to pass the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011, any discerning observers could easily make out that it had more to do with the real politik rather than a new-found love for this ombudsman.

Here is why I perceive the development the way I see it.

Ever since the  Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) recorded a resounding stunning win in the recently concluded Delhi elections, it was envisaged that Arvind Kejriwal- led party had been able to manage a foot in the door in Delhi’s political space so far monopolized by the two mainstream parties – the BJP and Congress. This brand new political party that till the other day was held in contempt by its rivals became overnight one to be held in awe by them, somewhat reluctantly tough!

With this, Anna’s vision of corruption-free India seemed to have moved a step ahead. The electoral politics that had degenerated to a level thought to be beyond the means of lesser mortals, finally manifested signs of breaking free from the past. The rules of the game had overnight undergone changes, thanks largely to new political outfit and the support extended to it by the voting class. It signalled a win-win situation for the two.

The mainstream political parties, however, totally taken by surprise, had apparently no reasons to rejoice over this development for it finally dawned on them that given an alternative to the voting class yearning for ‘change’ they stood little or no chance of getting to the seat of power. Delhi election results seem to convey this message in no uncertain terms.

The kind of fresh air that got circulated by this development has pleasantly surprised one and all and Anna despite having his own distaste for the manner in which Arvind Kejriwal broke away from him, was seen wearing a smile after the Delhi results.

Anna was delighted with this development, congratulated Arvind Kejriwal and is on record saying that had he campaigned for AAP Arvind could well have been occupying the Delhi Chief Minister’s chair with a comfortable majority. This was in the week beginning following the declaration of results on 8th December, 2013.

However, soon thereafter – in fact, only a couple of days later – when Anna sat on his yet another indefinite fast for his Jan Lokpal Bill at his native village – Ralegaon Siddhi – in Maharashtra on 10th December, the mood – from the one being reasonably cordial and none too hostile – gradually started gravitating towards one of ‘confrontation’- unilaterally though, from Anna’s side. It was the kind of development that may have surprised many discerning observers who have followed with interest the progress of both AAP and Anna along the way.

It was at his juncture that the mainstream parties, joining hands -in –hands, keeping aside their differences of the past, for a short while though, swung into some real politik with a common objective of belittling and cornering the newbie AAP. The rift between Anna and Arvind coming out in the open handsomely served to execute their plan of action.

Let’s see how it all developed and got escalated.

It all began when Gopal Rai, an AAP member, sent by Arvind Kejriwal as emissary in support of Anna’s fast for the cause, indulged in some heated exchange of words with Gen (Retd.) V K Singh, who, while addressing the crowd gathered, went on to say: “Some people in AAP think that they are bigger than Anna…. and that it was sheer opportunism that Arvind Kejriwal broke away from Anna….”

The die was, nevertheless, thus cast for further confrontation between Anna and Arvind – the mentor and the mentee, the guru and shishya. Seizing this opportunity with both hands the mainstream political parties worked in tandem to isolate and perhaps attempted to sow a seed of discord between Anna and AAP basically with a view to discredit and do some damage to the new political outfit in retaliation of what it had done to them.

With this end in view, one such significant action decided to be taken up was tabling (or say, re-tabling after a gap of 2 years) of Lokpal Bill (after it had been studied, revised and recommended by the Select Committee of the Parliament), in this Winter Session in Rajya Sabha, the Upper House. This was done on 13th December, 2013. The Rajya Sabha passed it on 17th and Lok Sabha a day later on 18th December. And in both the Houses the members seemed over- enthusiastic and eager to finish the job that incidentally had been hanging fire for the past 45 years, and more importantly, the same had been ingeniously stalled on the last occasion by the very same Members in Rajya Sabha in December, 2011.Anna Hazare

What’s further significant to note here is, the said Parliamentary Committee is reported to have submitted its report in December, 2012 – a year ago – and since then the two Houses of the Parliament have had 3 sittings – 2012 Winter, 2013 Budget and 2013 Monsoon Sessions- when it was perhaps not deemed proper and necessary to table the Lokpal Bill as it has been thought of and done this time round.

The mainstream political parties reversing their common stance on this issue was based wholly on political considerations rather than their any new-found love for this Bill aimed at containing corruption. We may, for the sake of better appreciation of the kind of attitude and approach that they were guided by in the past, recall how actually the political class was disposed towards Lokpal Bill some two years ago and till as recently as the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections.

Let’s recap what happened before.

At the height of Anna and his India Against Corruption mounting extreme pressure (April, 2010- December, 2011), the Union government of the day, willy-nilly framed the Lokpal Bill. And in the teeth of its being dubbed by team Anna as weak Bill, the same was tabled and passed in 2011 Winter Session of Lok Sabha. The way the things unfolded soon thereafter during 27-29 December, 2011 – extended Winter Session of Parliament – stalling the progress of the said Bill, simply served to expose the real intent or otherwise of the political class of seeing the Lokpal Bill – strong or weak – to fructify.

Anna tried his best but then he was politically outsmarted in a manner just noted that left him sad and disappointed. He was, in a way, challenged to come again if he so intended.

However, he had made a lasting impression on his countrymen and, as it was, the Anna-effect – a path breaking phenomenon- had arrived in the modern-day democratic India.

In the backdrop of the reality check on Lokpal Bill after it was first mooted and presented in Parliament way back in 1968 and the tumultuous path that it was made to traverse all these 45 years before it’s headed to take a shape now, may apparently raise many questions that the political class may find it tough to answer. The concluding leg of its journey, having regard to the facts noted here, one may perceive, that but for the recent electoral debacle in Delhi, the mainstream political parties would probably have continued to pursue status-quo on this issue.

Yes, regardless of the fact that BJP and Congress now patting their own back and claiming credits for seeing the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 through and now voicing aloud their commitments to fight against corruption, where do the facts actually lie, are all very well known to countrymen at large. The way Rahul Gandhi and Anna Hazare, at the final stage exchanged communications praising each other and subsequently conveyed congratulatory messages to each other – Rahul doing so inside Parliament and Anna just ahead of breaking his fast in the wake of Lokpal Bill’s passage in Lok Sabha – apparently speak of the political mileage for his Congress party one was aiming at and the other in order to get the entire focus and credit for him that his sustained efforts had brought in. Likewise, Sushma Swaraj on behalf of BJP, without mincing any words – both inside Parliament and outside – was all praise for the old man (read Anna Hazare) and Anna too taking care to return such complements in ample measure, simply speak of the reciprocity the duo had indulged in.

The message in expression of such sentiments sought to be passed on from both sides – Congress and Anna being one; BJP and Anna being another – was loud and clear: that it was Anna and Anna alone who was eventually instrumental in shaking up the political establishments that led to fruition of the Lokpal Bill; it had, however, nothing to do with AAP’s recent success in Delhi.  It was also otherwise a well conceived strategy on their part to make a divide between Anna and Arvind and sensing that a wedge had already appeared between the two, the two political parties simply pounced on this opportunity to widen this rift. Kiran Bedi and Gen (Retd.) V K Singh with duo’s political leaning otherwise unobtrusive, yet well-known, camping at Anna’s fasting site and playing their assigned role to perfection, left no one in doubt the kind of brief the twosome were holding and the mission they were assigned with.

Arvind Kejriwal
Be that as it may, however, the fact remains that AAP’s resounding win had its own impact in the course of events that followed in Parliament. It had prompted the two mainstream parties to swing into action fearing that any further delay may only hurt them more in 2014. In the euphoria of passing of the Lokpal Bill Anna seems to have lost sight of the fact that it was basically due to the combined strength of the two – Anna and AAP – complementing each other well that had sort of compelled the veteran political parties to eventually pay heed to the demand for setting up an ombudsman.

Anna before breaking his indefinite fast, in course of acknowledging his gratitude to Congress, BJP, Indian Parliament and its Select Committee and all the rest, had a dig at AAP and Arvind, rather unnecessarily and avoidably though.

Arvind, on his part, continues to reiterate that Anna is his guru and that he holds Anna in very high regard.

Hope, Anna is listening.

Narendra Bhagat

Written by

A retired I.A.S. officer, Mr. Narendra Bhagat spends part of his time to blog and write for our magazine. He has authored two books.

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