The Lokpal Pill

Irrespective that the crusade by Anna Hazare was a result of circumstances created by the BJP and the collective opposition’s hard line on corruption under the UPA regime, the point remains that the Lokpal Bill is a bitter pill for the Congress to swallow. But looking at the mood of the nation, it will have to comply.


Just as the channels started beaming the first images of the fast declared by septuagenarian Gandhian war-horse Anna Hazare, an old journalist friend sent me a message text suggesting that had I avoided stepping into politics and taken a similar course as Anna Hazare, I would have been a hero too. With some satisfaction I pointed out to him that Hazare’s fast was also a coadjuvant result of the political movement created by the BJP, the party I joined, and other opposition parties to force the government on an issue that has been endemic to Congress rule since the late sixties.

This remark by a friend provides an interesting background to the progression of the demand for a reworked Lokpal Bill even as it is launched in the throes of some of the most damaging examples of graft to have hit our nation, wave after wave over the last few months, taking a toll on our self-image as much as blunting it elsewhere in the world.

It is a fact of life that politics mirrors life, and that civil society movements share an oeuvre with such political trends. It cannot be otherwise, and it is reciprocal because equally many political movements have their roots in civil society initiatives. But it would be myopic for anyone to miss the concomitant circumstances which have given this protest by Hazare the sharpness it has gained.

It could even be argued that Hazare’s fast, or campaign as it moves into the final stages, was forced on him and his compatriots by the precise conditions created by the efforts of the opposition in taking the issue to the masses. The issue of unaccounted black money stashed in Swiss banks; the lenient attitude towards pilferage in telecom for so long; the bold incursions on public funds whether through scams or through established networks of profiteering contractors in government projects as in the CWG have all played a very major part in causing the conditions that give this fast by Hazare a powerful context.

There is a danger however in reading this development in polar terms. For one, it is really not just about the Lokpal Bill but a macabre celebration of the death of probity in national politics and it must be seen by everyone as a clarion call to what this nation demands of itself and its leadership. For another, it must not become a mela, a jamboree or a pilgrimage of floating activism where the young and impressionable, forever looking for a cause, flock for a token kick but must mutate into an army of demanding soldiers who will rest at nothing but the truth from those they elected.

The activists who are managing the mass of visitors to Jantar Mantar must take also the responsibility of ensuring that this movement does not splinter, either of its own hubris or by vested groups unleashed by Government and that it transforms itself into a molecular structure with a DNA of its own that does not allow it to rest easy.

To that extent it is a matter of regret, even if it is understandable, that the protestors are wary of allowing any political personalities near the podium because in doing so they stab the fabric of democracy in the back even as they use it to wipe their blade. But not too much must be made of it – it is enervating sometimes to hold centre stage on issues that have riled you for long, and their youthful irritation can be absorbed for the moment. What is looking less elegant is the disgruntled growls from the incumbent Congress led government, which feels a little upstaged, perhaps cornered at the turn of events.

But there is intrigue too. Might it be that some of our friends from civil society who are leading the charge on this issue today have decided to give it back to the NAC – the formal and formidable attempt by the Congress to co-opt civil society space by entangling some key players in a quasi-advisory role in policy hunting? Might it be that the splintering of opinion on Hazare’s timing of his fast and the fine print of the final Bill is merely gnashing of teeth by NAC members left in the lurch for pandering too much to the Congress party president’s gambit after an equally petulant defiance by a splinter group who wanted to cash in on the moment of heat?

Either way, the interesting thing here is that Congress party honchos and every one authorized to open his or her mouth on behalf of the party on the issue ended up giving Congress baiters a field day. To anyone who is adept at reading political movements it must have been clear that the Congress had overplayed its hand and that someone was going to disallow them the comfort of choosing their time and place to allow the Bill in a compromised avatar. It is alleged in fact that the NAC members were, as part of their co-operational dharma, tasked with dillydallying on the Bill until the Government found a comfortable opportunity to organize some sort of a grand entry on this issue. Anna Hazare is guilty of stealing their thunder. That explains the quibbling about the manner, timing, style even substance of Hazare’s protest by some of the NAC’s loyal members as well as the free float activist brigade.

The resentment of the Congress at the manner in which the protest has spiraled out of control to become a national campaign propelled by common folks and a lot of youth power is also representative of the poor calls the party has made recently. The party’s discomfiture is also to do with the echo of the opposition’s campaign against it on account of the sticky scams that cling to them. Where they were hoping for a reprieve from the humiliation of scams after the heady world cup win, and they tried their best to ride the wave we know, this fast unto death by Hazare has hit them like a bolt from the blue and changed the course of public opinion with greater effect than a yorker. No wonder they have fumbled at every step. Instead of appearing soft, they came across as combative; then when it hit home that this isn’t going their way at all, they let out the advance parties who paddled around ungainly and only added to the depth of public ire. Finally, as you will see, the government will cower and give in. I predict however that the satyaghrahis will not have a clean win of their demands, but not because of the obduracy of the political class, but due in major part to the premeditated opposition by honourable NAC members who feel left out in the cold. But that is a story for another day.

There is some merit in a few dissenting notes held out by skeptics on the issue of peppering the selection committee with civil society mandarins or ordinary Joes because that is tantamount to institutionalizing a mistrust of the political class. One could argue, that in the present season of dubious standards at the highest levels in Government, as we have seen in the appointment of the last CVC, this is almost  a reasonable proposal but it is one that we should, even if painfully, eschew only, just only, to keep the pyramid of political accountability within its pristine isosceles stability. Apart from that essential, but not critical point most other aspects of the draft are workable and within the realm of the possible – after all, how far removed can civil society activism be from logic and fairness than politics, if both were practiced honestly.

All it needs now is that the Prime Minister takes the bait, and agrees to the proposed Bill hook, line and sinker. Anything short of that is almost like trying to row a sinking boat – with much optimism, but not a lot of hope.


This post has appeared as an op-ed piece in The Pioneer, New Delhi on Saturday 9th April, 2011 under a different headline.

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3 Responses to “The Lokpal Pill”
  1. Anoop Purushottam says:

    Mr.Kaul,just wanted to remind you of what a certain K.N.Govindacharya…yeah the same one who was the brain behind Ramkishan Yadavs theatrics has to say on BJP….(No need to remind you of his other crederntials.)…He actually said that the principal reason for the people like Ramdev & Anna Hazare to emerge as the new messiahs of the middle class is the monumental failure of the BJP to shoulder its responsibility as the principal opposition party….And to think that Nitin Gadkari said in one of his foot-in-mouth stupor that after 2014 BJP will emerge with a majority…..some sense of humour this…Agreed Congress is playing very badly…but does that mean that BJP should look towards the sky for the rains to fall????The present leadership of the BJP is nothing but a worse compliment the RSS can give to the Congress….Manmohan Singh never speaks….and here we have a party president who is an exponent in puttting his feet in the mouth at the same time….Mr.Kaul,your derision for the Congress is not misplaced but your advocacy for the right wing cause is a laugh riot…..

  2. sanjaykaul says:

    All par for the course. Tectonic shifts produce a lot of disturbance. We have to take it and move on.

  3. sh says:

    What is your take on this blog? is it an over expression?


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