UPA II: Countdown to Exit door
by Sandhya Jain on 03 Jan 2012 9 Comments

The bells toll for the ignominious UPA-II. Having thrown down the gauntlet by asking the government to resign following exposure of its lack of majority in both Houses of Parliament, as also loss of support from key coalition partners, the BJP must ensure the downfall of the regime during next year’s Budget session. All political parties, including UPA allies, must realize that the only way to maximize electoral gains in future assembly or parliamentary polls is by distancing from the Congress.

Even if parties are not ready for early elections, it is politically wise to jettison the lame duck UPA. In the current era of coalitions, parties are agile enough to cobble up a government and rule for as long as it lasts. One hopes the disastrous tenure of UPA-II would have taught politicians that a government must go when it loses legitimacy, and they must never agree to amend the constitution to ensure fixed tenures for regimes that lose parliamentary support.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi are the biggest losers of the Lokpal fiasco. Though she tried to remain aloof from and above the Lokpal agitation in April and August, the manner in which Anna Hazare invoked her name to make government cave to his demands, suggests covert blessing for his cause. Nothing else explains the creation of the joint drafting committee in April, where Team Anna (Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal) expected to dictate terms to the Centre.

When the movement’s stridency raised hackles amongst Ms Gandhi’s National Advisory Council and sections of Congress began asking questions about Hazare’s functioning, India Against Corruption (the NGO serving as movement secretariat), was forced to reveal details of its funding.

The family of a sitting Congress MP was the major donor; something unlikely without a nod from the Gandhis. Then, Delhi Police literally beat the supporters of Baba Ramdev out of the anti-corruption crusade, clearing the decks for the lionization of Anna Hazare. The BJP hoped to climb on the Anna bandwagon for electoral benefits, which he adroitly denied them while using their supporters to swell his ranks. But a mature old guard in Congress and government let the movement hyperventilate before using the rage of parliamentarians to rein it in. The ‘sense of the House’ – without voting – that was conveyed to Anna with a request to call off his fast was actually a polite signal that government and parliament would not submit to emotional blackmail.

That Anna and his Team did not or would not understand suggests a hidden benefactor. One need not look far – intervening in the Lok Sabha in August, Mr Rahul Gandhi mooted the idea of Lokpal as a constitutional body. The attempt to realize this dream (diktat?) made the government cut a sorry figure in both Houses of Parliament.

Some issues arise from the parliamentary drama. First, the mysterious disappearance of 13 Congress MPs in the crucial Lok Sabha voting on the constitutional amendment could suggest disenchantment with the Gandhi family. Second, MPs may have viewed the poor response to Team Anna in Mumbai and Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan as a sign that despite popular disgust with corruption, events since August had taken the shine off Team Anna.

While Kiran Bedi’s financial inventiveness is small change, Prashant Bhushan’s televised interview
advocating freedom to secede to Kashmir was shocking, as was his father’s defence of these views. Arvind Kejriwal canvassed in the Hissar bye-elections (and Team Anna has plans for the forthcoming elections in some States). The sitting Karnataka Lokayukta – it was a conflict of interest that Team Anna put him in the joint drafting committee with the Union Government – displayed serious partisanship when he appeared in the media hinting broadly that his report on illegal iron ore mining in the State would indict the sitting chief minister. Finally, the report that the Maharashtra unit of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, of which Anna Hazare was a board member, sold the trust’s land in Pune to a private builder (a case now in the Supreme Court) took the sheen of Anna. 

Given its advocates, it would be unwise for any political party to commit to Lokpal. This is an idea whose time has gone; serious efforts should be made to make the citizens charter, judicial accountability, and whistleblowers protection laws work properly. Meanwhile, all political parties should analyze the issues that came to light in the Lok Sabha debate and shun Lokpal as a totalitarian institution dangerous to democracy.

When Mr Lalu Yadav objected that the Bill included the Armed Forces and this could subject them to harassment, the Government speedily took the Armed Forces out of the Lokpal ambit. It is pertinent that the original bill tabled in the Lok Sabha on 4 Aug. 2011 did not mention the Armed Forces; nor were they included by the Standing Committee; this was done later and approved by Cabinet (possibly under pressure).

It demeans Indian democracy to put the Prime Minister who is the leader of the nation under the Lokpal, and keep out NGOs that push foreign agendas using foreign funds and Corporates that corrupt institutions for private benefit. This is also baffling as most of the public support garnered by Team Anna in April and August was due to the Commonwealth Games and 2G Spectrum scams, which exposed the politician-businessman-bureaucrat nexus.

The idea of putting the Prime Minister under Lokpal is pernicious. Today multinationals are trying to seize control of the Indian food chain by pushing GM seeds on one hand and FDI in retail on the other. Indian corporates are being used to push for FDI in other sectors, like airlines. A prime minister refusing to tow the line could be harassed through Lokpal.

Add Team Anna’s insistence that all government servants including Group C and D come under Lokpal, and you have a monstrous extra-governmental agency with supreme powers over each and every government servant. The idea of giving such an agency control over the CBI is madness. Far from tackling corruption, Lokpal can be used to coerce and blackmail each and every government servant, from minister to peon, to do the bidding of unseen masters.

Lokpal was always a bad idea. Citizens in the national and financial capitals have given it the cold shoulder. Parliament should follow suit.

The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

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