Most of the people in India have heard of Mahatma Gandhi, The Father of the Nation, and, perhaps, would have seen his portrait or his photograph. There are a few who have been involved in his Independence struggle or have seen him in real life. Sixtythree years after the assassination of the Mahatma, the country is witness to a Gandhian revolution of sorts which some have euphorically called a ‘second freedom movement’.
When the 73-year-old Gandhian, social activist Anna Hazare landed in Delhi last Monday, few would have expected that he will galvanise the nation to fight corruption and bring the government to act to enact a meaningful and powerful Lok Pal bill to combat corruption. The government had more or less dismissed all his demands saying that these could not be practically implemented under the current parliamentary and political framework. Many independent observers thought that his intentions were good but his demands were a little unrealistic. The outcome that came on late Friday night was not anticipated on Tuesday when Hazare embarked upon the fast-unto-death.
Fortytwo years have passed since the Government of India had promised an anti-corruption mechanism called the Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta and till today the Lok Pal bill is in the draft stage despite several government and political parties coming to power at the Centre. Several attempts have already been made by prime ministers to bring forth the bill. But that has not seen the light of the day.
The last straw was, perhaps, the latest draft of the bill that was proposed to be introduced by the UPA government which is termed as truthless and ineffective by the activists. The bill envisages that the public tender all complaints either to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
They would screen the petitions and forward the ones they consider as needing to be investigated, to the Lok Pal. The Lok Pal would then investigate the complaint and make a recommendatory report to the Prime Minister or a competent authority to be notified.
The bill precludes bureaucrats from its ambit, nor is the Prime Minister covered under the proposed bill. The activist saw this as a weak attempt to derail an anti-corruption mechanism. Hazare wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi but did not get any response. He wrote again to the Prime Minister informing him of his intention to go on fast. Then he was called for a discussion. This was the stage when the social activist leader called for a fast for getting a meaningful and powerful Lok Pal bill.
The civil society had drafted a Jan Lok Pal bill which they wanted the government to discuss and then move it in Parliament. The government was only willing to hear views on their proposed draft. The activist demanded the setting up of a joint committee comprising equal number of members from the government and activists to draft the Lok Pal bill. The government said there was no provision for such a formation. It is the business of the government to legislate and they are open for discussions with anyone on the proposed legislation. The fast was undertaken in this backdrop.
The kind of response the fast evoked from all walks of life from lawyers to housewives and from old to the young was unprecedented. There were protests and popular upsurge from across the country. People took to the streets in many towns. The media started to focus on this agitation and the electronic media had its attention riveted on Anna Hazare and the support he was getting. It turned out to be much more than an attempt by an activist or the intelligentsia and it was obvious that it touched the right chord with the masses. Corruption had hit an entire society in such a manner that every one felt the need to put an end to this menace at long last. The support was growing by the minute for Anna Hazare and the political bosses saw the writing on the wall. The government started to negotiate with the ‘India against Corruption’ movement and one could see the government backing down slowly and steadily.
Giving in to the demands of the activists, the government was trying to be responsive but said they did not want to create a wrong precedence. By Friday evening, the government had conceded to almost all the demands such as formation of a joint committee, equal membership to activists, concept of two heads as chairman and co-chairman and finally the notification of the formation of the committee. It was certainly an acknowledgement that people’s power was at work and the government could no longer drag its feet on such an important issue.
The committee is now mandated to draft the Lok Pal bill before the end of June and the government is committed to introduce a bill in Parliament in the Monsoon session. It would now be difficult for the political class to be seen to be blocking an anti-corruption bill and, in all probability, they would lend their support to the proposed bill. What form the bill takes is yet to be seen. Anna Hazare has said it is just the beginning of the struggle and there is a long road ahead. It remains to be seen when and how this journey would reach the destination.
A good beginning. A long wait has come to an end and, perhaps, one would see a meaningful anti-corruption mechanism being put in place. The will of the people, the ultimate sovereign, has started to prevail on the political leadership. This needs to be properly channelised for the good of the country. The movement found a credible leader in Anna Hazare and the nation could rally behind him. It is important that the movement stays on course, reverted to its basic objectives. From anti-corruption, the next plank is expected to be electoral reforms, which is also crying for attention for over a decade. The winds of change have started blowing and let’s hope that it will assure in a new era in our democratic polity.