Can UPA reclaim popular mind space?
Differences within Anna Hazare’s team and between some of his associates and Baba Ramdev are hardly a reason for the government to rejoice. One can question their tactics, not their resolve or persistence. Despite diminishing appeal, their credibility among sections of the population is higher than the ruling combine’s.
There could be myriad reasons for Ramdev’s refusal to launch personalized attacks on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some of his ministerial colleagues. But its hard to miss the anxiety to keep intact his multi-crore rupee Patanjali conglomerate while salvaging the aura he lost after escaping police action at Ramlila Maidan last year.
A Congress regime is now in place in Uttarakhand, the Baba’s operational base for a countrywide network. He’s only being pragmatic in not going full-throttle after the party’s top leadership. That’s where the hiatus is between him and Arvind Kejriwal whom the PM emboldened by offering to quit public life if found to be in the wrong in allocation of coal blocks between 2006-09. Singh’s reaction hasn’t helped, exposing him to sharper more unbridled attacks.
Instead of speaking himself, he should have waited till other, saner voices intervened to question the Anna Team members’ approach. For instance, former CJI J S Verma— whom Kejriwal and Co had put on a list of possible member of an SIT to probe the PM and his cabinet colleagues— has distanced himself from the move.
“I can never be a party to anything that is undemocratic and unconstitutional. There is no need for any such probe,” said Justice Verma. Another former SC judge Kuldeep Singh spoke on similar lines while two others listed by Anna’s associates said their names were included without their consent.
But the unrelenting India Against Corruption (IAC) is unlikely to beat a retreat so long as its members are heard and have a profile in the media.
It will be interesting therefore to see how things pan out between them and Ramdev who, for his part, has decided to meet politicians with whom IAC at war: Manmohan Singh, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad, Sharad Yadav and even Sonia Gandhi. In the ongoing brinkmanship, Anna has tended to stand on two stools. He wants to be with the Baba without losing Kejriwal.
In my perception, the anti-graft activists will hang together rather than giving anyone a chance to hang them separately. That’s where lies the challenge for the PM and his men in the perceptional war in which IAC is in a position of advantage.
Steps have indeed been taken by the government to come across as being serious in fighting black money, graft and crony capitalism. Even as the activists question its intentions while asking for more, the ruling combine is at a loss for robust talking points and people who’d put them across.
Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasami ends up muddying waters each time he faces cameras or lends quote. He’s a veteran who isn’t TV material.
As an urgent first step, the government must obtain the final CAG report on “Coalgate” and place it before Parliament in the Monsoon Session for examination by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by the BJP’s MM Joshi. As per parliamentary procedure, the PAC’s findings will set the stage for an action taken report (ATR) by government.
As IAC has no use for such procedures, it will be street activism till then by the likes of Kejriwal. This precludes however the possibility of Anna, who too is a tad diffident in questioning upfront the PM integrity and honesty, choosing to rein in him.
Ramdev’s schedule of protests will culminate on August 9, by which time the presidential polls will be over and the country preparing for a string of assembly polls. The time widow the government has is short. So it must act fast, very fast to reclaim popular mind space.