Losing ground?

I was shocked the other day to hear Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress describe Anna Hazare as a Frankenstein’s monster.

I could understand the absolute Anna-fatigue that the nation is facing but Aiyar, I believe, was wrong for two reasons: however bugged one might be about anybody’s intransigence on any issue, we live in a democracy, after all. And while we might express our ire or even ennui at having to hear the same things over and over again ad nauseum, if people want to make fools of themselves, they should be allowed (and have every right) to do so.

Secondly, Anna Hazare just does not have the intellectual capacity to be a Frankenstein’s Monster – his is not a devious or evil mind. Rather, he is very literal-minded and with little understanding of the complexities of issues, tending to take things not as they come but as he sees it.

Which is why, I believe, he is being exploited by members of India Against Corruption, some with scams exposed against themselves too, who are far cleverer than Anna is and have caught on to his capacity to take things at a face value and, therefore, be an unquestioning crusader for their cause.

After pouring much scorn on Team Anna I am now beginning to despair for the man himself – I wonder when he will realise how he is being used by certain unscrupulous elements in the fight against corruption and what it might take to open his eyes to the fact that while corruption is an issue that moves most people, he or his team certainly do not represent the rest of the 1.2 billion people of India.

Otherwise, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance would not have been crushed in the last round of civic elections in Maharashtra with the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine sweeping across the state, including in Anna’s own home district of Ahmednagar.

Anna now talks of campaigning in the five states going to the polls next year and threatens the `Congress’ though not necessarily the UPA with decimation by campaigning against them in the 2014 polls. He thus exposes himself on two counts – as more anti-Congress than anti-corruption and as an ineffective campaigner given that the Congress-NCP swept the civic polls in Maharashtra in the face of his highly charged campaign against them, particularly NCP president Sharad Pawar who he had wanted slapped more than just once for the latter’s alleged corrupt activities.

Why I believe the IAC is anti-Congress rather than just anti-corruption is also borne out by the fact that neither Anna nor any members of his team have dared to take on Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena so far. Thackeray made it clear weeks ago that he thought nothing of the fight against corruption, did not support Anna’s agitation and dismissed his team as a bunch of self-serving individuals posing as saviours of the nation.

Now as Anna prepares for another fast in Bombay at the grounds belonging to the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, I wonder if he realises that that is Thackeray’s backyard, almost literally, being just at a stone’s throw from his home, Matoshree, and that with the next round of civic elections due in Bombay and other big corporations, the Shiv Sena is being accused of massive corruption that has led to bad roads, bad water supply and a bad everything in terms of civic facilities to Bombay’s residents over the past five years.

Yet Anna is setting his sights on 2014, more than two years away, and will do nothing to make sure that corrupt corporators do not return to power again and continue to deprive the city of much needed facilities.

So is the Congress (and a rather polite and self-effacing Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi) an easier target than the Shiv Sena whose goons are sure to beat up Anna supporters if they dare to point a finger at their own supreme leader?

And why is there no peep out of any members of the IAC when Thackeray openly positions himself against the Lokpal (and not just the Jan Lokpal) Bill presented in parliament saying he does not think any Lokpal of any kind can ever put an end to corruption? Of course, Thackeray is a realist as ever and not afraid to voice the truth unlike the rather pusillanimous Congress party and its leaders who have, nevertheless, delivered on their promise to present a Lokpal bill in parliament and even conceded much ground to the IAC on their rather impractical demands on many scores.

But I do believe the Congress has finally got its act together and got over its fear of Anna Hazare. For one, it has been firm over not giving in to Anna’s demand to write off what he might owe the Maharashtra government for renting the MMRDA grounds for several days (Rs 2 lakh per day – even the Bombay High Court threw out his petition demanding a concession saying there was no need for such an agitation by Anna when the bill was already presented to parliament: but that’s not the only ground that Anna seems to be losing). For another, the UPA has divided the attention of parliamentarians themselves by the completely needles provision for reservations on a constitutional body and particularly one for minorities when they know very well that such a religious reservation is against Constitutional provisions. And for a third, the CBI’s objection to the `compromise’ of its autonomy by the Lokpal bill (I believe not unengineered by Congress sympathisers) might prove another great stalling tactic.

But I am more amazed at the BJP’s naivete in swallowing the bait, hook line and sinker – I do not know if the parliament will really rush through a landmark legislation like the Lokball bill and pass it in three days as it seems to suggest. But surely the much debated provisions for these reservations are diversionary tactics and one seeking to deflect the blame from itself to other political parties. After all, the Congress has no majority of its own in either house of parliament and will need the support and co-operation of all other parties to get the bill through.

So do we hear any voices from Team Anna against those parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, whose leaders have already made it amply clear that they are not going to allow a smooth passage of the Lokpal bill as it exists now in parliament? Besides the reservations issue, they have poked other holes in the bill and to me that seems suspiciously like an act orchestrated by the Congress which has played on the fears of all politicians of all parties about the threat to their roles and existence were the bill to pass into law.

So the parties, I suspect, will take different routes to stalling the bill in both houses but ultimately they will all be dancing to the same tune. And that tune will not be one called by Anna Hazare.

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