Apologize for not filling in last week...I was not keeping good health. However, the single news that dominated last week and the previous one was this - The indefinite fast by Anna Hazare, demanding the passing of his version of Jan Lokpal bill.
An earlier blogpost, written when Anna first fasted on this issue, has detailed links on the background of the bill. After the government agreed for consultations, Anna Hazare called off his fast. After that, the government of India and members of Anna Hazare's team met several times to come up with a joint draft. However, apparently there were 7 differences (strangely, am unable to find the list of these 7 items, but an extensive list is here ) between both the parties, and the government of India was unwilling to incorporate these demands. This led to breakdown of talks, and to the beginning of confusion.
The government first said, we will present both versions of the bill to the Cabinet and whatever cabinet approves, we will present it in Parliament. And then we are told that only the government draft will go the cabinet. Meanwhile, protests erupt intermittently, demanding that both versions be presented. The government suddenly realises that the opposition was not included in any of the deliberations. It suddenly realises that all this while, it has been talking about supremacy of elected representatives, and it has not consulted those very representatives! So, as is the norm, an all party meeting is called. And in this all party meeting, all opposition parties were unanimous in condemning the unilateral action of the government ignoring the opposition in the first place. Some sanctimonious UPA partners derided Anna, asking who the hell is Ann to dictate terms, at which point they were reminded that their own government was talking to Anna all along!
After taking the government to task at this meeting, it was proposed that the government should first come up with a draft, introduce the bill in Parliament, send it to standing committee, debate it further and then pass (in accordance with the established procedure). The draft bill approved by the Cabinet is presented in Parliament on the 4th of August, 2011. Meanwhile, Anna Hazare had long back announced that he will again begin fasting on August 16th, if the Jan Lokpal is not passed in this session. The government was adamant that passing the bill is impossible, we will introduce the bill and according to established procedure, send it to the Standing Committee to study it further, and then pass the bill. This process is due to take some time, and therefore the demand that the bill be passed this session is unreasonable. Fair enough.
However, the mood against the bill presented by the government was agitative. Immediately after the bill was presented, Sushma Swaraj (BJP), leader of Opposition stood up and said, the BJP wants the Prime Minister to be included in this bill. She wondered why the government is not willing to have the Prime Minister when the previous version of the bill, presented in 2001, included the PM. And she also reminded that the standing committee that went over this bill was headed by Pranab Mukherjee. Pranab reminded her that that version of the Lokpal bill was not passed. And the discussion ended there. The bill was sent to the Standing Committee.
And with this, the government washed its hands off, saying the ball is now in the committee's court. Meanwhile, the hyping up of Anna Hazare's impending fast began in all earnest. The arrogance of the government was slowly showing too. First, they refuse permission for this fast. Then they put in the most unreasonable conditions for giving permission (stuff like, you can have only 5000 people at the venue, you can fast only for 3 days and worst - only 50 two wheelers and 50 four wheeler will be allowed to park!!). The government then goes on an overdrive saying Anna is breaking the law blah blah. Anna Hazare declares that he will start his fast on the 16th of August, despite these conditions. "Supremacy of law" was played in a loop by the government. And then their biggest blunder.
The government arrested (yes arrested) Anna Hazare on the morning of August 16th, from his house!! Not just the arrest, they took him to an "unknown location". The ensuing confusion was unprecedented. Suddenly it was not about the Jan Lokpal bill anymore. It was about a citizens right to protest against the government (and Parliament). Anna's demands might be unreasonable but none can snatch away his right to protest. And along with him, the rights of thousands of his supporters. Home Minister P. Chidambaram tells in a press conference in the afternoon that he does not know where Anna is. All he knows is that Anna will be presented at a Magistrate soon! He along with Kapil Sibal and Ambika Soni reel out standard answers (they could have gone to court if demands were unreasonable blah blah). And then the next blunder happened.
The Magistrate ordered that Anna Hazare be sent to Tihar jail (along with Kiran Bedi and Shanti Bhushan). This was laughable beyond comparison. We have media highlighting that Anna is sent to the same jail that houses the epitomes of corruption. Even the worst critics of the JanLokpal Bill and the methods Anna chose to undermine the government, were shocked at this decision. TV media then suddenly flashes that the saviour of this country, Rahul Gandhi has stepped in and now Anna Hazare will be released from jail. Suddenly, all those platitudes of law taking its course and government having no hand in the arrest was blown to pieces. Now, Delhi police get orders to release Anna.
Anna refuses to come out of Tihar jail. He wants the government to relax all conditions set for his fast. He wants to fast at Ramlila maidan, and unless the government relents on conditions set for this fast, he will not leave Tihar jail. This whole arrest drama is where the government lost the entire plot. The moment the Congress government stifled the right of a citizen to protest, there is no way out of that quagmire. Ultimately the government had to relent to all these conditions, and the fast continued from the Ramlila maidan.
And the response only began to grow. In many cities across the country, protest marches were organised. Thousands of people joined these marches. Critics countered saying these thousands did not know about the draconian provisions of the Jan Lokpal bill. Critics argued that this kind of blackmail will not work, and must not be encouraged. Critics argued that this fast is setting a path towards anarchy. And with each such argument, the crowds just began to increase. Congress party even called Anna Hazare a corrupt person and used harsh language against him(only to apologise later)
The anger is real. We have seen monumental and unprecedented amounts of corruption these past two years. The breaking point of people's patience was reached. Previously, when we opened newspapers, there was news of murder everywhere. These two years, all we see is news of corruption. This massive corruption by the Congress government and the Prime Minister's stellar contribution to the rise of corruption in this country was the sole cause for this anger. It did not matter what the provisions of the bill are - all it mattered was this movement was against corruption. That's all it mattered - and this Congress government is entirely responsible. The valid arguments of blackmail were drowned in this massive support, and frankly it didn't matter if this was blackmail or not.
The outpouring of emotions on the street was a good thing. That most of them who joined these protests, at one point or the other broke some rule or the other is a fact. However, if their participation will lead to a better society, where traffic rules are not broken, bribes are not paid to get things done in the parliament, then the movement has achieved something.
Each passing day only increased the participation. People braved rain and sun, applied leave to their offices, took a break from their work - and announced they supported Anna. All this while, negotiations were on. Prime Minister also wrote a letter, in which he says "your and our object is identical"!! Finally, Anna said that if three of his demands are accepted, he will end his fast. He wanted lower bureaucracy to be bought under the ambit of Lokpal; a citizen's charter to be displayed at all offices; and establishment of Lokayukta at state level.
The government again began it's bungling here. One day, the Prime Minister says he is ready to discuss these. Next day, Rahul Gandhi is given an out of turn chance to speak in Lok Sabha and he says JanLokPal is not the solution and gives a "I believe in" kind of speech, which frankly revealed more about his stupidity than anything else. Anyways, the confusion was much more evident now. The fast entered into the 11th day and the government was nowhere close to finding a solution.
With active intervention from BJP and other opposition parties, the differences in the resolution were ironed out. The congress party was still continuing it's confusing gameplan. On thursday, we are told there will be a debate on friday. On Friday, Rahul Gandhi delivers his magnum opus at 12. More confusion. At 2:10, government says debate is at 2:30pm!! Without consulting parties on what kind of resolution, they announce a debate at 2:30. BJP objects, and more time is bought now. Finally Parliament agrees to meet on Saturday, in which the opposition tore into the government and also into some of the unreasonable demands of the members of Anna Hazare's team.
After a day long debate in Parliament (details on that later :) ), the House agreed in principle to the three demands of Anna Hazare, and sent its recommendation to the standing Committee. Anna agreed to end his 13 day fast.
Phew - that was a very long post :) Apologies, but wanted to document all at one place. That we continue to suffer from this tragic Congress regime is unfortunate. Will end this post now - and will continue later :) Before ending, hats off to the 74 year old Anna Hazare. Hats off.