Anna act will put politicians under public scrutiny (Comment)

September 3rd, 2011 - 1:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Anna Hazare A cynical Congress long addicted to using platitudes to fob off critics is facing the sternest test of its life. There is every possibility that the ‘aandhi’, or the whirlwind, conjured up by Anna Hazare will demolish its pretentious politics simply because the septuagenarian former army truck driver is a more trustworthy figure for the ordinary people than the party’s leaders.

Till the 1980s, the Congress did have the advantage of having politicians at the helm who enjoyed the people’s faith even if for brief periods although these were long enough to help it win elections. Indira Gandhi was believed when she promised to eradicate poverty although her ‘garibi hatao’ (Banish Poverty) slogan was seen as hollow by the discerning.

Similarly, ‘Mr Clean’ Rajiv Gandhi was hailed as someone who would keep his pledge to rid the Congress of “power brokers”. Again, within three years of his massive victory, the Bofors scandal dragged his name through the dust.

As the electorate lost faith in the party, the Congress’ majority dwindled till it had to buy a section of the MPs in the 1990s to remain in power.

The party has one advantage in the present-day coalition era. It is that the Congress’ group of allies is larger than the BJP’s because secularism has a wider appeal than communal sectarianism.

What Anna Hazare’s advent has done, however, is to take the focus away from the secular-communal divide. Instead, by emphasising corruption, the crusader has put the Congress in a spot. For once, it has realized that mere platitudes - such as that special courts will be set up to fight sleaze, as Sonia Gandhi promised - will not do.

Yet, any serious attempt to eliminate corruption will unravel the entire interlinked web of privileges and immunity from illegal acts which bind the political class and the bureaucracy. Till now, the only relief from this unholy nexus was provided by the defeat of the parties suspected of wrongdoing, like the DMK recently, or the Lokayukta’s revelation of malfeasance, as in Karnataka.

What Anna Hazare has done is to ensure that instead of such occasional dethroning of the culprits, their misdeeds will be almost always under the lens. It is this unrelenting scrutiny which will be unnerving for any party long used to being answerable only once in five years.

It is too early to predict the end result of a campaign of this unprecedented nature if only because it is dependent on one person. It is Anna Hazare’s personal quality of moral rectitude which has made dissenters as wide apart as the Kashmiri separatists to call upon him to investigate the unmarked graves in the valley, and Irom Sharmila, the doughty champion of human rights in Manipur, to reach out to him.

Their belief obviously is that he will tell the truth which neither the government nor its interlocutors can be trusted to do. And Anna is believed because he has no axe to grind, being a person without political ambition or craze for fame. It is this Gandhian image of being above the system which is Anna’s USP.

But there are several difficulties related to this perception. First, it will not be possible for Anna at his age to go around the country probing the reasons for grievances. Secondly, a man of his simplicity may not be able to grasp all the complexities of a given situation, such as the pros and cons of Irom Sharmila’s complaints against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. As a result, he can inadvertently play into the hands of India’s enemies.

Thirdly, it is more than likely that the heterogeneous group around him will not be able to maintain their cohesion for long. Already, two of them - Santosh Hegde and Swami Agnivesh - have dissociated themselves from Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi while Medha Patkar has been included.

But, since none of them is comparable to Anna in either the simplicity of lifestyle (except for Medha) or because of links with foreign donors, the satyagrahi’s reputation for probity runs the risk of being dented, even if indirectly.
Fourthly, being above the system is one thing. But provoking disrespect for it is quite another. Anna seems to have realised this, for he no longer castigates the voters as ‘bikaau’ or purchasable. But it is doubtful whether his followers have learnt this lesson.

(03-09-2011-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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