By B. Raman
December 29, 2011, will go down in the history of Indian democracy as marking the acme of insincerity, ineptitude and infamy.
The Government of Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Congress Party headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi conducted themselves in a manner that confirmed the suspicions of many — particularly in the younger generation that is the future of this country — that they have been insincere in their professions of wanting to rid this country of the evil of corruption by setting up an anti-corruption architecture that will fight this evil with determination and competence.
The Lokpal Bill introduced by the Government gave the impression of a leadership at long last conscious of the depth of public anger against corruption at the political and bureaucratic levels and determined to meet the demands and expectations of the civil society for meaningful and firm action to fight it.
But the shockingly casual manner in which the Government steered the passage of the Bill through the two Houses of the Parliament demonstrated that it was a make-believe legislative measure brought in not because the Government and the Congress had realised that was the crying need of the hour, but because they felt that it was the only way of diverting the attention and anger of the people away from the misdeeds of the Government and its failure to deal with this evil.
Whatever compulsions and anxiety there were in making the Government show even a modicum of determination to have the Bill passed were visibly dissipated when Anna Hazare, the leading and moving spirit of the anti-corruption crusade, and his team of young anti-corruption warriors failed to receive the expected measure of public support when they tried to shift the centre of their protest movement to Mumbai from Delhi.
The failure of large sections of the people of Mumbai — for whatever reason — to respond as enthusiastically to the protest movement as the people of Delhi had done in April and August last brought out dramatically the insincerity of the Government and the Congress leadership. The urgency of action against corruption was lost right across the political spectrum and particularly in the Congress.
This insincerity was compounded by the amazing ineptitude with which the Government — and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in particular — handled even this make-believe legislative exercise. Ineptitude marked by lack of attention to details, a casual approach to important decision-making and a failure to do the homework efficiently before undertaking important administrative, legislative or policy-related exercises had become the hallmark of the Government since it was re-elected in 2009. It was behind many of the embarrassments faced by the Government one after the other throughout the year.
One saw it in the controversies that had surrounded the appointment of a new Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the attempted but jettisoned-half-way-through decision to permit foreign direct investment in the retail sector and now in the legislative exercise to seemingly end corruption. The Bill was badly drafted and provided for a Lokpal without the required independent investigative capability.
Moreover, under the ill-advised pressure of the Anna Hazare movement, the Government let itself be forced to tread into the domain of the State Governments by seeking to prescribe in a central legislation the contours of an anti-corruption architecture for the States. This roused the anger of many regional parties — even some who were supposedly allies of the Government in the ruling coalition. In the face of this anger, the Government lost its cool and lucidity. The anger was the result of a lack of consultations with the regional parties while drafting the Bill and the shocking insensitivity of the Government and the Congress to regional concerns and nervousness over the way the Government had gone about this exercise.
The Government got the Bill passed in the lower House where it managed to muster the required political support, but it failed to rally majority support in the upper House where it knew it was in a hopeless minority. By lunch-time on December 29, it was apparent to the smallest of political intelligence that the Government would be defeated if the Bill was voted upon.
One would have expected a Government and a political party with genuinely democratic instincts and impulses to convene a meeting of the leaders of different political parties represented in the Upper House and find a way out of the dilemma. There was no such move by the Government and the Congress Party.
Instead, they blatantly manipulated the proceedings of the upper House in a cynical manner through a mix of filibuster tactics and keeping the other political parties guessing about the real intentions of the Government. In the last hour before the House under the rules was required to be adjourned sine die, it witnessed disorderly scenes — that many suspected with valid reasons to have been choreographed by the Government — that enabled the Chairman of the House to adjourn the House sine die disregarding the wishes of the members to extend the session.
Lack of decorum and gravitas had become the defining characteristic of our Parliament for many years. What one saw on December 29 — a day of infamy in the history of the Parliament — was a charade organised by the Government in order to wriggle out of the promises and commitments made by it to the civil society of the country.
While the Government and the Congress as whole are worthy of total, unreserved condemnation for the way they turned democracy into a cynical exercise in the manipulation of procedures, specially strong words of condemnation are due for the Prime Minister, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Hamid Ansari, the Vice-President of India and the Chairman of the House.
Initially, the Prime Minister chose to absent himself from the House, but was forced by the members’ clamour for his presence to rush to the House. Subsequently, he sat through the proceedings without any visible attempt to provide leadership and enter into consultations with other political parties. Sonia Gandhi is not a member of the Upper House, but one expected her as the leader of the party to take over the leadership in the exercise to find a way out of the political quandary in the House. At a time, when her party badly needed her leadership, she failed to rise to the occasion and lead.
Dr. Ansari is a batch-mate of mine in the All-India and Central Services. He used to enjoy a tremendous reputation for his straightforwardness, but the way he conducted himself — as seen on the TV — in the final minutes of this charade made many of us suspect that he chose to play along with this charade instead of stopping it firmly.
It was a particularly black day in the history of Indian democracy, the Indian Parliament, the Indian institutions and the Congress leadership. It is important for the public and other political formations which still believe in the importance of political ethics if democracy has to survive in this country to ensure that the Government and the Congress are not able to get away with their sins of December 29.
Fresh premature elections are the need of the hour if the reputation of Indian democracy has to be salvaged. All right-thinking persons — particularly the youth — should unite behind the demand for fresh elections.