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Lesson For Anna: Pride Goeth Before A Fall

– by Amulya Ganguli – 
A day before what turned out to be Anna Hazare's flop show in Mumbai, his colleagues were full of hype and hubris during a television debate.

It wasn't only that they claimed overwhelming popular support for their cause – 80 percent of the surveys confirmed this, according to them – they argued from this figure that since 80 percent of the people were with them, the elected representatives in the legislatures were not genuine representatives at all in view of their opposition to Team Anna's version of the Lokpal bill.

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As such, Prashant Bhushan, a member of the team known for his sympathies for Maoists and Kashmiri separatists, wanted the present parliamentary system to be scrapped in favour of a "participatory" democracy where the vox populi will have greater resonance.

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It is doubtful whether Bhushan, and Justice Santosh Hegde, who was also present, will reiterate their demand for changing the system now that all the hot air has seeped out of their balloon. But it is noteworthy how a temporary exhibition of mobocracy can fuel irrational sentiments.

Nor is this the first time that the country has been held hostage to such simulated feelings. Two decades ago, mobs were similarly mobilised by the saffron brotherhood to bring down a mosque and target other sacred sites of the minorities to boost Hindu pride. The slogan then was 'garv se kaho hum Hindu hain' (say with pride I am a Hindu), just as the (rapidly fading) chant now is 'main Anna hun' (I am Anna).

But it may not be fair to blame the politicians and civil activists-cum-politicians alone for overblown campaigns. The media, too, similarly misread whipped-up emotions as real ones, especially those television channels that are forever at war with rivals.

However, even some in the print media, who usually have greater time to mull over what they write, saw Tahrir Square in the Jantar Mantar gatherings last summer. Yet, they must have found out over the last few days how absurd was their comparison if they saw the intensely argumentative Indian in parliament on one-half of their television screens while other half showed the near-empty meeting ground of Anna and his men in Mumbai. That split-screen presentation was proof enough why India was not Egypt.

If hauteur was the hallmark of Anna and immaturity of a section of the media, deviousness and cussedness were those of the ruling side and the opposition, respectively. The Congress may, or may not, have anticipated the fizzling out of Anna's movement despite the strong support for his cause if not his methods. But it was evident that the party was not serious about a powerful Lokpal right from the time when it first introduced a "toothless" bill to the present when it tweaked the original version only marginally to present a draft where political control over the ombudsman remained a primary feature.

The party has also been aware all along that, like itself, none of its allies, whether Lalu Prasad or Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati, is in favour of a powerful Lokpal who can nip the financial shenanigans of politicians in the bud. And, for all its posturing, it is difficult to believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of B.S. Yeddyurappa, is dead against sleaze considering how the former Karnataka chief minister had to be dragged kicking and screaming from his post after being charged with corruption.

Since the Lokpal bill can now only be taken up in the budget session, the intervening period will see the protagonists continue their skirmishes from where they left off in parliament. But the BJP's difficulty is that it will have to fight alone since it can no longer piggy-back Anna's team, as it was doing till now. And its explanation that it did not bring the Lokpal bill during its six-year tenure (1998-2004) because none of its ministers was accused of misappropriating Rs 176,000 crore might not be totally convincing.

It may be too pessimistic to say that the bill has again reached the state of limbo where it has been languishing since 1968, but the possibility cannot be ruled out. Since the political class will block it on one pretext or another – for being either weak or damaging for the federal structure – an easy passage is problematic, not least because the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) does not have a majority of its own – something which it may not regret because it does not seem too eager to enact the bill any way.

It was the moral pressure exerted by Anna which forced the government to act. But, then, Anna shot himself in the foot by ratcheting up his agenda to unrealistic levels by claiming to be superior to all – Anna is India, India is Anna, as one of his acolytes said. As is known, pride goeth before a fall.

(31.12.2011 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.) 

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