Monday, August 22, 2011

Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard Magazine/ August 21, 2011

No Government, Lost Opposition, but Mera Bharat Mahan

It may sound a trifle absurd, but the person who coined the slogan ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ deserves a Noble prize for fiction. For the past few months, each and every institution of good governance has been systematically demolished. The legitimate authority of the state has been compromised. The credibility of the Prime Minister has been eroded, and his personal integrity has come under political scrutiny. The opposition has failed miserably to offer alternative leadership or a credible agenda. Yet, this nation of 1.2 billion people hasn’t lost its collective sanity. Betrayed by the leaders it elected and let down by the institutions it created, Bharat is battling with two crises: non-governance and an isolated leadership. The UPA command is suffering from a pass-the-buck syndrome: the CWG scam is exposed, Suresh Kalmadi gets the blame. When the Government suffers a huge loss of revenue in the 2G licence swindle, A Raja is identified as the villain. And finally when questions are raised about the atrocities perpetrated on Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, Delhi Police is the scapegoat.

With the administration changing its strategy on an hourly basis, people are wondering whether the Government itself is an illusion. Who is leading the country? Or running the Government? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the AICC president, Rahul Gandhi, an empowered Group of Ministers, civil society leaders or some invisible hand? Something is rotten in the state of India. Its leadership can’t differentiate between the beautiful and the ugly; between what’s good or bad for the country and between the corrupt and the clean. The Government takes one decision in the morning, which is revised by the afternoon and finally reversed by the evening. Funny; no one knows who took what decision.

First, the UPA leadership chose to extend Team Anna a red carpet welcome. In Baba Ramdev’s case, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, accompanied by two colleagues and the cabinet secretary, drove all the way to the airport to woo him. Two days later, the Government unleashed the police on the Baba and spirited him out of the city. He was labelled one of the country’s worst economic offenders. All investigation agencies were activated to open each and every page of his account books. Ramdev was silenced by a slew of administrative bullying that surfaced again when the Hazare tsunami hit the capital.

It was the Prime Minister who first instructed his ministers to open a dialogue with Team Hazare to draft an acceptable Lokpal Bill. A few days later, the same ministers were raising questions about Anna’s integrity because he refused to accept their dictates. A Congress spokesperson even went to the extent of calling Hazare one of the most corrupt persons in the country. Pranabda, one of the saner voices of the UPA, also changed his tune according to the need of the times. On certain occasions, he sounded more authoritarian than some of his other colleagues. With all allies keeping a cryptic yet meaningful silence, various factions of the Congress party were indulging in competitive mudslinging at civil society. There was a visible disconnect between its mouth and its mind. The Congress establishment was spouting views that were totally at variance with the minds of people.

Home Minister P Chidambaram sounded unconvincing when he told the media that it was Delhi Police’s decision to deny Hazare permission to fast and to send him to judicial custody. Technically, the police commissioner and his deputies take independent decisions. But keeping in view the political implications of their actions regarding Hazare, they would have kept their political masters, including the home minister and the Lt. governor, informed of their line of action. Contrary to general perception, the decision to send Anna to a seven-day judicial custody wasn’t taken by a judicial magistrate. It was an assistant commissioner of police who passed the order after Anna refused to give an undertaking for good behaviour. It was a local police inspector who detained Hazare and his followers on the grounds that they were posing a threat to peace. And it is the same police team that withdrew the charges later in the evening, and ordered Anna’s unconditional release.

Imagine. Can a lowly inspector arrest and release India’s tallest civil society leader like Hazare without orders from the top? Since the Prime Minister defended the police action against Hazare, it was evident that Delhi Police was assured of protection from the top. Even the sequence of events that led to the Anna fiasco clearly indicates the absence of cohesive planning to handle civil society’s demands.

The theatre of the absurd concluded with some Congress leaders sending out clear signals that the party had nothing to do with the Government’s decisions. The media was told that Rahul Gandhi is against personal attacks on opponents, and it was he who advised the Government to release Hazare. How come a Government, aided and advised by eminent leaders, couldn’t devise and implement a plan that could prevent the demolition of its only icon—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? Obviously, Bharat is mightier than India.

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