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Lokpal Bill: Dear Anna, it's time to stop being grumpy

The Union Cabinet has given the go ahead to the amended Lokpal Bill and there is a fair chance that it would be cleared in Parliament soon. Now, Anna Hazare must wipe off that grumpy look and sport a smile.

Admitted, the bill in its present form is disappointing. It does not make CBI or CVC independent bodies; it makes Lokpal toothless and not entirely free from government control; it leaves political parties out of the purview of the ombudsman; and it separates Lokayukta in states from Lokpal at the centre. This is not what Hazare had fasted for. But a small beginning is better than no beginning at all. Changes could be brought later on.

If the country gets the institution of Lokpal finally, Anna Hazare deserves the credit for it, well most of it since one cannot ignore the role of activists like of Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi. However, it was on his frail shoulders that the entire agitation over the anti-corruption ombudsman rested. He was the moral force behind it. It was the appeal of his persona - innocent, sincere, honest and grandfatherly - that drew the youth to the movement and made it the phenomenon that it was.

AFP

Anna must smile now. AFP

Anna should take the latest developments as victory. In the final analysis, the battle was actually much more than the issue of Lokpal or corruption. It was more about people’s power vis-a-vis the power of the political class. The fact that the government in particular and the ruling class in general have finally been forced to think seriously about the bill is  a sign of their capitulation to the popular gale force. This is a welcome trend.

The nondescript man from nowhere has managed to break the wall of apathy and indifference separating the rulers and the subjects and forced them to respond to people. It has caught the popular fancy. It shows in the youth hitting the streets against any act of injustice every now and then, the protest over the Delhi gangrape victim being the latest example. It shows in their willingness to take on the state and its incredible powers. If a new, assertive and demanding India is visible on the streets, Anna deserves the credit for it.

For the first time since socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan shook the political establishment with his call for sampoorna kranti in the mid 70s, the nation was witnessing something dramatic during those months of 2011 and 2012. The movement has lost force since, petering out in internecine conflicts of the lead characters, but it certainly has left a big scar on the collective ego of the political class. Next time, they would watch crowds on streets with more respect, treat them with more dignity.

If at all the Lokpal Bill becomes an Act, it would also be a victory for the Indian democracy too. The decision-makers will have finally had their way, not bending fully to the fervent rabble-rousing on the street. The message the political class is sending out is clear: laws for the country cannot be dictated by voices on the street. People have right to demand but demands and display of muscle cannot be allowed to bend the rules of democratic engagement. Laws have to be formulated according to procedures laid down by the Constitution. Also, the message is Parliament has to be supreme when it comes to legislating.

Anna’s movement has forced open the process of dialogue that is so fundamental to a healthy democracy. The dialogue could be nasty sometime, bitter on occasions but that is how things work. If they deliver the results, there is no reason to object. The Lokpal Bill is a good result. Follow-up work could be taken up latter.

Anna must smile now.