Yes, the goalpost has changed for Team Anna says Prashant Bhushan.
In an interview with Tehelka, Bhushan says while the team “of course” wants a Lokpal Bill it also understands they will not get a Lokpal immediately.
The new goalpost? An investigation agency to go after the 15 Union ministers being accused of corruption.
The rationale? “Without the removal of these ministers we won’t get the Lokpal” says Bhushan. (Read the full interview here.)
That’s where it becomes a bit of chicken and egg since some of these same ministers were also the one who introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha. But Bhushan says that’s because they could push for a bill that was toothless enough to serve their interest.
Team Anna’s first day back at the fasting dais had to compete with the swearing in of Pranab Mukherjee on the news front. A ruckus created by some suspected activists of the Congress’ student wing NSUI created a little bit of a flutter that got some attention. Minister V Narayanswamy dismissed as “baseless” all allegations that the men who wore “I am Anna” caps were actually out there with instructions to beat up Arvind Kejriwal.
But that also highlights the growing preeminence of Arvind Kejriwal inside the movement. Asked about it by Tehelka, Bhushan was diplomatic calling him “the architect from the very beginning.”
Bhushan says that the big difference between the agitation in 2011 and the one happening right now boils down to this: What we are saying differently now is that the bulk of the Cabinet is corrupt.
Incidentally Pranab Mukherjee was on the list but since his elevation to the presidency his photograph was masked at the protest venue. “The Constitution which grants immunity to the President against any allegation has now become a shield for him,” said Kejriwal. Pranab Mukherjee focused much of his maiden speech on hunger and development and a “World War IV” of terrorism but had this to say about corruption: Corruption is an evil that can depress the nation’s mood and sap its progress. We cannot allow our progress to be hijacked by the greed of a few.
But if the fox is guarding the hen house that does not augur well for a Lokpal Bill, fast or no fast. Bhushan is setting his sights on a constitutional goal instead. In an op-ed coauthored with Atishi Marlena for the Hindu, Bhushan championed the referendum and initiative process whereby citizens can do law making by direct vote. “A key reason for this is that political parties require huge funds to contest elections, which are usually provided by moneyed special interests. Once elected, it is these special interests to whom our representatives often cater, rather than the interests of the people.” But he admits that the initiative process cannot be free of the same corrupting influences because the special interests can just pour money into the initiatives instead of the party as has happened in the US “where two oil companies contributed a combined $34 million to defeat an initiative for the funding of renewable energy research and production by oil companies.”
Now that Team Anna has made it clear their short term target is actually particular ministers in the Cabinet as opposed to the fuzzier behemoth of corruption (that everyone could be against), the cabinet is hardening its stance.
Congress spokersperson Rashid Alvi said Team Anna has made the dharna and hunger strike “a joke” and the demand for the inquiry against the 15 ministers is “unacceptable.” He said if they have proof they should “knock the door of the court.” Salman Khurshid said if the team did not have confidence in the law of the land “they should approach the United Nations.” That prompted the Opposition to hit back with Ali Anwar Ansari of the Janata Dal (United) saying “Had the UPA put a strong Lokpal in place, why the UN, there would be no need to go to even Jantar Mantar.”
There you have the conundrum as laid down by Bhushan and his team. If the Lokpal was in place, there would be no need to go after these 15 ministers. The Lokpal would do the job. But the Lokpal cannot be put into place because the ministers want to save their skin and the CBI remains under the government. And these are the ministers who are in charge of pushing the Lokpal through the legislative process.
Ambika Soni has mocked Team Anna for beating on the same issue. “If they have no other issue, I suggest they should not protest at all,” she said.
Well, the goalpost has changed somewhat. The question is will putting out the 15 Most Wanted List result in a goal for Team Anna?