Media's blind spot: Will maul Anna but won't question govt

By BV Rao

The proceedings of the joint drafting committee of Jan Lokpal Bill have ended in the expected anti-climax. At a time when the government was under unprecedented pressure to bring in a tough law, a weak Opposition was two-timing the nation and the national media was more trusting of the government than “civil society”.

The result was that the government was allowed to wriggle out of a tight situation rather easily. Anna Hazare and his team were subjected to all kinds of scrutiny, which is as it should have been, but the government and the Congress got away scot-free. Little was being asked of them and nothing was answered.

A good bill needs to come with good parentage. It needs some party to call it its own. Graphic:PTI

Yet, there were many occasions when the media could have ripped into the ruling party. The funny thing about the Congress party’s attack on the Anna campaign was that it could so easily have been attacking its own. Take, for example, spokesperson Manish Tewari’s quotable quote: “Our democracy is in peril from the unelected and the unelectable.”

It was, of course, directed against Anna Hazare, who has often said that if he contested the elections he would lose his deposit. But it could so easily apply to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well.

Singh has contested only one election (from the babu stronghold of New Delhi in 1999) and was roundly defeated. Unelectable.

Singh, as we all know, is now a three-term MP but the only Prime Minister of independent India to come from the Rajya Sabha. Unelected.

In Singh’s case, it’s not just “unelectable” and “unelected,” you can add a third epithet. Since that 1999 defeat — his only brush with electoral politics — he has steadfastly refused to take the direct election route in spite of taunts from all corners. Unwilling to be elected, as well.

That is why it is so difficult to digest the Congress party’s logic that people who want to effect changes in the country should first win an election.

Anna Hazare can’t sit on the high table that merely discusses the draft of an anti-corruption legislation because he is unelected. PTI

Singh has turned the country’s economic policies on their head without ever winning an election. But Anna Hazare can’t sit on the high table that merely discusses the draft of an anti-corruption legislation — which can anyway be so easily killed in Parliament— because he is unelected.

When Anna gives expression to a public secret about the criminalisation and corruption of our elections, he is belittling electoral democracy. But when Manmohan openly mocks the same by refusing to go to the Lok Sabha, he is doing the country a favour?

But that different poser to the prime minister was never asked, not loudly enough, anyway.

Then there is the second charge against the Anna movement that it is undermining democratic institutions and arrogating to itself the powers of Parliament. This line has been so strongly advocated by the Congress that many intellectuals, editors and media houses have pushed it forcefully, too.

But again, trust only a Congressman to take the wind out of his party’s sails. Reacting to Anna’s threat to resume his fast unto death from 16 August  if the Lokpal Bill was diluted, Salman Khursheed scored the next self-goal. “By August 16, Anna will have to deal with Parliament, not us”, he told The Indian Express last week. Meaning, that the role of the joint drafting committee ends with the draft bill and then it has to go through the regular procedure for becoming the law of the land.

That is a belated governmental admission of a fact that all of us knew from the beginning. Contrary to the impression generated by all the golden-hearted constitutionalists, Anna was incapable of taking over and running the Parliament. How could he anyway, when even the Speaker and Deputy Chairman have not figured out how to run it!

Yet, nobody seriously questioned the government’s charge against Anna that he was undermining Parliament and democratic institutions. We were all so eager to accept that the citizen’s role ends with the vote and that Parliament and nobody else has any role in law-making and that explains the glee in Khursheed’s tone.

A good bill needs to come with good parentage. It needs some party to call it its own. The Jan Lokpal Bill will go to Parliament with dubious parentage. It will neither be the UPA’s nor civil society’s. It will be a strange hotch-potch of good intentions and hidden agendas.

Khursheed’s glee, indeed all politicians’ too, comes from the certainty of the fate of the bill in Parliament. The certainty that ordinary mortals can get nothing past Parliament that our politicians want to stall.

Even though all parties have given superficial support to Anna, we can be sure that the opposition politicians don’t think any differently from the ruling ones.

Parliament is a great safety net. While governments have the threat of voter retribution, Parliament has no such fear because you can’t vote out all parties in one go. So, remonstrating before Parliament, the biggest symbol of the power of the people, is useless. We might as well scream for help before the hearing-impaired.

We will soon know what change Anna’s movement will deliver for corruption. But it has highlighted one important change in India’s journalism. For decades we were taught to be skeptical of whatever the government told us. We now believe everything that the government says. Even if it says our democracy needs no repairs.

I fear this trust in the government and the political class. You must, too.

BV Rao is a senior journalist and currently edits Governance Now

Published Date: Jun 22, 2011 05:51 pm | Updated Date: Jun 25, 2011 04:32 pm