Anna Hazare's half-victory is actually a win-win for all
Anna Hazare will break his fast on Sunday after declaring a half-victory. Parliament kept its cool and made a virtue of necessity.
Sure, Anna Hazare’s fast didn’t achieve all its goals. He didn’t get his Jan Lokpal Bill. He didn’t even get a resolution passed in favour of his three sticking points. Parliament asserted itself, bent a little to his will, and finally did its own thing.
It’s a half-victory, Anna Hazare said, when Cabinet Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh read out the Prime Minister’s message to Anna conveying Parliament’s Sense of the House statement. He will break his fast at 10 am on Sunday.
But the real victory lies in the fact that neither civil society nor parliamentary democracy lost in the end. India won, and its people won.
Team Anna’s ability to mobilise large sections of civil society made our parliamentarians behave. For the first time in recent memory, all our political parties stuck to the essence of debate. Political points were scored – by Sushma Swaraj, by Lalu Yadav, Sharad Yadav, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, among others – but all within the normal range of cut-and-thrust repartee.
Civil society –which at one point looked like running roughshod over parliament’s rights and powers – was kept in its place by legislators and other members of civil society. Towards the end, when some members of Team Anna went over the top with their caricaturing of politicians and intemperate language, they got it back in spades when speakers gave them a tongue-lashing in both houses.
The antics of Kiran Bedi at Ramlila grounds, and some of the nasty references to politicians made by Team Anna came in for tough criticism, with Sharad Yadav, Janata Dal (U) leader, tearing into them. “We respect the issues behind Anna’s fast,” he said, but warned Team Anna to treat politicians with respect.
“They should use respectable language,” Yadav warned. On Friday, Ramlila grounds saw members of civil society referring to politicians as “anpad” and “ganwaar” (uneducated and simpleminded) who hid behind “ghunghats” (veils) in front of the people.
Saturday was the day politicians redeemed themselves – but they should thank Team Anna for giving them the opportunity to do so.
The day started off with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee summarising the run-up to Anna’s first fast at Jantar Mantar in April, which led to the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill, the rupture with Team Anna, and the final fast that began after Independence Day.
The first note of political thrust came with Sushma Swaraj, who, in an otherwise brilliant speech, took sideswipes at both Rahul Gandhi’s Friday speech, and the PM’s helplessness in controlling events.
But Swaraj got her own comeuppance from the youth brigade. Jyotiraditya Scindia took up cudgels on behalf of Rahul and tore into Swaraj. An upset Swaraj seemed about leave the house but Scindia requested her to stay.
The other two speakers who made their marks were Lalu Prasad of the RJD, who criticised the Congress for falling into the trap of discussing the Bill with Team Anna. He blasted Team Anna and other civil society members for making fun of politicians.
Perhaps the young member who most impressed all with his maturity was Varun Gandhi, who spoke in favour of the Jan Lokpal Bill – and all without the notes that his older cousin Rahul Gandhi seemed to need the previous day.
This wasn’t the same Varun Gandhi who reportedly made a communal speech during the last general elections.
The three conditions set by Anna Hazare to end his fast – making the lower bureaucracy accountable, having an effective grievances redressal system for ordinary people, and having Lokayuktas at the state level - were met when parliament adopted a Sense of the House statement by a thumping of desks, indicating its intent to incorporate these points in a modified Lokpal Bill.
The tone for the same was set when the BJP and opposition parties quietly indicated their agreement with these three demands – with some minor caveats. Once the BJP and opposition parties moved their oral weights behind Team Anna’s demands, it became clear that the Congress too would have to go with the sense of the members of both houses.
Half-way through the debate, Team Anna suddenly went into a tizzy when Prashant Bhushan announced that there would be problems if parliament did not vote on a resolution. But the Sense of the House statement saved the day – even if it didn’t leave Anna Hazare with the complete victory it had hoped for.
Anna’s fast will be broken on Sunday morning, but the movement will have to continue if parliamentarians are to maintain their focus on the Lokpal Bill, which will now be amended at the level of the Standing Committee.
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