Bridges broken, civil society must rethink game plan now

With both sides taking hard positions, the communication channels between the government and the civil society are severely damaged. It does not augur well for the anti-corruption movement.

Akshaya Mishra June 07, 2011 14:41:57 IST
Bridges broken, civil society must rethink game plan now

“You are with us or against us.’’ The notorious George Bush binary has come into play as the civil society-government stand-off intensifies and the draft Lokpal bill looks headed nowhere.

Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal made it clear on Monday that the government had had enough and would not pander to the whims of the civil society any more. The latter is bent on leveraging the public goodwill to extract the maximum out of a reluctant government. After the Ramdev episode the positions have hardened on both sides. The situation does not allow the fence-sitters and neutral observers to play the role of moderators. One has to take sides — be with one of the groups or be against them.

It would be safe to say now that the Lokpal bill will be the way the government wants it. “The draft Lokpal bill will be ready by June 30, with or without the civil society members on the panel…The government will not accept all the suggestions of the nominees of Anna Hazare,’’ said Sibal. It’s a very clear statement of intent. It means the room for negotiations has been closed.

Bridges broken civil society must rethink game plan now

HRD minister Kapil Sibal made it clear on Monday that the government had had enough and would not pander to the whims of the civil society any more. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

It does not augur well for the anti-corruption movement. But part of the blame lies with the civil society itself. It is easy to get people on your side over an issue that evokes such passion across the board but it’s far more difficult to push a well-thought out agenda through the right channels. The civil society has managed the easy part well but it has faltered in the second.

Clearly, it did not have a broader game plan in place. Mind you, the draft bill is just the beginning of a long-drawn constitutional process. It does not mean much. The civil society has not faced the combined strength of the political class yet and the test of parliamentary processes.

Here’s a brief account of where it went wrong.

1. Anti-corruption movement turns anti-government movement: When it started off, the movement blamed the entire political class for corruption in the country. Its approach was combative, yet acceptable to the government since the specific target was not clear. Even the BJP was wary of Anna Hazare’s fast and there were murmurs of disapproval from other parties too. As the negotiations on the draft bill turned bitter in course of time and the members of Team Anna started getting aggressively vocal on the ‘duplicitous intention’ of the government in the media, the latter became sure that the anti-corruption agitation had taken a partisan turn. It was causing more damage to its already battered image and the political rivals were captalising on its predicament. The civil society had set the stage where the original cause was getting reduced to a political affair.

2. Lack of effort to bring all political players in: When the issue is political corruption, it is logical that all political players should be party to any discussion on it. The civil society did not make efforts to take into trust leaders across the spectrum and build a consensus on at least some core issues. This would have provided them wider legitimacy and a strong bargaining point. The basic sweeping presumption that all politicians are corrupt is self-defeating. It only helps alienate the leaders who could be sympathetic to the cause and make the situation uncomfortable at the bargaining table. Maintaining a belligerent tone all the time also does not help. As we have mentioned earlier, the civil society has not faced the combined strength of the politicians yet. With its present approach, it won’t have any friends in Parliament to support its cause.

3. Battle of egos: The clash of personalities in the drafting committee has rendered its meetings a farce. After Sibal’s statement on Monday, it is clear that the panel won’t come out with a good compromise view. The all or none approach from either side is frustrating. That the nominees of Anna Hazare have been highly critical of the senior ministers on the panel in the media only aggravates the situation as does the government’s insistence on staying obstinate on its own agenda. The latest discourse between the groups reflects complete lack of trust and mutual understanding.

4. Baba Ramdev: The yoga guru has delivered the biggest blow to the movement by his acts of indiscretion. He gave a clear political turn to an apolitical movement and helped an indecisive government take a hard and clear position. He provided it a godsend opportunity to move out of a tricky situation and get into the favourite turf — politics. While most of the civil society members have disapproved of Ramdev’s association with the ultra-Right groups, they have done little to dissociate themselves from him. The brouhaha over the demolition of his camp at Ramlila Maidan will cause a minor political storm. The government looks prepared to face it. But it will take some clear thinking from the civil society to extricate themselves from the mess created by the Baba.

So where does the movement go from now? With all bridges of communication between the sides broken, it’s difficult to predict. It’s possible we will have more street shows and more fasts in the near future. But they won’t help. The civil society must realise that public sympathy and media attention is okay but they still need to work within and with the political system to get their agenda through.

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