The Lokpal Saga
The spontaneity and the amplitude of the popular upsurge witnessed during the first two phases of the campaign for Jan Lokpal exploded the myth that corruption is a non-issue in Indian politics. It is true that even in the Lok Sabha elections of 1989, the Bofors affair had taken centre stage, but it was the first time that people from all walks of life had taken to the streets in response to a call to bring about a systemic change in the institutional framework to combat corruption. The inchoate anger and frustration of the common man, who is subjected to exactions of all kinds in the course of his daily interactions with public authorities, had finally found a channel for self-expression.
Within four days of Anna Hazare’s first indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar, the government was forced to concede the demand for the participation of his nominees in the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill to be introduced in Parliament. However, with the advantage of hindsight, one might argue that much of the discordance within civil society on the Lokpal issue could have been averted had the team nominated by Anna Hazare to the Joint Drafting Committee been more broad-based. As it came to pass, the government took full advantage of the polarisation in civil society to sabotage the processes of joint drafting and renege on the commitments made in the early meetings of the Committee. The bill that the government eventually introduced in Parliament on August 4 was a damp squib.
In its second phase, the movement received a shot in the arm with the denial of a venue to India Against Corruption for staging Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast and the subsequent arrest of its leaders early in the morning of August 16. Thousands of protesters, the undersigned among them, courted arrest in the national capital and elsewhere, only to be released at the end of the day as a chastened government realized the folly of Anna Hazare’s pre-emptive arrest and detention at Tihar Jail in the company of the likes of A. Raja and Suresh Kalmadi.
By the time Anna Hazare chose to come out of Tihar Jail, the growing support for the movement had raised the popular expectations to a fever pitch. The trickle of protesters at the Ram Lila ground, where Anna was to stage his second indefinite fast, soon turned into a deluge. However, it became clear with the passage of time that the political establishment would not allow the Jan Lokpal Bill to be enacted and that even a seasoned campaigner like Anna Hazare could not continue his fast indefinitely.
The ‘Sense of the House’ resolution crafted after intense negotiations provided a way out of the logjam. It also created the illusion of unanimity in Parliament on the acceptance of the three crucial demands of Team Anna, namely citizen’s charter, inclusion of lower bureaucracy and establishment of Lokayuktas in the states through a central legislation.
- Kamal Kant Jaswal