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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The ever-so-brave “fast until death” ended as soon as it was clear that the Government had called Team Anna’s bluff. Several of its supporters are critical of its somewhat unilateral decision to go political.

One Thousand and One Nights

Team Anna shadow boxes with a bizarre fast unto death that wasn't while the country reels under a litany of woes.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 5 August, 2012

The fairy tale that became a farce ended after 1001 nights. Anna and his team said one thing, did another, engaged in a travelling circus, contradicted itself, confused others, constantly revised its position, trashed all institutions, abused all and sundry, turned on the media when the latter discovered it had been led up the garden path, practised “sustainable fasting” indefinitely (a great new technique of flexible political blackmail), called off its latest “fast- unto-death” tamasha at the hands of its newest recruit, Gen V.K. Singh who fired his own salvo. The Team finally announced plans to contest the 2013-14 elections, partly by endorsing good candidates true to the Jan Lokpal Bill,and then, triumphant, cleanse India. We cannot wait to see the list of candidates and learn the result.

The ever-so-brave “fast until death” ended as soon as it was clear that the Government had called Team Anna’s bluff. Several of its supporters are critical of its somewhat unilateral decision to go political. Anna himself, however, will not contest elections though he fully supports Team Anna’s initiative to forge a “political alternative” and oust the present corrupt ruling class. Nonetheless, even for a quick-change artist like him, this constitutes a complete volte face. As the autocratic ruler of Ralegan Siddhi, Anna virtually banned panchayat elections there as soon as he settled in the local mandir which he renovated and made his home. Maintaining that elections are divisive, he has over the years nominated members to that body through “consensus”, which says something of his understanding of democracy that appears to combine elements of fascism and anarchy.

The Government has nothing to gloat about. It mishandled the Anna (and Ramdev) agitations from the start. For the Government to negotiate on the content and terms of the Jan Lok Pal Bill, by-passing its coalition partners and the Opposition, was completely wrong. Not learning its lesson from the self-made pit into which it had fallen, the Government again sent Salman Khurshid, the Law Minister, to hold secret parleys with Anna last month before his most recent round of fasting. This only reinvested Team Anna with a credibility and centrality that it had lost, and gratuitously compromised its own authority, irritating everybody further by subsequently getting into a slanging match over who had said what.

Even at the first round, the Government simply failed to put across what was a cast-iron case for preventively arresting Anna last August and then messed up its case for clearing Ramdev and company from the Ram Lila grounds. In both instances, the government was bound to uphold the law or abdicate its authority to the mob in a tense situation when a breach of the peace could have led to ugly consequences. Instead, it backed done, giving the impression it was wrong, had been torn apart by divided counsels, was undemocratic and prepared to be pushed around. This was yet another example of the Government’s total lack of a coherent communications and information policy thathas become a huge liability in every aspect of governance.

Another example of failure was its inability to explain the “Sense of the House” resolution of both Houses of Parliament and permit Team Anna to get away with the thoroughly bogus interpretation that it had been resolved that Parliament would implicitly accept and adopt the three priority issues placed before it by Team Anna.Nothing of the kind. The promise was only to place these issues before the select committee and Parliament for their consideration, and this was in fact done.

One needs to also consider what attitude the Government should adopt towards so-called public fasts unto death in front of TV cameras. A fast unto death is attempted suicide and a cognisable offence under the IPC. Those undertaking,backing and publicising fasts are guilty of a criminal offence. In the circumstances can and should the government approve such fasts in public places that are clearly intended to coerce and blackmail those in authority to concede whatever is demanded under threat of public disorder, mayhem and arsonby emotionally-charged crowds that might go berserk.

Surely the government has a duty to uphold the law, protect public and private property and permit law-abiding citizens to go about their work unmolested and without fear. The argument that fasting is a hallowed Gandhian technique of democratic protest is utterly out of context. It is the oxygen of publicity in the full glare of on-site spectators and TVcoverage that is quite clearly sought. Parliament and the Courts must take a view on this matter and not allow all manner of busybodies to hijack the national agenda and public order and tranquillity.

Corruption is a scourge and gains salience only because policing, the criminal justice system, ordinary systems of governance and accountability have broken down. A monolithic Jan Lok Pal is not the answer. The current Lok Pal Bill that has been referred back by the Rajya Sabha to a select committee of Parliament needs to make an early recommendation so that the legislation can be adopted. No Act is perfect and whatever is enacted can be improved over time though amendments based on actual experience.

Instead of playing political games, the major political parties need to get together to take a view across party lines so that important national legislation can be enacted with bipartisan consensus. The latest serial bomb blasts in Pune underline the need for a well-coordinated National Counter-Terrorism Centre across state and union jurisdictions but with safeguards that ensure that legitimate state and private interests are not vitiated.

The consecutive two day power grid failure over 14-22 states was a major disaster caused by demand hugely outstripping supply and over-drawal of power by some states in the context of delayed project timelines, low plant load factors, indifferent maintenance and poor grid discipline with the breakdown of load despatch centres because of financial losses incurred by grant of free power to all and sundryand high T&D losses on account of theft. The Coal and Environment and Forest ministries’ no-no policies have delayed projects and added to costs with low or no environmental or forest returns. The Prime Minister has now at least decided to free government land for PSU and public-private partnership infrastructure projects. Another mindless agitation is on in Harayna against land acquisition for a nuclear plant, compensation for which has been pegged at a handsome Rs46 lakhs per acre. Old health and safety concerns that have been answered are once again been being urged.

The Railways have become a high-risk carrier – the Nellore accident being only the latest - on account of poor safety, maintenance and replacement standards while its Trinamool Minister, Mukul Roy, plays truant in Calcutta having been present in Delhifor very few of the 115 working days since he assumed charge. He should be publicly reprimanded and sacked for gross dereliction of duty – putting Trinamool affairs in Calcutta above his ministerial responsibilities in the capital.

A serious drought possibly also confronts the country. These are real issues. Team Anna is shadow boxing.

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