Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some more articles about the Anna Hazare movement

Here are a series of articles from "The Diplomat" website discussing the latest news about the Anna Hazare movement:

Singh Writes to Anna Hazare

By Rajeev Sharma
August 23, 2011

Anna Hazare and the United Progressive Alliance government took their first but significant steps toward breaking the impasse over the activist’s latest fast, which has entered its eighth day. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to the Gandhian and appealed to him to break his fast in a bid to ease the deadlock over the Lokpal Bill issue, saying ‘we are together in this fight against corruption.’

Meanwhile, Team Anna and the UPA government started direct talks today, and the government has appointed its top trouble shooter and most senior minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to mediate with the Hazare camp. Mukherjee’s first round of talks was expected to begin later today, and Singh gave his personal guarantee that ‘all issues’ raised by Team Anna will be looked into and resolved at the earliest.

The UPA government has also convened an all-party meeting for tomorrow afternoon to try to find a way out of the impasse. Heir apparent and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi was reportedly closeted with the prime minister today, with the talks focusing mainly on Hazare’s fast and the condition of his health.

Although no breakthrough has come so far today, the Hazare camp was relatively upbeat following the appointment of Mukherjee as mediator as they know he wields considerable authority and is widely seen as essentially de facto deputy prime minister.

Still, Hazare kept the pressure up, warning the government today that if a strong Lokpal bill isn’t passed by parliament by August 30, that he and his supporters will no longer sit at Ramlila Maidan, but will instead stage a sit-in outside Parliament.

‘Thousands of people are staging sit-ins outside the houses of MPs,’ Hazare said. ‘I request the people of my country to continue this revolution. This revolution should continue even if I am not there. This is the second freedom struggle. It is important to eradicate corruption for the development of our country. I would consider myself lucky if I die for my society and the people of my country. Those who live for themselves die, those who die for the society live.’

The main opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, demonstrated that it isn’t just the Congress party that has become frustrated with Team Anna. Outspoken BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia said: ‘We don’t agree with the deadline given by Team Anna.’

Lest this should be mistaken as support for the government, Ahluwalia added that the government should withdraw its bill from parliament and replace it with a more effective bill.

Image credit: World Economic Forum


Hazare Ups Ante

By Rajeev Sharma
August 22, 2011

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare upped the ante on day seven of his fast, proclaiming that he would only negotiate with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi or Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Hazare is, apparently, extremely dissatisfied with the level of emissaries sent to him by the government over the past two days. But he also hinted he was willing to accommodate the government on his key demand of bringing the higher judiciary under the Lokpal Bill’s ambit if the Judicial Accountability Bill is strengthened considerably.

The Gandhian social activist sought to set the record straight on behalf of his team by saying that no official mediator has approached him, and Team Anna has further indicated that it wants to deal with emissaries of national stature (so far, the government has fielded emissaries including senior Maharashtra bureaucrat Umesh Chandra Sarangi and spiritual guru Bhayyuji Maharaj).

The government, for its part, is concerned about Hazare’s health after he reportedly lost six kilos in 160 hours of protesting. His close associate Arvind Kejriwal said the ketone level in Hazare's blood and urine has risen slightly, although there is nothing to worry about right now. Another Hazare associate, Kiran Bedi, said that despite Hazare’s condition, no one in the government seems concerned.

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of dialogue. ‘Talks must take place to resolve this issue,’ he said. ‘The fact that 2 lakh (two hundred thousand) people are protesting is significant. But what the people really want can be decided only through elections.’

The Hazare camp said it had no intention of toppling the United Progressive Alliance government, a necessary clarification after Hazare remarked yesterday that the UPA government had betrayed him at every step, and that it should pass the Jan Lokpal Bill or else go. ‘We have been repeating that our motive is not to topple the Government,’ Kejriwal said.

Still, Kejriwal indicated that civil society isn’t happy.

‘The prime minister says through you (the media) that the government is ready to talk with us,’ he said. ‘We haven’t had any concrete proposal from the government. We will not react until we get a concrete proposal from the government. I request people not to vote for their MPs if they don’t support the Jan Lokpal Bill.’

Image credit: Rajvaddhan


Why Manmohan Singh Should Resign

August 18, 2011By Rajeev Sharma

Activist Anna Hazare is riding a growing sense of anger in India. It’s time for the Congress Party to put the country’s interests first and step aside.

Image credit:World Economic Forum

Imagine this scenario. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh puts his government on the line, as he did in July 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal. This time, his bĂȘte noire is not the Left Front, but the ‘People’s Front’ in the shape of Anna Hazare-led civil society.

Singh says that he will stick to his guns and will neither compromise on the Lokpal Bill issue nor on his government’s position over the increasingly vociferous and popular civil society.

As governance becomes impossible, he tenders his government’s resignation. The opposition is taken aback and falls into disarray. The Left, meanwhile, doesn’t want to be seen to be on the same page as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, so the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved and fresh elections are called.

Now imagine that Anna’s advisors pressure him to take the plunge into politics and he forms a political party to contest the elections. Let’s name this political party the India Against Corruption Party (IACP). The newly-launched group contests all 543 Lok Sabha seats with people’s money – funds collected from Indian citizens. The new party reaches an electoral understanding with Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who has a pan-Indian following running into the millions. This new electoral alliance declares Anna and Ramdev its prime ministerial and deputy prime ministerial candidates.

Riding a wave of popular anger, the IACP sweeps the polls and wins over 500 seats. All opponents lose their deposits. Even the opposition BJP is reduced to single-digit representation in parliament.

At the swearing in ceremony, the new prime minister names his cabinet, which effectively chooses itself like the pre-cricket World Cup team. Kiran Bedi becomes the new Home Minister, Arvind Kejriwal the External Affairs Minister, Shanti Bhushan the Defence Minister and his son Prashant Bhushan the Finance Minister.

Implausible? The mounting pressure on the United Progressive Alliance has seen the government and prime minister’s credibility fall to dismal levels. Singh now seems to have two options for dealing with the outpouring of support for Hazare: Meekly throw in the towel and accept his Jan Lokpal Bill, or stick to his guns and take Hazare and company head on.

Both these options are unlikely to resolve the underlying crisis, meaning governance may well become impossible. If the prime minister exercises the first option, apart from losing face, the government will also make civil society even more powerful. Such a move would also suggest that the UPA government is interested above all in clinging to power. If Singh goes for the second option, it will inevitably bring the wheels of governance grinding to a halt as the opposition-assisted civil society’s mass protests will only grow in number.

The only way out of this impasse is for Singh to tender his government’s resignation, citing governance difficulties. With the entire opposition lined up against the UPA government, the best bet for the Congress-led government is to resign and make way for an alternative. If an alternative government can eventually be formed, then it will have to deal with Anna Hazare. If no alternative government is possible, which is a strong possibility, then early elections are the only solution.

It is at this juncture that the Hazare-led civil society would confront trial by fire. Civil society would then be faced with choosing to support a political party that it believed would carry out its agenda, or else do the honours itself. Either way, it would be better for the nation if such contentious issues could be resolved once and for all.

The UPA II government has itself to blame for the mess it is in. It has lurched from one crisis to another in the last 27 months, and Manmohan Singh is a shadow of the leader he was in his first term. The list of blunders is long and well known to every Indian who has been following political developments. Before the government is forced out by countrywide protests or voted out in parliament, it would be better and more dignified for it to bow out of office. If the UPA came back – under Singh or Rahul Gandhi – then it could do so with a clean slate

So far, Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have acted like typical politicians. They now need to act like statesmen who are thinking about the best interests of the next generation.

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