Political accidents are not always bad

Events have been unfolding rapidly since the early morning arrest of Anna Hazare on August 16. First, a few irresponsible statements were made by senior ministers on the integrity of Mr Hazare and his associates. These utterances reeked of desperation, even vendetta. The Congress realised its mistake by evening and went into damage control, but it was too late.

Congress leaders’ harsh words had alienated people and all those who were trying to think clearly at a juncture where “act first, think later” approach marked decision-making were ignored. Not surprisingly, the situation slipped out of control.
The government’s offer to release Mr Hazare late at night reflected the change in attitude, but Mr Hazare was in no mood to compromise. He refused to leave Tihar jail till he was granted permission to go on a protest fast.
The conflict now is beyond the issue of corruption and will be directed towards the status of the Lokpal Bill in the Standing Committee. This is not a simplistic issue and needs detailed discussions. If previous discussions did not yield results then both sides must try again. The country needs another round of talks between Team Anna and government representatives and not an indefinite fast.
Mr Hazare has no political ambitions but he is very much in the political arena as issues have got confused in a surcharged atmosphere. Mr Hazare has very fixed views on the working of Parliament and elective politics. This is a cause for concern as any other power centre which emerges outside of the ballot tends to lean towards anarchy or a kind of governance that is marked by persecution and excesses.
Following the arrest of Mr Hazare, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a statement in both Houses of Parliament and justified his government’s actions but convinced few; he is clearly wearing blinkers with regard to the ground situation. Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha made impressive speeches. The issue now is beyond the technicalities of the Lokpal Bill, and extends to the political battlefield. Unless the Congress brings early closure to the 2G scam and the Commonwealth Games issue, the party will continue to lose ground.

I wrote last week that a mid-term poll seems inevitable, but now I feel that it is an absolute necessity since the UPA government and Dr Singh are fast losing credibility.
While the social activist and his associates will try to keep their anti-corruption movement free of political presence, this will not work. Mr Hazare’s campaign will be adopted selectively by all the UPA’s political rivals to gain political mileage. This is normal in the given circumstances, but may lead to more chaos.
We saw what happened in the UK recently — public property was burnt and shops looted for over three days in London, and chaos spread to several cities before things were brought under control. We have seen similar situations in West Asia. It often becomes difficult in such circumstances to see what is right and what is wrong. If Mr Hazare’s fast continues for long, we will have a serious law and order situation in the country.
I have often written about political “accidents” and their impact. Sometimes, to prepare for a bright future we have to go through dark days! Perhaps, the the UPA government needed this crisis for a churning.
There have been a couple of surveys in the past few days, and I would not like to add to the existing confusion, but the field for 2014, or earlier, is wide open. Political parties have to prepare for the battle ahead. Considering that the attrition rate can be 50 per cent or higher in the Lok Sabha elections, parties need new faces.
Rahul Gandhi in the Congress, Narendra Modi in the BJP and Nitish Kumar in the JD(U) will play crucial roles. As for the regional parties, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa will all make their presence felt. As I have said earlier, political accidents often shape the future and I dare say we have not seen the end of the current crisis.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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