Pride and politics

Apart from the thrashing we received from England in the ODI series, this past week has been relatively peaceful. We have had some time to reflect on the “act now, think later” attitude of the men and women pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill as implementing it in its current form is sure to have very serious impact on our system of governance.

The Congress-led UPA government initial made several blunders, especially the decision to send Anna Hazare and other members of his team to Tihar Jail. But the UPA seems to have recovered some of its lost pride. Though still restrained by the constraints of coalition pressures and its own survival instincts, the UPA has started acting on corruption cases and has been seeing off several of its leaders and supporters, including the Karnataka mining barons — the Reddy brothers — to jail.
The UPA has also made some structural changes to deal with low-level corruption, including the move to sanction 71 additional courts to deal with corruption cases. I think more such measures will be taken before the Lokpal issue is discussed in the Standing Committee.
A lot of harsh words are still being exchanged between the two sides — the government and Team Anna. This is bound to happen when change is taking place. But Mr Hazare seems to be in a more relaxed mood now. His body language indicates a new confidence. Although not a politician, Mr Hazare understands politics better than most of our netas. I think that if the Congress can deal with Mr Hazare with due respect and patience, he will be reasonable and accommodating. However, he has to first be convinced that the UPA’s intentions are honourable and that it is moving in the right direction.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and leaders of the Opposition, have to start dealing directly with Mr Hazare. Given that the media will keep the public informed about every move of the government, and that Anna fervour is still very much around, the government can’t ignore these basic niceties.
Leaders elected to lead should not outsource decision-making to lower levels. Lessons of the past must not be ignored. Any coercion by official agencies is a primitive step and unlikely to frighten anyone into submission. The Congress had suffered heavy damage in the last two months of Mr Hazare’s agitation, but all that is lost can be salvaged by “engaging” Team Anna and taking positive steps to fight corruption.
Mr Hazare is a practical person, and he is well aware that his credibility and moral stature are important for the success of his anti-corruption crusade. The social crusader is not weighed down by excessive assets in any form and his observations on the RSS and the BJP have made his political stand very clear. He doesn’t seem to have any intention of playing politics and his observations on Baba Ramdev and some members of his own team who were wearing “multiple caps” indicate a no-nonsense attitude.
India is a large country and though we have had powerful political movements like the one after the 1975 Emergency and later in 1989 (in the 1989 elections, although the Congress won more seats than any other single party, Rajiv Gandhi was unable to form a government with a clear majority. The Janata Dal, a union of Opposition parties, formed the government with the help of the BJP and the Communists), most failed to penetrate into southern states like Tamil Nadu or Kerala. But with new-age technology, nothing happening in any corner of the world is hidden from anyone. Social media like Twitter and Facebook have an instant impact on events.
These might assist Mr Hazare as he embarks on his tour to further his cause for social reform. There will be immense pressure on elected representatives of all political hues and those looking for political longevity have much to think about as the “Anna wave” has the potential to develop into a political tsunami. The political situation is fluid and one cannot rule out the possibility of a mid-term poll. The Congress and its allies are all under pressure as the number game will not be very easy this time. With the Anna gale blowing against corruption, there are no easy options with the DMK, and those associated with Karunanidhi and Co. will feel the pinch.
The Congress, in theory, is well placed in Punjab against the Akali Dal/BJP combine as anti-incumbency trends are strong. A similar situation exists in Uttarakhand too. In Uttar Pradesh, they should come second to the BSP, but much will depend on how the party moves its pawns — it has three months, October to December, to take action — and how it fares on the Lokpal issue.
The Lokpal issue is very fluid and the pendulum can swing in any direction. But one thing is clear. It is time for the leaders of the future to emerge. I won’t be surprised to see Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi coming up as the prime ministerial candidate from the BJP, and the Congress’ choice will be none other than Rahul Gandhi.

Politics, cricket and Bollywood dominate our lives and the turmoil in politics seems to have spread to cricket. There is division within the Cabinet on the Sports Bill; the ICC is battling it out with the BCCI with the Indian cricketers skipping the ICC annual awards function in London; and former
IPL chief Lalit Modi fights the BCCI in the courts.
The BCCI is an exclusive club with vast financial resources and few controls. The board, which has many backers in the Union Cabinet, is not in favour of the Right to Information. But it’s only a matter of time till some sort of accountability is introduced.
As if all these problems were not enough, the Indian team lost the Test series in England 4-0, followed by loss in a T20 match and the rout continues in the ODI series, too. The champions have slipped to the No. 3 position from their No. 1 slot in Test cricket before they went to England. The crisis in the team is serious. It was painful to see our champion cricketers, like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, V.V.S. Laxman, Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, come down with medical ailments. There is simply too much cricket and no one can deny the fact that cricket fatigue has gripped Team India.
Our cricketers earn huge amounts, and it seems that financial interests have taken over the game at all levels. The BCCI should keep all these things in mind and select players who are fit and ready to deliver. Unfit players should take time off or retire if necessary.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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