Sunday, September 04, 2011

Trauma and Coma

As the nation recovers from the trauma of the Anna Hazare’s Ram Lila Saga - the government seems to have quietly slipped back to its pristine state of virtual coma.

Sometimes I suspect, the peoples’ grouse against this government is not as much because it is deemed to be corrupt as it is considered incompetent.

At least the crisis had stirred the ruling party to some kind of action – however, misguided or ham-handed they might have been. But, once the situation was brought under control by the wily manipulations of the Machiavellian Bong – Congress’ “man for all seasons” , Pranab Mukherjee - the party seems to be again at a loss for direction.

I for one always felt that - Anna was merely a 'symbol' of the issue that is agitating the national psyche (Please read my earlier blog: Jai Ho by clicking here). By his near ascetic persona built on a Gandhian mould he was able to capture the imagination of the nation as a crusader against corruption. To me his idiosyncrasies – such as not allowing the youth of his village to drink and flogging them in public if caught – are no more relevant than Gandhi’s kinks of sleeping naked with nubile women and making his wife clean toilets. Equally, accusation of being an unelected, ‘self-appointed’ peoples’ representative etc, doesn’t wash. Today – by definition - you cannot win elections unless you are corrupt. Equally, any alleged chinks in the credentials of Anna’s associates can’t detract from their cause.

I could myself write a thesis on how corruption is ingrained in our bones and – notwithstanding the morality preached in our scriptures – Indians are genetically coded to be corrupt. So, I have no illusions that, a Lokpal Bill would have been a panacea (or to use the new favourite catchphrase “magic wand” – wand pronounced as ‘waand”) of all ills. But, that’s not the reason why we should throw the baby out with the bath-water.

The Prime Minister has himself acknowledged his government is perceived to be the most corrupt government in the history of India. The Lokpal Bill presented to him an opportunity to seize the agenda turn the problem on its head. He could have cleverly appropriated (or, in the least, co-opted) the ownership of the idea (as they had done – by default or design – in the case of RTI) and initiated effective steps to give the country a powerful machinery for tackling corruption. That would have also been a good way to shift away the focus from the individual to the larger cause. But, alas they lack both in intent and statesmanship.

Instead what we are seeing is the relapse of arrogance - with spin masters like Salman Khurshid asserting - "we may have made errors in judgment, but didn't commit any mistakes". We see the government and the party behaving churlishly - as if they were forced to swallow a bitter pill - which, being unable to digest, they are trying to eject out of their system by a combination of emetics and purgatives. In a classic case of shooting the messenger – the media has become the favourite fall guy to cover up the bungling of the government – the likes of Kapil Sibal suddenly feeling jilted by their favourite TV news anchors.

So, a GoM (group of ministers) has been appointed to tackle the media (making it difficult not to draw parallels with the Emergency) and the dirty tricks department has been commissioned to split ranks within Anna’s supporters, rent opposing voices of dissent, order searches and investigations to rip open their past and try to trip them with notices and charges of tax non-compliances or violations. The political crisis managers surely realize, far from embarrassing or discrediting them by these motivated actions – they are only exposing the government’s dubious designs further.

The first thing to do at such uncomfortable times is to cast doubts about the funding of the agitation. The Congress did this during the JP movement accusing it of being funded by the CIA and, I was reading Ajoy Bose’ Political Biography of Mayawati last night – the same insinuation was made against Kanshiram in the early days of the BSP. That could well be the truth, as Congress politicians surely know how political campaigns are financed. One hears similar whispers about Indian intelligence agencies inspired actions in our neighbouring countries. In Nepal, where I have lived for some length of time, almost everything – from rising prices to riots - is blamed on machinations of RAW. So, those who are asking, who paid for Anna’s medical bills at Medanta, may also like to put the same question to the first family of the Congress Party. The declared combined wealth of Sonia and Rahul would not be enough to pay for their trips, holidays and SG’s treatment abroad. But then, why should someone ask the obvious. (See link by clicking here)

The exercise of asking Ministers to declare their assets was similarly farcical. It raised more questions than it answered. If the idea was to build credibility and show transparency – the effect was just the opposite. Surely, the government doesn’t think the people of India are such morons to believe the ridiculous disclosures of wealth. But, they probably think that the people simply don’t care – so politicians can get away with anything.

One would have thought – the Anna episode would have served as a wake up call. But, alas you can’t hear the alarm clock in a state of coma.

Post-script

Pranab Mukherjee calls India – the greatest functional democracy, whatever that means. The truth is today – the government has stopped “functioning” and Congressmen are busier discussing the state of Sonia Gandhi’s health than the state of the nation.

Speculations are rife about how unwell she is and whether she’d be able to resume her normal duties soon or she’ll return briefly to anoint the 41 year old “Prince Charming”, if not for the big job, at least as the “working president” of the party.

It’s ironical when the Prime Minister underwent a major coronary by-pass surgery – the government didn’t think it necessary to appoint an interim head – the unstated assumption being everyone knew where the real power strings were firmly held. But, now that the mighty lady herself is out of action we are kept equally in the dark – as it is considered to be a “private affair”.

The nation’s right to know – who’s going to be in charge should an unfortunate eventuality strike – is kept firmly in suspended animation. The allies and the opposition are deferentially silent. I see this as a rather ‘dysfunctional’ democracy – though some would even go to the extent of calling it a Banana Republic.