Making civil society and citizens stakeholders in public policy is the sign of a mature democracy.
Kamala Kanta Dash
On a rare historic occasion after 11 days of fasting of Anna Hazare, the Parliamentarians rose up to the nation’s expectation. The Prime Minister’s comment that the will of the people got expression through the parliament encapsulated the entire episode of 27 August 2011. Anna Hazare will now break his fast and many of his nation-wide followers will follow the suit.
The high drama of last 12 days have come to an end with the Parliament passing a unanimous resolution terming it as “the sense of house” in support of the three major points suggested by Anna Hazare and his team. Citizen Charter for Grievances Redressal, bringing the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal and having strong Lokayuktas for the states were the three main contentious issues.
In a day long debate in both houses of the Parliament, government and the opposition displayed a unique sense of urgency and responsibility in deliberating the issues threadbare. Pranab Mukherjee initiated the discussion and was ably supported by the opposition leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
The recent multi-crore scams of CWG and 2G and the lack of an effective response of the government to these scams had created a rising sense of despair amongst common Indians. In this backdrop the India Against Corruption (IAC), a citizens’ initiative was launched by likeminded people including Anna Hazare, Arvid Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Santosh Hegde, Swami Agnivesh and many more community and religious leaders. The first phase of historic Anna movement was started in April 2011 and was called off with the promise of a strong Lokpal Bill. After a series of joint consultations with the government, it seemed the UPA-II was uninterested in an effective bill. This paved the way for Anna’s declaration of indefinite fast from 16 August 2011.
The second phase started with Congress Spokesperson Manish Tiwari’s labeling of Anna as corrupt from ‘head to toe’ and the Delhi Police’s (read the government) application of stringent rules to deny Anna to continue fast in Ramlia Maidan. This impasse went further when Delhi Police arrested Anna Hazare on the morning of 16th August 2011 before he was getting ready to reach the negotiated venue of JP Park to start his fast. He was sent to Tihar jail for a seven day judicial custody. This raw display of arrogance and power by the government only strengthened the trust deficit of political leaders among common citizens. A defiant Anna continued his fast from Tihar and on enormous media and public opinion pressure the government had to release him. Anna was allowed to continue his fast from Ramlila and the government remained unresponsive to the demand of the Jan Lokpal Bill. In addition to this, the senior members of the cabinet like Mr. Kapil Sibal and Mr. P. Chidambaram attempted to discredit the Anna movement calling it against the parliamentary tradition.
As millions joined the cause of Anna Movement throughout India in metros and small cities, it got extensive media coverage. With increasing support and failing health of Anna Hazare, the pressure to bring Jan Lokpal Bill to discuss in the parliament was mounting in last three days. The government roped in Bhaiyuji Maharaj and Umeshchandra Sarangi both from Maharashtra to negotiate between the UPA-II and the Anna’s Team. Pranab Mukherjee, Salman Khurshid and Sandeep Dikshit were tasked to represent the government voice in negotiations with Anna’s team. Young MPs of Congress were seen doing the support work for the Mukherjee led team. Despite these back channels negotiations the emotions ran high in both sides and as Bhayuji stressed that the problem was of lack of communication, miscommunication and lack of positive communication.
The 27 August 2011 Saturday will remain as a remarkable day in India’s history of democracy. Both the government and the civil society have learnt great lessons in these 12 days. As the parliamentary consensus is being referred to the Standing Committee to fast track the bill, the common Indian has to wait for a few more weeks to see and feel the outcome of the Anna Movement. Notwithstanding, the allegations that Anna movement has not been inclusive and has not talked about communalism and casteism, one thing has come out very clearly that people of the country have got a potent weapon, Anna style peaceful and non-violent Gandhian movements to pressurize the government to listen to the needs and voices of people. Hope this youth and middle class movement results in increasing electoral participation and doing Anna Giri to raise equally important issues of communalism, atrocity against Dalits, minorities and women. If RTI has led to Jan Lokpal, we can hope that Right to Food and Right to Justice will follow. We cannot afford to lose the momentum. This is a welcome sign that the civil society and the larger community are now engaged in the process of governance. Making civil society and citizens stakeholders in public policy is the sign of a mature democracy.
The authors is a public policy analyst and the Founder President of Initiative for Nationalism, Secularism and Affirmative Action Network (INSAAN)