Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lessons from Anna’s Fast- How to convert a Win-Win to a Lose-Lose Situation

Finally, Anna Hazare ended his fast.  

After crippling if not entire India, at least its electronic media, for 12 days it comes as a relief for all.  It would have done a lot of damage to the Nation’s psyche, had this 74 year old man succumbed to his fast, in his fight against corruption.

Now that the Fast has come to an end, let us ask some unpleasant questions. As much as I hate to be a spoiler for celebrations, one cannot stop asking questions, as that is the only way to ensure one’s balance in times of euphoria.

A Win-Win Situation

Team Anna and India Against Corruption chose a cause that is close to the hearts of almost all Indians.  The pervasive corruption has made all Indians to hang their heads in shame, no matter how much that hung heads are willing or not willing to introspect and change one’s own life to improve the situation!

As for Government, it had lost all its credibility in the recent mega scams. Unprecedented expose of spectacular scams (ironically often a result of Government’s own initiative, the RTI Act) in the highest level of the Government has made it imperative for the Government to undertake measures to claim back its credibility and trust among people.  Government and the ruling Party did promise measures to tackle corruption.

This was an ideal situation for a Win-Win for both groups.  For the first time in history of Indian Parliament, civil society representatives were co-opted into a committee for drafting legislation.  I have no doubt that Lokpal cannot make any difference in the lives of people or control corruption in society, unless it is followed up with major administrative and electoral reforms.  However, for the Government it provided an ideal opportunity to collaborate and use the moral authority of Anna to overcome misgivings in any quarters of ruling establishment and to bring a perceptible step to show case its commitment towards a corruption free India.

But it was not to be.  Both sides converted this Win-Win situation into a Lose-Lose one through a series of wrong words and deeds.  Let us see how each protagonist lost out.

Team Anna

First thing first, what is the achievement that made Anna to give up his indefinite fast and lot of Indians to celebrate with colours and crackers?  Well, Parliament passed a ‘sense of the House’ resolution by thumbing on the desks, to forward to the Standing Committee three of the contentious clauses missing from the proposed Lokpal Bill, for their consideration. 

Well, was that any achievement?  The Fast began by asking the Parliament to consider and pass the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by India Against Corruption (IAC), within four days (later changed to before August 31st).  Government responded by saying that all the draft Bills, including Jan Lokpal Bill, received by it will be forwarded to the Standing Committee for their consideration. 

Standing Committee on its part came out with advertisements seeking public opinions/ suggestions on the draft Bill, thereby giving the entire Nation a right to put their views before the Standing Committee for their consideration.  Government on its part assured that the Standing Committee is free to make any additions/ deletions/ changes in the final draft.

Nothing more than what was already the stated position has been achieved by Anna’s Fast and the agitation, in real terms.  Even assuming Government negotiators might have given certain assurances to the Team Anna to consider some of their points positively, any such assurances, including the sense of the House resolution passed by the House, will not be binding on the Members or the Government, while finalising / passing of the Bill.   

We have already seen the dissent (which Government managed to gloss over in the end through some deft moves) from sections of the Parliament which are bound to come out more prominently in future proceedings on the Bill.  A statutory body to conduct investigations against complaints of corruption has been made out as if it is a super government and therefore, those sections of the society and political class, which now enjoys affirmative actions like reservations, have been put to notice to have their piece of cake.

So, in my opinion Anna and his Team lost out in absolute terms, having built up a large public Movement and yet playing all their cards prematurely, losing out any advantage.  The biggest flaw of the Movement has been that the entire dissatisfaction against the State was reduced to one issue- corruption, in which no one is willing to give up anything but wants everyone else to do so.  Today, if a ‘satisfactory’ Lokpal is brought into existence, the people will forget the need for other reforms without which nothing will change, for a long time to come.  The gullibility of the public opinion is evident from the jubilation and celebration, as if we have won the ‘freedom’ at last.

Like some of the TV anchors want us to believe, has this Movement succeeded in converting the apolitical youth of this nation to a politically conscious force?  I am afraid not.  The lack of willingness among them to go below the superficial and see the reality of the demands as well as the ‘achievements’ shows otherwise.  The near complete focus on Anna as a personality (all with the ‘I AM ANNA’ caps and ‘Anna is India’ slogans) coupled with the bungling of his aids has reduced this movement to a great Indian Tamasha.  My reading is that having brought the political class ‘to its knees’ and having satisfied their hurt ego, they will go back to their apolitical complacency-  if at all, with an increased aversion and contempt towards the politics and politicians.

The Lokpal has now been reduced to a Trojan Horse that can be let loose into complacent public consciousness, to keep them off the more pressing needs of the time.

The Government

This Government which brought a law like RTI Act and is bringing a Law like Right to Food Act completely lost their grip on the demand for Lokpal.  In spite of including it in their Election Manifesto and in spite of making the first move towards drafting the Bill,  the Government stands painted today as an institution for the corrupt and against Lokpal.

This fall was brought about with a great apolitical sense.  As Arun Jaitley stated, too many lawyers really spoiled it all.  The lack of political wisdom and political initiative were evident all throughout this drama.  The tactical error in taking Anna into preventive custody even before he set out to Fast gave the Movement its biggest boost.  The flip-flops and confusions during negotiations also gave a feeling of lack of direction and lack of sincerity of purpose in the Government.

Indian Parliament has always sought and obtained Civil Society’s inputs while making laws.  The very institution of Standing Committee was introduced into the law making process to facilitate more and more public interactions while making laws.  There are number examples where bodies and individuals have contributed significantly in drafting laws, especially social legislations, at the centre. 

Yet, the manner in which Government and Parliament is perceived to have capitulated before the Team Anna has dented the very majesty of the State and made it vulnerable to similar tactics in future.

The Constitution

Public opinion has shifted from the ‘supremacy of Parliament’ to ‘supremacy of people’.   What we missed is the supremacy of Constitution.  In India, neither people nor Parliament, not even Judiciary is supreme; it is the Constitution that is supreme.  Any action, even if it is supported by the 120 Crore people, as TV anchors like to put it, cannot be legitimate unless that action confirms to the Basic Features of the Constitution.  This statement may sound anti-people, but believe me, that supremacy is what is keeping our freedom and rights intact from any motivated onslaughts. 

By this Movement, we have probably opened up a flood gate.  We are making our institutions susceptible to pressure tactics from influential groups.  Consider someone who can strike a chord with a large section of people undertaking such steps to force their not so benign demands on the collective and the State.  Can Government keep succumbing to such demands?

Gujjars used violence and Anna used non-violence to make State agree to their demands. The objectives are same; only the methods differed.   Remember it is easy to deal with a violent movement by using counter force, but to deal with a non-violent movement requires a lot of political acumen.

The only Winner

In this Lose-Lose affair, it is not like there was no winner at all.  The winner is Non-violence as a means for achieving one’s demands.  The only positive lesson that emerged from this Movement is the reinforcement of effectiveness of non-violence as a means of protest.  I am not sure how much this lesson can be adopted by the protestors of other countries and civilisations, but the effectiveness of it in India and Indian society is beyond all doubts.


  1. Kudos to you for this very highlighting post of yours..Got to know some more details and aspects of #JLP which was new to me..Thanks for the same

    As you said..I hope this path of Ahimsa or Non-Violence is not used by anyone or any group for every silly rhyme and reason..Govt. has succumbed to the pressure tactic of Anna and team in turn encouraging many such groups who now will try to act smart in this line..So hopefully Our Government will be cautious in future and avoid such situation,if at all another such protest arises..(many are encouraged by this win)Let not this fast unto death way of protesting for any unimportant reasons by all and sundry to make the authorities bend to pressure tactics and get their demands met become a precedent . Hope Our authorities will keep this fact in mind and play safe in future not allowing for such a situation to arise at all. I am sure the Govt has studied a lesson to some extent atleast this time.
    May Sense of Honesty and Integrity prevail in our Country ! Am Hopeful !

  2. @bindu Govt did not succumb to pressure tactics of Anna and team but was terrified of the huge turnout. They could arrest a few people, but not lakhs and lakhs without declaring emergency. Anna has said it all: 'The battle is only half won.' leave alone the war. If anyone can muster that kind of support for a social cause, they deserve to be given the respect by the govt. We all saw the kind of leaders we have.

    And don't you worry, no one can do anything to 'our beloved govt,' not even 125 crore people, with all that money in foreign banks and that supreme smugness.

  3. @Zephyr Thank you :) I have full Respect and Reverence for Anna Hazare..Salutes and bows to him..A 74 yr old Person on a fast for 12 days !!! Something unfathomable for common persons like us

    I just meant that there are some unscrupulous elements in our society who too could use such methods , make groups and adopt to methods of fasting unto death for any meaningless reason they find fit..It does happen..doesnt it ?

    May be I am thinking a bit too much..just my thoughts..This world is becoming devoid of understanding Language of Love and Honesty..Regarding money stashed away in foreign banks..I would like to say that irrespective of any govt. at centre..Not a single person is honest out there..People come to power after being elected with a sole aim of minting money,becoming rich at the cost of public money (Corruption again)..storing and stashing away money for their upcoming generations ..

    may be, I too am getting confused Like our Respected Jay :)(my confusion is not that intelligent or thought provoking.. though)

  4. hats off to u AJAY AMBADI, wat a gr8 analysis of d whole 12 days , hope every 1 from netas n babus to I AM ANNA "sheeple" read it n get enlightened

  5. Shanti Bhushan -
    1. He is the founder vice president of BJP.
    2. He was the lawyer for 2 of the Mumbai blast accused.
    3. He was the lawyer of Arundhati Roy (who is now revealing truths about him)
    4. He was the lawyer of Shaukat Hussain Guru - parliament attack accused. 5. He is the lawyer of several UP Sugar Mills fighting cases against Sugarcane farmers.
    6. He grabbed a house in Allahabad worth 20 crore for 1 lakh.
    7. He was allotted out of turn plots by Mayawati when he was appearing against her (why ??) ..
    8. He has made a fortune by defending PILs against corporates filed by his son Prashant !
    9. He is involved in the alleged bribery of judges in the Amar Singh CD case (the CD is real as per the forensic report given today)..