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That there is a conflict on in Delhi is clear and obvious. The question that seems to requiring an answer is this – who are the two sides to this conflict and who do they represent…or are there more than two sides to this conflict.
On the face of it and as has been presented by the media – the struggle for space is between the ‘Civil society’ and those in Government. Predictably the sharp focus is on which of these groups is representing the ‘People’. Both sides are currently taking seemingly intransigent positions on the Lokpal Bills. Assuming that there is a real desire to crack down on this malaise of Government and Political corruption, both sides need to shift strategies and positions.
The Government is confronted by a startling dip in popularity. In normal circumstances, a Government commanding the support of the majority of popularly elected MPs – should represent the ‘People’. But this movement of Anna Hazare and his colleagues is challenging that conventional wisdom and seems to be getting increasing traction for this.
Predictably, the Political leaders are reacting in outrage at that challenge to this status quo. Of all the political responses, the only one that reflects the reality of the transformation that is underway – is the response from our Defence Minister AK Antony. He called this the transparency revolution and went on to say that this is an inevitable reality and will end in changing the status quo. He has cautioned everyone to prepare for a long haul but inevitable change that will arise from this revolution. This is the message that needs to resonate in the Political class.
At the same time, the transparency revolution led by the Anna Hazare movement needs to understand that their approach requires strategic changes if they are to achieve their objectives. Public revulsion to the political class notwithstanding, their approach should be one of reforming politics and ushering a new form of politics. They should not exclude politics and politicians. Changes to the structure of our republic can only come from inside the Parliament. There is no wishing away the obvious constitutional reality of that fact. Civil society or citizen power is only relevant in our country, if they have the power to determine the people that enter Parliament and what decisions they take there. The Parliament then has to perform its oversight role of Government. This can be extended to an institution of Lokpal that performs a probity and anti-corruption oversight role of Government. Eg, the issue of Lokpal jurisdiction over PM can be articulated as the best way for honest Prime Ministers to resist pressures from Cabinet colleagues or political pressures. That’s a far better way to sell this.
The transparency revolution should be about enabling and supporting the next generation of good Political leaders and not about tarring the whole political class, and thereby, discouraging every good man or woman from entering Politics completely. The citizens-vs-Politicians characterization of this must morph into a citizens+good politicians-vs-Bad politicians.
This is the reality – seeds of change have been sown. The leadership of this transparency revolution needs to make some mid course corrections that are required to achieve their goals of reforming Politics and Governance in our country for all. If they are successful, then those that sit around and continue to parrot the old status quo will find themselves confronted by the brutal reality of irrelevance!
This article appeared in Sunday Standard on June 19th, 2011