Offence is not always the best defence. Delhi’s ruling establishment is learning it the hard way. For the past few weeks, the UPA, the Congress and its megaphones have gone cacophonic with questions over the colour of the movements led by Anna Hazare and Ramdev against black money and corruption.
The reaction of the Government and the party to civil society’s champions defies not only logic but also consistency. They decided to defame and deride the same leaders whom they treated like manna from heaven until last week. Both Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written personal letters to both the reformers, praising them for their relentless drive against the same cause to which, both claimed, the Congress is equally committed. Over a dozen ministers were deputed to plead and pray together with Baba and Anna. No doubt, Manmohan Singh and Sonia later put together a very effective team comprising spin doctors, legal eagles, filibusters and sagacious leaders to deal and tame the rising revolt against the establishment. The team led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was expected to rein in both the crusaders by dialogue, debate and database.
They were also under instructions that if they failed in their endeavour, they should not spare any page in the rulebook to derail and demoralise the civil society groups through the use and misuse of the ever-ready investigative agencies. As the public outcry against the system acquires monumental proportions, the Government has devised a dangerous mechanism of dealing with dissent in a democracy. The message is clear: Join Us or Perish.
Once Anna and Baba refused to fall in line, the ruling establishment dubbed them as communal, corrupt, thugs and agents of unknown enemies of the state. But the Government fell into yet another trap for which they weren’t ready. Those who oppose both Anna and Baba chose to ask some questions like:
● Who were the donors who provided huge funds to both these campaigners?
● How are they spending their money?
● Why don’t civil society leaders declare their assets to the public?
● Are civil society leaders divided on many issues?
● How can a few selected people be allowed to dictate the nation’s agenda?
● Why do they want a live telecast of the proceedings of the panel on the Lokpal Bill?
● Why have they taken the support of organisations like the RSS and other allegedly communal organisations?
Interestingly, none of these issues were raised by any of the senior ministers who spent over 50 hours with Anna and Ramdev at the cost of government functioning, pleading for the agitation to be called off. As the Government and opinion-makers it sponsors mounted a tirade against Anna and Ramdev, they received an equally powerful rebuttal to each of the doubts raised about their motives. Team Anna turned the tables on the Government by putting out the assets of each key team member on their website.
Anna also ensured his website was brought to date by uploading the names of the movement’s donors, money spent on each rally, travel and so on and so forth. An earlier attempt to tar the image of Shanti Bhushan and his son by circulating a fake CD fell flat when two contradictory reports were handed over about the veracity of the discs. The Delhi Police have conveniently chosen to forget all about the case. Some prominent Government leaders issued veiled threats, promising reprisals against those who were part of the civil society movements. In Baba’s case, the threats were implemented; the Government selectively leaked reports on his business empire. It also sent out clear signals to all its departments to dig deep into the yoga guru’s past and present to try sabotage his future.
If the Government’s moves were aimed at silencing and demoralising both Baba and Anna, it failed miserably. Instead, it only brought them together.
Allegations of a division among civil society ranks were exposed by a massive protest fast at Rajghat by Anna and his team. They argue that when Parliament proceedings are telecast live, what is the problem with doing the same with the Lokpal Bill meetings? Civil society leaders were particularly upset with the way the Government treated Baba. Questions posed by the establishment were answered to with more inconvenient questions to the Congress and the Government. The most devastating question was on the legitimacy of the National Advisory Council led by Sonia. If, as the Government points out, unelected leaders like Anna and Baba are forcing it to set the tone for legislative business, then why is the NAC, with unknown members, being allowed to summon government files and officials for a brief on every law that the Government proposes to enact? The prime minister and all political parties are under pressure now to force ministers and leaders to declare assets on regular basis. Now, the public will ask the leaders to declare how much money was spent on each rally and also the names of donors who contributed towards these political shows.
Even the Election Commission that has failed to take any serious action against political parties for not filling their annual returns correctly will have to pull its socks. No political party has ever given out the names of those who give them money to run their political establishments and fight the elections.
According to credible estimates, over Rs 80,000 crore is spent by parties every five years on contesting polls and meeting their running costs. Most leaders now travel only by chartered planes.
It is now time to come down to earth. If the Government continues with its strong-arm tactics, it should be ready to confront a tsunami. After all, arrogance does bring agony.