Who Can Fill Political Vacuum?
Anna Hazare’s fast aroused public anger and also raised great hope for change. The anger remains but the hope has begun to fade. Disgust with the government continues to mount. The UPA in public perception is history. But there is no credible alternative on the horizon. There is an unprecedented political vacuum in the country. Who will fill it?
Hazare’s movement itself is running out of steam. Team Hazare appears confused about how to proceed. Unless it quickly deploys the aroused youth to start organising a new grassroots party the movement can fizzle out. Unfortunately, Anna Hazare himself has begun to display an approach so shallow that it is beginning to erode his credibility. He urged his followers to surround the houses of all MPs, and those who do not support the Lokpal Bill should be prevented from entering or exiting their homes. Does Team Hazare believe that no honest difference of opinion should be tolerated? That instead of reasoning out differences coercion must be applied to extract support? The latest steps by the movement to reform the electoral system and the conduct of MPs will further lose its focus. The movement is impractical and seems to be woefully ignorant about the Constitution, law and democratic norms. On present reckoning Anna Hazare is an unlikely candidate to fill the political vacuum created by his own fast. If Team Hazare would deploy its supporters to launch a party with new entrants it might create a new political culture. That would be the ideal option. Unfortunately, that hope is rapidly fading.
Mr LK Advani has adroitly attempted to fill the breach. He has announced a nationwide rath yatra that he will undertake against corruption. His yatra will run alongside Anna Hazare’s announced yatra against corruption. Rivalry and division in the movement against corruption seems inevitable. The BJP is just marginally more acceptable than the Congress, mainly because it is notionally in the opposition. But in public perception it remains almost equally tainted. The ongoing corruption in Karnataka and the involvement of top leaders in the mining scam is too fresh in the public mind. Mr Advani himself is not the ideal candidate to lead a movement against corruption. His conduct in the Jain Hawala case remains controversial.
Mr Advani never categorically admitted or denied that he had received money from Mr SK Jain in that case. His studied silence was a pity. He had earlier advocated electoral reform by making all donations to political parties only by cheques. Events gave him a golden opportunity to vindicate his stand. He should have spoken the truth and helped unmask the terror funding by the same sources that had paid politicians cutting across parties. But he was ill advised by his lawyers. CBI investigators told me that Advani received Rs 60 lakh which he distributed among thirty BJP candidates paying each Rs 2 lakh. According to them he had visited the farm house of SK Jain. But his security guard was too loyal to Mr Advani and refused to formally state this. There was another complication. It seems he made the payments directly and not through the then party president Dr Murli Manohar Joshi who was at daggers drawn with him. The latter refused to acknowledge receiving any funds from Mr Advani. However, extenuating these circumstances, Mr Advani’s silence was unfortunate. Overall, therefore, his projected rath yatra is unlikely to help BJP fill the political vacuum.
If Team Hazare, the Congress and the BJP are eliminated from consideration, what remains to be seen? There is one faint prospect that has the potential of developing into a genuine alternative. In the recent National Integration Council (NIC) meeting held to discuss the Bill on communal violence drafted by the National Advisory Council (NAC) chaired by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, eight Chief Ministers (CMs) administered a spectacular rebuff to the central government by not attending it. The absent CMs included those from the UPA alliance, the Congress and from the BJP. Even among those CMs who attended the meeting were severe critics of the Bill. This was a virtual revolt by the states against the centre. Chief Ministers wrestle with ground realities in electoral politics. The NAC that drafted the Bill has questionable constitutional justification. It is headed by a chairperson ignorant of political sentiments reflecting the public. The PM is her nominee who has never won a popular election.
This unnatural political arrangement to govern the nation is now coming unstuck. Such an arrangement could be established because of the prevailing Westminster system. The PM is elected by the Lok Sabha without any direct mandate from non-UPA states. Politics in our vast multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation has been driven to rely on coalition governments. The system has lost cohesion and the Union government has ceased to empathise with popular opinion. That is why governance has collapsed and unchecked corruption is rampant.
The CMs who boycotted the NIC meeting can take things in hand. For that they would have to ignore both the UPA and the NDA and forge an alternative on their own. They would have to stop looking at so-called national political parties and focus on the state as the relevant political unit. For instance, Mr Narendra Modi might consider whether his future lies with Mr Advani or with Ms. Jayalalithaa. All state governments demand genuine federalism. All are dissatisfied with the current system. To change things they must join under a common programme to create not a third front coalition but a proper and stable federal party contesting parliamentary elections under a common symbol. They would need an agenda that promises a genuine systemic change.
I do not wish to reiterate the suitable agenda that would be based upon two cardinal goals. First, the identity of the nation must be restored by recreating Hindustan in the new avatar of a South Asian Union. Secondly, the original intent of the Constitution must be reclaimed by allowing President to exercise the powers explicitly granted to the office by its written text. The quest for South Asian Union would dilute communal suspicion, help resolve the Kashmir dispute and empower member governments to eliminate terrorism in South Asia. An executive President would allow greater decentralisation of power and self-rule for the people without hassles of disintegration. The Union government under President would focus on foreign policy, national security and protection of the law and constitution. It is time the nation recognised that the prevailing political system cannot deliver satisfactory governance. Will the CMs rise to the occasion and provide a lead? If they do not the prospect remains very bleak. The future most likely would lead to further political fragmentation. There would be more parties each with fewer MPs. That would help our enemies to break up India.
By Rajinder Puri