Saturday, August 20th, 2022 04:15:11

Prime Minister Fails To Solve Anna Crisis Pranab Given The Charge

Updated: September 10, 2011 4:02 pm

Virtually expressing her no-confidence in Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his team in not being able to handle the Anna Hazare crisis which has dented the image of both the government and the Congress party, an ailing Sonia Gandhi directed the Prime Minister to move fast and end the eight day-old fast and begin talks with Anna Hazare to end the impasse. Saying enough is enough, she directed the Government to bring Pranab Mukherjee on board to handle the crisis.

Highly-placed sources in the Congress party state that the inert government under the leadership of Manmohan Singh began to move after Sonia Gandhi’s intervention made through Rahul Gandhi. She also made it clear that Pranab Mukherjee should be the main negotiator to handle the agitation and talk with the fasting protesters to bring the ongoing crisis to an end.

Sources say that it was after that the government had begun to move and contact was established with the Anna camp. The letter sent by the Prime Minister to Anna Hazare urging him to end the fast was basically drafted by Pranab Mukherjee and is a cleverly worded document which makes no promises but expresses concern and says that the government would ask the standing committee to look at the Jan Lokpal bill and consider it along with the other bills which have been sent to them. The standing committee already has the Jan Lokpal bill though the Prime Minister’s offer is in the nature of a face saver for Anna Hazare and his team.

The Prime Minister had a long meeting on Tuesday morning (more than one and a half hours) with Abhishek Manu Singhvi who is now the chairman of the standing committee on law, justice and personel. The Lokpal bill has been referred to the standing committee and the committee will meet on September 1 to discuss the Lokpal bill which has been introduced in Parliament. Sources in the committee said that already a large number of versions of the bill, including the Jan Lokpal have been sent to the committee and apart from that the committee is also free to source inputs from anywhere in the world and can make whatever changes they want to the existing draft which was prepared by senior ministers of the government and then approved by the cabinet.

The first major indication that Sonia Gandhi was keeping herself abreast of developments in Delhi and was concerned with the Government’s handling of the Anna agitation came when NAC member Aruna Roy held a press conference on Saturday where she offered her own version of the Lokpal bill and gave a more holistic and complete picture on ways and means to end corruption by speaking about the various measures which need to be taken to make a dent on issues of corruption. She also rubbished the Jan Lokpal bill and the manner in which the issue is being handled by Anna Hazare and his friends.

Later on Tuesday evening, Rahul Gandhi had a meeting with Prime Minister Dr manmohan Singh in his room in Parliament House after which the two of them drove away together in the PM’s car to 7 Race Course Road where the discussions continued on how best to bring the agitators on board and wait for the result of Pranab Mukherjee’s meeting with the three representatives of Anna Hazare—Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan—on the best way to end the impasse.

The Prime Minister finally moved on Tuesday after the intervention by Sonia Gandhi and called an all-party meeting at his residence on Wednesday at 3.30 pm to discuss the issue. He also met Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief from Maharashtra who is a mine of information on Anna Hazare. So far the Prime Minister had not bothered to take either his allies or other political parties on board as the issue had continued to linger for the last seven days as the nationally televised fast became the talk of an entire nation, further putting the government and the party in the dock.

After Pranab Mukherjee’s meeting with Team Anna ended, at almost 11 p.m. there was a meeting of the cabinet committee on political affairs and this was followed by a meeting of the core committee later in the night. Pranab Mukherjee retired home at only 2 a.m.

It was also decided to hold a meeting of the general body of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on August 25, where Pranab Mukherjee would address the party MPs and brief them on the entire Anna Hazare episode. A number of party MPs, particularly those from Mumbai like Sanjay Nirupam and Priya Dutt, have been doing a balancing act and taking a partially pro Anna line asking for a stronger Lokpal bill as sources close to them say they have to go back to the people and fight elections. This is the dilemma of many Lok Sabha MPs in the party who say that the longer a solution is deferred, the bigger would be their headache in answering questions to both the people and other political opponents.

Sources say that after the mess up by the government on the first day when Anna Hazare was arrested and then taken to Tihar Jail, and later released in the evening after a strong intervention by Rahul Gandhi, the Prime Minister and his team had taken no steps to end the logjam and restore normalcy. No contact was made with the Anna Hazare team and instead Home Minister P Chidambaram was seen to be justifying what had happened.

Senior Home Ministry officials say that a number of senior officials told the Home Minister that arresting Anna Hazare was a bad idea and that it could be counter-productive but he failed to listen or agree with them and countered it with the argument that there cannot be a faceless uprising or revolution and with Anna in jail, the agitators would not have a leader to lead them.

Sources say that bizarre as this argument sounds, P Chidambaram actually went ahead with his line of thinking and the Prime Minister appears to have given him a free hand to handle the situation as he thought fit.

A senior leader said that earlier the Prime Minister’s complaint used to be that he could not act independently as there was too much interference from 10 Janpath. But the leader alleged that this time around there was no 10 Janpath to interfere. But he failed to handle the first big political crisis which came his way in the absence of Sonia Gandhi and finally she had to again intervene long distance to bring matters back on track.

What is a matter of intense speculation in the Congress party is why the Prime Minister did not involve senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony and others to diffuse the ongoing agitation and instead relied on P Chidambaram as the main pointsman. Anyone who approached Pranab Mukherjee to ask about the ongoing agitation and what needed to be done, the curt reply was, “ask Chidambaram”. The same was the response from other Ministers who said they knew nothing and that all queries should be directed to the Home Minister.

Already there is speculation within the party and the government on whether any accountability would be fixed on the gross mishandling which has been in evidence in the last seven days and whether the Prime Minister would be willing to take a responsibility for his inability to prevent the huge onslaught mounted against his government by myriads forces all working in tandem in the name of eliminating corruption.

What is also interesting and is being investigated by various wings of the government is a huge amount of money which is available to the organisers of the protest and what may be the funding from various sources. While Arvind Kejriwal’s NGO has received $ 4 lakh from the Ford Foundation in the last three months, Kiran Bedi’s NGO has also received an equal amount from the Lehman brothers and various trusts which work internationally, it is said.

Along with this, a huge amount of money is also being fed to TV channels to keep up the 24 X 7 coverage of the Ramlila Grounds and the fasting Anna. There is both anger and anguish in the Congress party and in the days ahead more of this anger is expected to be articulated over the manner in which the entire issue was allowed to get out of hand.

By Renu Mittal

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