Pragmatic | Only a temporary reprieve

A tactical pause in the design of battle by Mr Hazare’s team.

When Mr Anna Hazare started, rather resumed, his movement on 16th of August, his team had these demands: (1) Their version of the Lok Pal Bill, called the Jan Lok Pal Bill should be passed by the parliament without any amendments; (2) The Bill should not be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee; (3) The bill should be passed in four days or by 30th of August, depending on the version you heard.

What did the government offer to Mr Hazare? Take your version of the bill to the Standing Committee.

What was finally achieved after so much of anger, outrage and confrontation? The Parliament asked the standing committee to consider the sense of the house on the subject at the end of a day-long debate.

Many media houses and members of Mr Hazare’s team are claiming it as a victory for Mr Hazare. If it is a victory, it is a facile victory, not a substantive one. Perhaps there will be huge celebrations when Mr Hazare breaks his fast on a Sunday morning at 10 AM, absolutely at the peak of prime-time Sunday morning viewing. That fits in with the manner in which the whole movement has been organised and planned — like a reality TV show.

This is nothing more than an honourable exit for Mr Hazare’s team. While they claim victory to keep their supporters enthused, this is only a tactical pause in their design of battle. They are living to fight another day. As the bill gets debated in the standing committee, there are bound to be massive disagreements between Mr Hazare’s team and the government over each clause and sub-clause in the bill. There will be enough opportunity for them to resume their agitation at a time and place of their choosing.

Why did Mr Hazare’s team choose this path of an honourable exit now? The movement is underpinned by the round-the clock coverage of the event by news television channels. Viewer fatigue sets in for the best of the reality TV shows and with a cricket series on the horizon, it was no different in this case. Critical media voices were raising their head and asking harder questions of Mr Hazare’s team. The antics of Ms Kiran Bedi and others from the stage, along with the lumpen behaviour by self-proclaimed Anna supporters on the roads, was also diminishing the aura around the movement.

The longest fast that Mr Hazare has undertaken so far has been for 12 days and logically, he would been moved for hospitalisation in a couple of days. With their icon gone, Mr Hazare’s team would have also run out of the permission to use the Ramlila Maidan after 14 days. They couldn’t have held on to the ground as it would then delay the preparations for the forthcoming Ramlila at the venue.

In that sense, this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. The can has just been kicked down the road. By both the sides. For their own reasons.

The government is happy to get the monkey off its back — even if it is only a temporary reprieve. But unless it mends its ways drastically, it is in for another shocker in a few weeks or months time. This will need political imagination, craftier media-management and the ability to set the national agenda. Going by the lacklustre performance of the UPA-2 so far, there is little reason to believe that the government will move from a default reactive mode to a proactive mode.

If it was a boxing bout, the first couple of rounds have seen some spectacular punching by Team Anna which landed the government on the ropes. But the score-sheet shows it equal with the government on points at the end of first two rounds. However, there are many more rounds to go before this bout is settled. Even if we hear the count, it is unlikely that either team will be able to land a knock-out punch in the remaining rounds.

Finally, the dominant emotion at the end of the day is a sigh of relief, not an exultation of satisfaction. Let us savour that for the moment.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.