Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anna Climbs Down, But ...

I've just watched Anna Hazare deliver an unbelievably energetic speech on what is supposedly the 10 day of his fast.

In a major climbdown from yesterday's arrogant position that the fast would end only if the government withdrew its Lokpal Bill and Parliament immediately passed his Jan Lokpal Bill, he set three conditions.

Only one of them was the same as the three identified as cardinal a few days ago: that the lower orders of the bureaucracy should come under the purview of the Lokpal. The others were that each state government must have its own Lokyukta mirroring the office at the centre; and that every Department of Government must have a Charter of Citizen's Rights. He also asked that Parliament discuss the Bill immediately (i.e. 26th August), and for a written assurance from the Prime Minister.

These are not redline issues for the government, and a resolution seems in the cards. However, there is a Joker in the pack: Anna declared that the popular agitation would continue. He seems to have some sort of an Indian version of Mao's Cultural Revolution in mind, a permanent stir targeting government at the state level and at the Centre.

We could be seeing an effort to create a new political movement and party, or to energize the BJP and expand its constituency beyond its core membership of the RSS and its extremist affiliates. That would be of serious concern to representatives of Scheduled Castes/Tribes, for their constituents are normally excluded from the BJP's high caste ambit. They have made that clear in a number of statements and even a public demonstration against Anna's fast.

All this sets the scene for interesting developments in Indian politics. The more progressive forces in the country will be under pressure to respond to this realignment, and at a time when the corporate globalization paradigm is coming apart at the seams, their only effective course will be to coalesce around a Gandhian agenda of development and change.

If that happens, we could be looking at the possibility of epochal change.

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