Three hours, three men and a woman, a “constructive and fruitful meeting”, and the standoff still remains. That, in short, was the maha-drama in New Delhi between 7 and 10 pm on Tuesday.
Before midnight, however, the word was out. And strangely, not from Ramlila Maidan, where decisions concerning the nation’s health (no pun intended, please) are being taken these days. Coming out of the three-hour meeting with Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s troubleshooter and Man Friday on all days of the week, lawyer Prashant Bhushan — representative of Team Anna along with RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal and former IPS officer Kiran Bedi — said (and I quote from the NDTV report) the discussions were “constructive and fruitful” but in the absence of any concrete proposals from the government, Hazare is unlikely to call off his hunger strike at the moment.
“I wish these talks had started three days earlier,” Bedi was quoted by the news channel.
Later, Mukherjee rushed to another meeting convened by the PM of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, invariably to discuss the Hazare affair. Undoubtedly on the backfoot, the PM also sent a communique to Hazare saying, “I have maintained that your and our objective is identical. At worst, our paths and methodologies may differ.”
Anna Hazare, meanwhile, remains firm: bring in Jan Lokpal Bill (the Bill proposed by Civil Society against the government’s Lokpal Bill) by August 31 or the hunger strike goes on.
Will someone in the activists’ camp please understand the Bill proposed by Hazare and Co. has many loopholes and it takes time to fix these things? Especially tabling and clearing in both Houses and then getting it signed by the President — particularly since that “ideal Lokpal” is still not ready to “order” the President to sign it? I quote from an article by Amba Salelkar, a practising Mumbai lawyer: “Enacting the Jan Lokpal Bill in its present form, the appointment of the officials and the sure-shot constitutional challenges it will face (I can guarantee at least one) are going to be precious years down the drain and absolutely futile.”
But that’s a worry to be fretted over later.
Around 9 pm on Tuesday, addressing the crowd from his fast podium in Ramlila Maidan, Hazare said his conscience does not permit him to end the fast. “Even if my kidney fails, won’t one of you donate one to me?” a report on NDTV website quoted him saying. “If the government sends someone to forcibly move me to hospital, block the exits… But I am stressing, do not engage in any violence.”
A few days back, Hazare had assured the government that there would be no untoward activity by his supporters, and if any such thing happens, he should be held responsible. “Blocking the exits”, however, could be a call in that direction. Remember the scene when the Delhi Police had gone to move Baba Ramdev from his fast site not that long ago?
Also do remember the drunken brawls that Hazare supporters are getting into on the streets of Delhi (among others on social networking sites, here’s one: ‘Drunk’ men create ruckus at Ramlila Maidan. As political activists with agenda (there were reports of local BJP and Sangh activists in many parts gheraoing and protesting outside their MPs’ houses following Hazare’s call to seek answers from area MPs) get into the act, and many hoodlums and hooligans replace the educated, conscientious citizens who had formed the core of the crowd initially over the weekend, Hazare’s call to “block the exits” could be dangerous. Very dangerous.
I would be happy to be proven wrong. But the way things are moving, with Hazare’s blood pressure at 130/90 and weight down by 6 kg over the last eight days (info courtesy Zee News), it does seem ominous. Here’s why: the government will try to either force-feed him or move him away, Hazare will stick to his line (“dil diya hai jaan bhi dengey” he said on Tuesday, according to media reports) and the eager activists, backed by the now-escalating-in-number hooligans, will ask the law enforcement guys to back off. With clarion calls like “block the exits” in mind, one can only shudder to think what might happen next.
It’s easy, however, to cook up a negative prognosis. What’s needed in the kitchen is a slightly different tactic than drawing your swords: a deep breath on the part of both parties, oodles of logic and reason, stir-fry it with some realpolitik, and add a dash of common sense. And your Bill is ready to be served to the Nation. Now get the cheque!
PS: Meanwhile a little birdie tells me that an agreement will be reached either by Wednesday or latest by Thursday, that both sides will walk away with most of their pride intact and August 30 will be just another date in the calendar.