August 22, 2011 2:37:38 am
Anna Hazare,from the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi,seemed to expand the scope of his movement on Saturday. He was also interested,he said,in electoral reforms,and in a land acquisition law that did not expropriate farmers. This is interesting,and indicative of the general nature of the Hazare-led movement: it purports to be about the specifics of certain aspects of a Lokpal bill,but it draws whatever strength it has from a disaffection that is much more wide-ranging than that. It draws strength from a distaste for corruption by which is meant the continued intrusion of the licence-quota raj into peoples everyday lives. It draws strength from a common perception that the government is too remote from the concerns of Indias towns. It draws strength from fears that aspirations will continue to be unfulfilled,with a paucity of good colleges and good jobs for the many millions of young people who want them.
Yet the government has been so focussed on dealing with the leaders of the agitation that it has forgotten that its greater responsibility must be to address the disaffection itself. This will require more than just alternative mechanisms for reducing and combating high-level corruption. It will require better communication with the people on the streets,many of whom were instrumental in sweeping UPA 2 to power. The government and the Congress need to demonstrate a renewed commitment to reform,to openness,and to satisfying their aspirations. But instead they have chosen to display their most smug and defensive aspects. The Congresss political failure in addressing the concerns that underlie the Hazare movement is multiplied by its inability to communicate: party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury,for example,has been more than a hindrance than a help if the Congress wished to endear itself again to those in Indias towns it has alienated.
And her inept handling of the Congress and governments case invites bigger questions. Why are all the younger MPs who were celebrated as turning a page in the Congresss history in 2009 silent today? Why are they not being fielded? Why,too,is the government not responding to whatever urban anger it senses by pushing the second-generation reforms the prime minister described as difficult on Saturday? Dr Singh said the government was open to give and take on the Lokpal bill,and the comparison with the my-way-or-the-highway Anna team was noticed,and helped the government instantly. He,above all,must open himself to conversation more. And his government must do more to address the angst of middle India.
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