Reconciled to defeat in the Hissar Lok Sabha bypoll, the government is working on several fronts to take on the Anna Hazare campaign with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh outlining a “Lokpal plus” approach comprising a slew of anti-graft and pro-governance initiatives.
There is an acknowledgement in Congress that Team Hazare has disadvantaged the ruling party by shrewdly picked the Hissar poll as a test case for support to its maximalist “Jan Lokpal” and the government’s political managers are busy preparing for the next round that will unfold during the winter session of Parliament.
Aware that Hazare has not endorsed Congress’s rivals and the Gandhian is sure to claim victory if the party expectedly loses, the government intends to strenuously argue that its agenda is not limited to the Lokpal bill but will encompass strong governance reforms like comprehensive poll reforms and a citizens charter for government departments.
The message was explicitly stated in the PM’s recent letter to Hazare referring to a “comprehensive agenda to eradicate corruption and improve governance. Several legal, executive and technical aspects would be included in it. The establishment of Lokpal is a part of this comprehensive agenda itself.”
The government is keeping a sharp eye on BJP’s attempts to ride the anti-corruption agenda to its benefit and while it condemns BJP leader L K Advani’s rath yatra as opportunistic and driven by personal ambition, it is hoping to protect its flanks by fast-forwarding poll reforms and the citizens’ charter besides formalizing a list of ministerial privileges to be eliminated.
Congress sees nothing coincidental in Hazare associates zeroing in on Hissar election, challenging the activists to openly declare their backing for either INLD nominee Ajay Chautala or BJP-supported Kuldeep Bishnoi. Singling out the Congress nominee despite the PM’s repeated assurance on a strong Lokpal betrays the political intent driving the activists, the party and government aver.
The political attack on Hazare has been led by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh writing to the leader accusing the Gandhian’s associates of a political agenda and referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s open backing of the Jan Lokpal movement. As with his other gambits, Digvijay’s letters are seen as more of a solo run than a party manoeuvre.
Congress media head Janardan Dwivedi’s apparent disapproval of Digvijay Singh’s letters to Hazare is seen as a valid reflection of opinions in the party but it might be a mistake to read the remarks as an unalloyed snub as the party has been pleased to allow apparent contradictions to co-exist. This is not the first time that Digvijay Singh has shot off a bolt at Hazare and it is unlikely to be his last.
Dwivedi’s view that letter writing should be left to the PM indicates a concern that Congress should not overplay its hand and while some tough tactics are called for, there is a time to hold back. Although the PM wrote to Hazare on Lokpal and governance issues, Dwivedi’s intervention is well considered and not rooted in party equations.