Mission Kill Bill?
The Lokpal debate has degenerated into a sinners versus saints debate. The bad guys are the government, the good guys are Anna Hazare & Co (I exclude Baba Ramdev because, as expected, he has shot himself in the foot). Actually, the situation is more nuanced. Let me hasten to add that I am on the side of the saints and completely endorse their main contention, that is, the government would prefer either the status quo or a toothless Lokpal—or something close to a toothless Lokpal.
Meanwhile, Arvind Kejriwal, Santosh Hegde and others need to look at their own negotiating tactics and more importantly, their charter of demands. Since civil society members are novice negotiators and novice communicators, and since their only constituency is the media, they are guilty of massive overkill. Talking too much is not a sin but talking too loosely is. Sure, hammering out a controversial and complex piece of legislation is not a tea party. Nevertheless, the crucial public relations war which the government demonstrably lost has to some extent been retrieved by the erratic conduct of Team Anna. We are now in a situation where people who were initially sympathetic to the team feel they have overstepped the line. “Unreasonable” is the word I most often hear.
The charter too has been presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Understandably, Anna and his team came to the negotiating table with their maximalist position. Alas, they have stuck to it. At least on the inclusion of the higher judiciary in the ambit of the Lokpal, even Team Anna is divided, as are those eminences, who, while they support the proposal of a strong Lokpal, feel judges should be made accountable through some other mechanism. On the prime minister’s inclusion, civil society had a real window of opportunity if it had accepted a few caveats. That was lost due to the all-or-nothing approach.
Now, with a change in the public mood, the government has hardened its stance. Messrs Chidambaram and Sibal feel disinclined to accommodate any of the demands because it is civil society which is on the backfoot. When Anna Hazare goes on his fast, I am not sure what kind of response he will receive. For the moment, most of the cards seems to be in the hands of the government. Pity.
Political Prose and Cons
In a television interview, home minister P. Chidambaram has expressed a very un-politician-like desire. He feels it is time for him to retire from politics. Considering he is 66 years old, he is a babe in the woods of Indian public life where people 10 to 15 years older than him run around.
What will he do? He wants to read, write and travel! Michael Foot, the scholarly British Labour party leader, maintained that a politician who does not read extensively is unfit for high office. Writing too is an option very few of our netas explore. Besides Jawaharlal Nehru and Inder Gujral, which other prime minister has left us a record of his time?
More good news. Mr Chidambaram not only yearns to put pen to paper, he wishes to write like Arundhati Roy—someone whose politics he loathes but prose he loves. I am not suggesting Mr Chidambaram should quit politics instantly and pursue his admirable passions. I am only applauding his ambition at a time when our rulers believe politics is the beginning and the end. Mr Chidambaram’s act of self-renunciation would come as a breath of fresh air.
A Suitable Buoy
Now that I have finished my autobiography, I and my publishers (Penguin) have been frantically searching for a suitable title. Since the book goes beyond my life as editor, I was keen not to stress the journalism bit alone. We played around with ‘Accidental Pundit’, ‘Interesting Times’, ‘The Vinod Mehta Tapes’, ‘The Vinod Mehta Chronicles’, ‘Vinod Mehta Unplugged’, ‘My Way’, ‘The Devil’s Trade’. Any one of these names which my editor Nandini Mehta suggested would have been perfectly acceptable. After all, it’s what’s in the book that matters, not the cover.
However, ever since I began writing last year, one title has been buzzing in my head. I can’t get it out. It is not inspired or brilliant or insightful or guaranteed to make the browser pick up a copy. So, what is it? ‘Lucknow Boy’. Okay?
Tyranny of Humour
Syria’s Hafez Assad was a brutal despot who ruled the country with an iron fist and a 65,000-strong secret police force for 20 years. When he died, his son Bashar took over and is today fighting a growing insurgency. A joke that did the rounds in Hafez Assad’s time seems pertinent. One of his aides informed him, “Mr President, you won the election with a 99.7 percent majority. That means only three-tenths of 1 per cent of the people did not vote for you. What more could you ask for?”
Assad’s reply: “Their names.”