Imagine this scenario. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh puts his government on the line, as he did in July 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal. This time, his bête noire is not the Left Front, but the ‘People’s Front’ in the shape of Anna Hazare-led civil society.
Singh says that he will stick to his guns and will neither compromise on the Lokpal Bill issue nor on his government’s position over the increasingly vociferous and popular civil society. As governance becomes impossible, he tenders his government’s resignation. The opposition is taken aback and falls into disarray. The Left, meanwhile, doesn’t want to be seen to be on the same page as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, so the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved and fresh elections are called.
Now imagine that Anna’s advisors pressure him to take the plunge into politics and he forms a political party to contest the elections. Let’s name this political party the India Against Corruption Party (IACP). The newly-launched group contests all 543 Lok Sabha seats with people’s money – funds collected from Indian citizens. The new party reaches an electoral understanding with Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who has a pan-Indian following running into the millions. This new electoral alliance declares Anna and Ramdev its prime ministerial and deputy prime ministerial candidates.
Riding a wave of popular anger, the IACP sweeps the polls and wins over 500 seats. All opponents lose their deposits. Even the opposition BJP is reduced to single-digit representation in parliament.
At the swearing in ceremony, the new prime minister names his cabinet, which effectively chooses itself like the pre-cricket World Cup team. Kiran Bedi becomes the new Home Minister, Arvind Kejriwal the External Affairs Minister, Shanti Bhushan the Defence Minister and his son Prashant Bhushan the Finance Minister.
Implausible? The mounting pressure on the United Progressive Alliance has seen the government and prime minister’s credibility fall to dismal levels. Singh now seems to have two options for dealing with the outpouring of support for Hazare: Meekly throw in the towel and accept his Jan Lokpal Bill, or stick to his guns and take Hazare and company head on.
Both these options are unlikely to resolve the underlying crisis, meaning governance may well become impossible. If the prime minister exercises the first option, apart from losing face, the government will also make civil society even more powerful. Such a move would also suggest that the UPA government is interested above all in clinging to power. If Singh goes for the second option, it will inevitably bring the wheels of governance grinding to a halt as the opposition-assisted civil society’s mass protests will only grow in number.
The only way out of this impasse is for Singh to tender his government’s resignation, citing governance difficulties. With the entire opposition lined up against the UPA government, the best bet for the Congress-led government is to resign and make way for an alternative. If an alternative government can eventually be formed, then it will have to deal with Anna Hazare. If no alternative government is possible, which is a strong possibility, then early elections are the only solution.
It is at this juncture that the Hazare-led civil society would confront trial by fire. Civil society would then be faced with choosing to support a political party that it believed would carry out its agenda, or else do the honours itself. Either way, it would be better for the nation if such contentious issues could be resolved once and for all.
The UPA II government has itself to blame for the mess it is in. It has lurched from one crisis to another in the last 27 months, and Manmohan Singh is a shadow of the leader he was in his first term. The list of blunders is long and well known to every Indian who has been following political developments. Before the government is forced out by countrywide protests or voted out in parliament, it would be better and more dignified for it to bow out of office. If the UPA came back – under Singh or Rahul Gandhi – then it could do so with a clean slate
So far, Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have acted like typical politicians. They now need to act like statesmen who are thinking about the best interests of the next generation.