Victory, especially when it comes after a long, hard and unequal struggle, can taste very sweet. The fact that the Anna Hazare-led movement against corruption has forced the Parliament to agree to key elements from its draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill is an extremely significant one and can potentially mark a turning point in the manner in which democracy is practised in India.
This has been an instance where people have agitated for something rather than against it, and held out against a campaign of cunning and calumny, the kind which usually wears down its opposition into disgusted submission. Deviousness has been countered by stubbornness, and procrastination by a form of emotional arm-twisting, the movement did not waver, nor did it lower the stakes for itself. It gambled everything, every single time and has finally won.
Or has it? The single biggest stumbling block throughout this whole process has been a marked lack of intention on part of not only the government, but the entire political class. If we extricate ourselves for a moment from the debates about which version of the bill was better and whether fasting was a legitimate part of democracy or not, we might wonder as to why, far from dragging its feet on the bill, did the government not wholeheartedly champion its cause instead?
For an administration that has been under siege on the issue of corruption, wouldn't a robust act of legislation have been exactly the right signal to emit? It could have appropriated the protest movement, and used it as cover to navigate the bill through the political class, and emerged as a somewhat belated, but nevertheless, heroic saviour. And yet, it chose to oppose the bill at every juncture, using every means possible but that of honest negotiation.
This continued till the very end, creating a crisis of trust and leading to hardened positions on the other side. Rahul Gandhi's intervention was a continuation of the script. Regardless of the merits of his suggestion, the manner in which he entered the debate and the bizarrely delayed nature of the timing made it seem as if he resided on another planet and teleported his way in without any awareness or interest in what happened before.
His disappearance immediately after seemingly participating in the Inter-P arty Parliamentary Elocution Contest made it easy for his actions to be decoded as further evidence of the government's lofty disinterest in the issue. The role of the other political parties was no better, with the BJP dancing around the question of the exact nature of its support till very late in the day. To its credit, when it did reveal its position, it seemed not only to stay with it, but eloquently argue the case on its behalf too.
The fact that the Parliamentary debate was sparkling in its range of arguments and thoughtful in its nature indicates that the central problem is not in our institutions, but in the intention that animates them. If treated with the respect that it deserves, which indeed is the assumption on which it is founded, Parliament delivers to us a form of democracy that is as enlightened as it is representative. The problem is that it reaches this side of itself ever so rarely, and in this case, it is instructive that it was pushed, virtually at gunpoint, to find its better self. Left to itself, it is clear that Parliament would have done what it seems to do so well nowadays - collude in a conspiracy of mutual recrimination to avoid systemic change.