A subversion of Indian democracy?

An activist of Communist Party of India (Marxist and Leninist) listens to a leader during a protest against the government's version of an anti-corruption bill in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 Image copyright AP
Image caption India's anti-corruption law is jinxed, say analysts

Are India's politicians serious about cleaning up public life?

After Thursday night's debacle in the upper house of the parliament, many believe they aren't.

Many commentators believe that the chaos leading to the adjournment of the anti-corruption Lokpal bill was orchestrated by the ruling party, something opposition parties have also alleged. How else did news channels begin predicting that an MP at the debate - ahead of the still-born vote - would actually trigger off chaos at least an hour before he actually did so? Did some of the speakers at the debate filibuster so that it would be extended up to midnight and the session would come to an end without the voting?

Whatever the truth, Thursday night was one the darkest nights in the chequered history of India's democracy. "The Lokpal chaos played to a script; a cynical orchestrated one, as our reporters predicted the disruption hours before it happened," tweeted news channel editor Barkha Dutt. She called it a "shameful subversion" of democracy. "Match fixing in cricket leads to a life ban," tweeted Rajdeep Sardesai, head of another top news channel. "What happens to MPs who engage in it?"

It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Lokpal bill would not have passed muster in the upper house as the Congress party did not have the number of votes needed to pass the key bill. The Congress party, however, says that the opposition burdened them with nearly 200 amendments which would have taken a lot of time to debate, and they simply ran out of time. The bill has not been killed and will be resuscitated in the next session of the parliament, the party says.

But what is clear, say analysts, is that India's politicians stand discredited - again - in the eyes of the people. "These are diabolical games [that politicians are playing]," said analyst Yogendra Yadav, aghast as a seemingly premeditated script unfolded to disbelieving viewers on live TV last night.

This must be good news for anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare who believes that the Lokpal bill was "weak and useless" anyway. So does his flagging campaign against graft gets a shot in the arm after the failure of India's politicians to come up a strong anti-corruption law?

On the street, people are asking thorny questions to which the politicians, both ruling and in the opposition, have no answers. What was the problem in voting for a less than perfect bill and make a beginning in combating graft? True, laws alone don't reform societies, but they do allow building strong, independent institutions, which India sorely lacks. "We can endure neither our condition nor the means to overcome it," tweeted analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta, quoting Polybius, the Greek historian, after the events last night.

On the eve of what promises to be a tumultuous year, Thursday night is being seen as a great betrayal of people and democracy by India's political class. A former director of the the federal Central Bureau of Investigation RK Raghavan has said he is convinced that "all those who wield authority at the present juncture - not only at the Centre but in the 28 states as well - despite all their political differences, are united in not warming up to the idea of cleansing public life". Don't be surprised if the bristling Indian streets erupt in anger against politicians in the new year.

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