Will allow the law to take its own course in Maran issue
In the aftermath of the Baba Ramdev episode, the dominant view in the United Progressive Alliance government is that it must tackle corruption on a war-footing, and on two fronts: it must not only proceed swiftly with the legislation it has promised — the Lokpal Bill and the law on black money — regardless of whether civil society wishes to participate in the process, but also deal firmly with scam-tainted Ministers and officials.
Under attack by the Opposition, the media and civil society groups, the government is not taking chances. Official sources indicated that the government “will allow the law to take its own course” in the case of Union Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran, the latest on the graft radar, for acts during his tenure as Union Telecom Minister. If anything substantive emerges on him, these sources said, he would be dropped as Union Minister, just as his DMK colleague A. Raja was.
Over the last few days, Ministers involved in the negotiations with Baba Ramdev and the government's spokespersons have repeatedly said on record that the UPA dispensation is committed to enacting a tough Lokpal Bill as well as a law on black money as swiftly as possible.
“We will ultimately be judged on how we tackle corruption, not on how we dealt with the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev issues,” a Union Minister told The Hindu, adding: “People will watch us to see whether we enact the necessary laws quickly and whether we punish all those indicted by the Shunglu Committee and the names that will emerge from the investigations into the 2G and other scams.”
Indeed, on Tuesday, it was evident that the party — and the government — wanted to put the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev episodes behind them, while simultaneously stressing that there was a need to project that this was a government which was in the driver's seat that would not be held to ransom by civil society groups.
The government, therefore, has only refused permission to social activist Anna Hazare to sit on hunger strike from June 8 at Jantar Mantar, imposing Section 144 in the capital, but spokespersons of the party and the government, in one voice, justified the police action in the early hours of Sunday.
They pointed out that the Opposition's version of the events at the Ramlila grounds had been grossly exaggerated: only 39 persons were injured — as stated on Sunday by Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Dharmendra Kumar — of whom 23 were policemen, and only one person — a woman called Rajbala — had suffered serious injuries, when one of the bamboo poles holding up the tent collapsed on her.
More crucially, they underscored the fact that intelligence reports had come in on the possibility of an attack on those who had gathered at the Ramlila grounds, which falls in the Muslim-dominated Chandni Chowk area. Congress general secretary B.K. Hariprasad even said: “We had feedback that the Sangh Parivar wanted to create another Godhra-like situation there. We trusted them and gave permission for yoga, but given the provocative speeches, we had no other option but to act.”
There was also a discussion in the government whether Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram should hold a briefing to clear the air on the police action, or whether it was not worth the while, given the hostile attitude of TV channels on the issue. The alternative discussed was whether he should speak to Doordarshan — but that idea, too, was eventually abandoned.
Government sources, meanwhile, added that the Cabinet reshuffle, promised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Assembly elections, might not be possible until the Maran issue was settled and until there was some closure to the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev episodes.
The other question being asked in party circles is on whether the government's concern on the corruption issue will be reflected in the Cabinet reshuffle or not: there are still two views on that, with the Prime Minister still keen on major changes — however, there is a more conservative view in the party that this is not the time to rock the boat.
It also became clear on Tuesday that the allegations of financial irregularities in the businesses run by Baba Ramdev will be investigated. Having evicted him from Delhi, the government is in no mood to deal gently with him any longer.