A corrupt government devoid of moral authority is ill equipped to deal rationally with legitimate public anger. By ordering the illegitimate detention of Anna Hazare before he began his fast in support of stronger anti-corruption provisions in the Lokpal Bill and the arrest of a large number of peaceful protesters in the national capital, the United Progressive Alliance government revealed its ugly, repressive face. No representative government in a democracy can deny citizens their fundamental right to dissent and peaceful protest. Insisting on unreasonable, inequitable, and suspiciously contrived conditions that everyone knows the protesters cannot accept is tantamount to denial of the democratic right. Instead of honestly dealing with the issues raised by successive corruption scandals, the UPA government chose to cover up. When that became unsustainable, it resorted to slurs and dirty tricks, and incrementally raised the level of repression to smother voices demanding accountability and corrective institutional measures. It is no wonder that from time to time such a government gets into panic mode, miscalculates, and commits acts that everyone outside the regime recognises as politically stupid.
Despite several opportunities to reach a consensus with Team Anna and other sections of civil society for the framing of an effective Lokpal Bill, the Manmohan Singh government attempted to push through a farce of a Bill. That it misread the national public mood was obvious. Anna Hazare might have given the cause a face, but the anti-corruption movement that is now in a rapid phase of expansion across India does not depend on one man or his team. The real force that is shaking the UPA government — which is widely perceived as the most corrupt in the history of independent India — is made up of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who are fed up with a system they believe is opaque, corrupt, and driven by greed. In the words of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India who has scrupulously kept himself above partisan politics, the recent events and findings have highlighted “the single biggest hindrance to India's growth — that is the corruption and degrading moral turpitude which is engulfing the nation like cancer.” What after all has made Team Anna the force it has become? It is the feeling among ordinary people across the land — a feeling strengthened by intense media coverage — that here is a rare opportunity to put in place a potent mechanism to end high-level corruption. If the UPA does not recognise the public anger against corruption, respect the ideals and values of democracy, and take steps to create a Lokpal that inspires confidence, there will be a political price to pay — perhaps well before the next general election.