Anna Hazare is sitting on fast from August 16, 2011 to force the government pass a real Lokpal Bill. Despite all the appeals of Manmohan Singh and his cohorts led by Kapil Sibal to Team Anna (civil society members Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, Prashant Bhushan) to not to fast when the Parliament is already considering the Lokpal Bill, the renowned Gandhian has refused to budge. Anna, as he is popularly known, had threatened to go on strike inside jail, if he is arrested. He has been arrested and he will go on hunger strike. The problem for government is that Anna Hazare is no pushover. So, every next move by the government and Anna would be keenly followed.
For the first time after Jayprakash Narain led the country against the despotic regime of Indira Gandhi in the 70s, there are signs of the nation uniting behind one person to force the govt. root out what has been a perpetual menace for India: Corruption. The man in contention, here Anna Hazare, under the banner of India Against Corruption (IAC) is spearheading a campaign for a powerful Jan Lokpal Bill that would vest powers in an institution to act against corruption at all levels.
IAC is a movement of concerned citizens of India that has been campaigning to root out the systemic corruption in India.
It was only a couple of months ago on April 5 that the govt. was caught in the Anna wave without any preparation when Anna Hazare sat on a hunger strike at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. The demand then was small: of forming a joint committee of government and civil society representatives to draft a Lokpal Bill. Under 24-hr media attack and mounting anti-government mobilisation, the government had to budge.
Then came Baba Ramdev a couple of months later with more or less similar issues. The govt. went ruthless, literally throwing the Baba out of Ramlila Grounds where almost 50,000 of his supporters had gathered from across the country. The government drew severe criticism from various sections of the society including the Supreme Court for its high handedness.
In the meantime, 2G Scam, CWG Scam and inflation followed. Govt. showed some action, putting Raja, Kanimozhi and Kalmadi behind bars. Amid rising disenchantment with the government and its policies, the Congress also tasted some major electoral successes in Assam, Kerala and West Bengal, though it did lose miserably in Tamil Nadu.
Unfortunately, all of that joys proved to be short lived as Team Anna, whom the govt. tried to show the door during the drafting of the bill, finally began gathering momentum. Manmohan Singh himself came under fire from Team Anna and the opposition (both the BJP and the CPI (M)) as Raja said that he was not alone. On the negative front also came the incidents of firing on villagers protesting against land acquisition in UP, followed by most recently in Maharashtra.
The government being already on the back foot but with experience of handling two anti-graft movement is in no mood to let Team Anna hog the limelight once again. It first denied Anna Hazare the permission to hold protest meet at Jantar Mantar fearing that it might be too popular a venue to risk another 24-hour media fueled attack.
Delhi Police allowed demonstration to be held in JP Park in New Delhi but put 22 conditions before Anna Hazare which included concluding the demonstration in 3 days. When Anna refused to accept despite PM’s advice, the police imposed Article 144 even in JP Park. Since then Delhi police has been prepared to send Anna and his supporters behind the bars.
Anna Hazaare has said that if he is arrested he will sit on hunger strike inside jail. He also asked his supporters for Jail Bharo Andolan i.e. to fill up jails across the country. The good thing for Anna and the bad thing for government is that he enjoys the support of not only the left and the right but virtually the entire opposition and many from govt.
Given the amount of credit at stake, the govt. is going to do everything in its capacity to delay and deny any bill that would effective put a curb on the high and the mighty. The govt. has some valid points though. When the PM says that putting the judiciary under the ambit of Lokpal would curb judicial freedom, he is not altogether wrong, but the problem is that nobody has faith in the government.
Now UPA-II is in a serious dilemma. If the govt. doesn’t do any amends in the bill and Team Anna persists it will have two very difficult choices: one to resort to Ramdev style suppression, pushing Anna’s supporters to run for shelter; two it can waits for Anna to fall ill and then can put him in the hospital. His supporters should gradually tire out.
None of the two options give much hope for the govt. If it resorts to repression of Anna it would well lose the sympathy of an overwhelming middle class and would come under an all out attack by the opposition. If it goes for second option, Anna would be back hopefully by Republic Day for another face off.
For the government, there is too much of hopelesseness about its governance and inepetness of PM Manmohan Singh for Kapil Sibal and his team to have any hope of revival in their fortune against Anna. The ultimate result will depend upon how many people actually turn up.
The fight against corruption and deeply entrenched vested interests is not going to be easy.
It is also probably one great chance for Dr Manmohan Singh to set his record straight esp. in terms of the blames of ineptness and being a weak PM. A real action to the satisfaction of anti-graft agitators and despite all the blame of weaknesses, he will remembered as a great PM. But a failure here might finally result into a sad end to his illustrious career.
Whether Dr. Singh is corrupt or not is immaterial until he heads a govt. that has ministers who did the biggest embezzlement in Indian History. There is no doubt that there are more than a few in UPA-II who are neck deep in corruption.
Given this context, a media fueled April 5 hunger strike of Anna could only force a corrupt govt. to set up a committee. It can’t force the govt. to pass a powerful bill. That would need some real action.
Initial signs are in favour of Anna. But the support of opposition is fickle. The opposition is more confused and weak than ever before. The masses in India do not resort to action easily. Not to forget many who have serious reservations against Anna’s Jan Lokpal bill.
Over to you.