Indian Decade

Anna Hazare Rattles Gov’t

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Indian Decade

Anna Hazare Rattles Gov’t

The social activist’s latest fast-unto-death has likely shaken up India’s leaders. Is it enough to force them into action?

The UPA government is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as social activist Anna Hazare continues his fast-unto-death, which is in its fourth day at historic Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The 73-year-old’s public protest, demanding that the Indian government adopt immediate reforms to combat widespread corruption in India, has already attracted an outpouring of support from people across India as well as from overseas, exemplified by one young demonstrator’s slogan: ‘Let people fill the country’s streets like they did after India won the World Cup.’

The resulting nervousness of the current Indian government has been demonstrated by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who on Wednesday quit the Group of Ministers (GoM) on corruption. Pawar was one of Hazare’s primary targets in this campaign. 

The government is well aware of just how much potential damage Hazare can cause. In Maharashtra for example, many ministers, cutting across all parties like Congress, NCP, BJP, and Shiv Sena, have been forced out of the state cabinet due to his numerous fasts over the past two decades. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, a member of the sub-committee on the Lokpal legislation that Hazare wants radically changed, recently sent out a feeler to the activist asking him to give some more time to the government to act. However, Hazare flatly rejected these overtures, saying, ‘If the government were serious about fighting corruption, why are there so many delays in getting to work on it?’

In an unrelenting open letter addressed to Singh on April 6, Hazare explained he’s on a fast-unto-death over the issue of corruption and advised the leader to show the ‘courage to take unprecedented steps,’ at a time when the nation is witnessing scams of unprecedented scale. Hazare also expressed his unhappiness that rather than solving the issue of corruption, the government seems to have become more interested in speculating on his movement. And he didn’t spare UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi either, claming he hadn't received any contact from Gandhi or Singh. ‘Please do not mislead the nation, by saying that we are not ready to talk…You have said that the government has initiated certain processes. Some of the people drafting the legislation should have been in jail. Should I have faith in these processes?’ he asked.

Hazare’s main complaint however is against the politicians and bureaucrats who’ve kept the draft Lokpal Bill from being passed, although the anti-corruption legislation has been through Parliament eight times since 1968. ‘Very weak versions of Lokpal Bill were presented in Parliament 8 times in last 42 years. Even these weak versions were not passed by Parliament. This means, left to themselves, the politicians and bureaucrats will never pass any law that subjects them to any kind of objective scrutiny. At a time, when the country has witnessed scams of unprecedented scale, the impatience of the entire country is justified. And we call upon you, not to look for precedents, but to show courage to take unprecedented steps,’ he stated.

The following are some of the key points in Hazare’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:

– ‘I am not a kid that can be “instigated” into going on an indefinite fast. I am a fiercely independent person.’

– ‘It is being said that I have shown impatience when the government has “initiated” the process. I would urge you to tell me—exactly what processes are underway?’

– ‘You say that your Group of Ministers are drafting the anti-corruption law. Many of the members of this Group of Ministers have such a shady past that if effective anticorruption systems had been in place, some of them would have been behind bars. Do you want us to have faith in a process in which some of the most corrupt people of this country should draft the anti-corruption law?’

– ‘We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions . a joint committee with at least half members from civil society suggested by us.’

– ‘If you still feel that I am impatient, I am happy that I am because the whole nation is feeling impatient at the lack of credible efforts from your government against corruption.’