Indian Decade

Anna Hazare Starts Latest Fast

Activist Anna Hazare has started his latest fast against corruption. How will the government respond?

The UPA government has learnt the hard way that it can’t stop the Anna Hazare tsunami, and it is now focusing on alternative strategies even as the Gandhian social activist is beginning his much-hyped fast at Delhi’s sprawling Ramlila grounds.

The anti-corruption campaigner left Tihar Jail after spending three nights there, despite having been officially released only hours after he was detained on August 16. The government will now likely be worried that Hazare has made it clear he’s not going to budge from the fast venue until the Jan Lokpal Bill, the ombudsman bill that Hazare-led civil society has drafted, is passed by parliament.

Hazare exhorted young people not to let this torch in the fight against corruption be put out – whether or not he’s still alive. He also sounded a warning to the government when he urged his followers and well-wishers to support his campaign with renewed vigour. ‘Countrymen should not lose this spirit. This is our fight against corruption. I have lost 3 kilograms, but I am getting energy from my supporters across the country,’ he said. ‘I have full faith in my country. This government has looted the country. We will now only sit in peace when the corruption gets removed from the country. Till Jan Lokpal Bill is passed, we will not leave Ramlila Maidan.’

The political top brass of the United Progressive Alliance government is now working out how to deal with Anna Hazare. There’s near unanimity that both the Congress Party and the government have failed miserably – first in gauging the nation’s mood on the issue of corruption, then calling him names (Congress spokesman Manish Tewari went as far as to say Hazare was corrupt ‘from tip to toe’). Sending him to jail for a week, only to backpedal a few hours later, was the final straw.

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There are four possibilities on how this could play out. The first possibility for the government would be to send Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill to the parliament’s standing committee, a demand that has been put forth by Hazare himself and thus far ignored by the government. Second, the standing committee could itself invite Hazare to place his Jan Lokpal Bill before it. Third, the Jan Lokpal Bill could be floated in parliament as a private members bill. This possibility seems most likely, and the government doesn’t seem averse to this circuitous way of getting the bill into parliament. Indeed, there’s a strong possibility that the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s Varun Gandhi may bring the bill next week. The fourth possibility is the simplest and one that should have been obvious to the movers and shakers in the UPA government but wasn’t: give Hazare as much rope as he wants.

Whatever the government decides to do, one thing is clear: it will only try strong arm tactics against Team Anna if it wants to press the self-destruct button.