There’s a new found confidence in Anna Hazare, the 74-year-old Gandhian social activist who has captured the imagination of the common man in India with his anti-corruption crusade. And, with his own standing continuing to rise while that of India’s politicians tumbles ever further, an increasingly assertive Hazare is now taking on the country’s top politicians.
Hazare has given his first interviews to two TV channels – Headlines Today and CNN-IBN – since he abandoned his hunger strike in New Delhi last month. In the interviews, Hazare has taken pot shots at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch L.K. Advani. He described Singh as ‘a remote-controlled prime minister’ who ‘lacks authority.’ He also said that nobody in Singh’s team listens to him.
He went on to dismiss Advani’s proposed nationwide anti-corruption tour, saying that it is simply a ‘political gimmick’ aimed at garnering votes. ‘I don’t think it is for the good of the country and its people. It is aimed at votes. If it is not so, bring about the Lokpal law,’ Hazare said of the ombudsman bill that he and his followers have campaigned for. ‘Then I will support him (Advani). Our yatra is not for votes. It is for people’s awareness,’ he added.
Hazare also launched a frontal attack on union Home Minister P. Chidambaram for ‘masterminding’ his arrest on August 16 and sending him to Tihar Jail, claiming that the government had planned to pack him off to his village in a helicopter.
The diminutive old man is essentially trying to convey to everyone who will listen – and particularly to his detractors – that he is nobody’s man and keeps his own counsel. ‘I am not connected to any party, nor will I ever be a part of any political party,’ he told the two media outlets. He argued that he is willing to extend support to, and campaign for, any political grouping that is corruption-free and belongs to the non-Congress and non-BJP fronts. But in the same breath, he also made it clear that he himself wouldn’t join up with any party.
‘Yes, I will support them, but I will not be a part of the leadership of that party,’ he said. ‘This is the only way we can save this country.’
Why Hazare has waded into the political arena right now, and decided to attack both the government and the main opposition in the process, is unclear. It also remains uncertain whether his latest comments are likely to pave the way for his own political ambitions. High-profile public campaigners like Baba Ramdev and Swami Agnivesh have openly flirted with politics in the past, but Hazare has so far been careful to avoid any such suggestion.
Ironically, Congress leaders may actually have welcomed Hazare’s latest remarks. After all, the BJP had been keen to fan the Anna Hazare fire when it saw him taking on the government head on. Now, though, Hazare doesn’t need any party’s backing. He has, in some ways, become bigger than his makers.