Anna Hazare, the bugbear of the United Progressive Alliance government, is at it again. The 74-year-old Gandhian activist ended his three-week-long silence on October 4, launching yet another bitter attack on the government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from his native village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra.
Hazare described Singh as being ‘remote-controlled’ – far from the first time he has made this allegation. Hazare also issued an ultimatum to the Congress-led UPA government, saying he will tell the voters of Hissar (Haryana), which is scheduled to hold a Lok Sabha by-election on October 13, not to vote for the Congress candidate if he doesn’t pledge his written support for the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill (ombudsman bill) within the next few days.
Hazare is increasingly donning the political mantle, and has also threatened to visit the poll bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, where assembly elections are due in 2012, to campaign for the Lokpal Bill if parliament doesn’t make it law in the winter session. In addition, Hazare declared his intention to stage a three-day fast in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, just before the assembly polls there to increase awareness of his crusade against corruption. It will be interesting to see how the state’s chief minister, Mayawati – no fan of Hazare – deals with him.
The Congress Party and the government have reacted guardedly to Hazare’s threat of launching a fresh agitation, and have appealed to ‘all stakeholders’ to allow the parliamentary committee studying the proposed legislation to do its job.
Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid issued a restrained one-line response, saying that India is a free democracy and that the public is free to vote for anybody it chooses to. Congress spokesperson and chairman of the parliamentary committee studying the Lokpal Bill issue, Abhishek Singhvi, said the panel should be allowed to continue its work.
‘We are trying our best, and I suggest and I submit that all stakeholders should contribute to the objective of achieving a good bill,’ IANS reported Singhvi as saying. ‘A parliamentary process is underway. The parliamentary committee is trying its best to deal with substantive and real issues. We are not in any manner in an argumentative or confrontationist mode.’
The government’s cool response suggests two things. One is that it isn’t willing to take on Hazare directly – at least not yet. Two, it also has no intention of doing Hazare’s bidding, and isn’t going to pledge allegiance to Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill – not now, not ever.