Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare reached New Delhi from his native village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra in preparation for his daylong fast at Jantar Mantar on Sunday, continuing his campaign against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on the issue of a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) bill.
He immediately addressed a news conference, which offered a glimpse of his new strategy as he launched a scathing attack on Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi is widely seen as most likely to succeed Manmohan Singh as premier.
Hazare said his team will work with Rahul Gandhi if he decides to adopt Team Anna’s proposals, but warned that if Rahul were to become prime minister without changing his mindset it would be “dangerous for the country.”
He also announced that he will go from state to state, beginning with five poll-bound states, to warn people of the menace of corruption.
“One day, the people will teach this government a lesson,” Hazare said, according to IBN Live. “They don’t remember the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh and other freedom fighters. We will go to five states now. We will keep working till a strong Lokpal Bill is brought. Why keep people who are destroying the country?”
Prominent Hazare colleague Arvind Kejriwal echoed Hazare’s sentiments, singling out Rahul Gandhi. “This is a report to fulfill Rahul Gandhi's wishes. This bill will further increase the corruption in society,” he said. “This Lokpal Bill has tried to destroy the CBI as well. Better not to have this Lokpal Bill than to have this bill. We reject this bill completely.”
Hazare accused the UPA government of “cheating” the country and said the parliamentary session should be extended by the number of days that have been wasted in the ongoing winter session to ensure that the Lokpal Bill is passed as per the demands set by Team Anna. The UPA government, Hazare remarked, wasn’t serious about eradicating corruption, and showed no will to succeed.
“The Government doesn’t intend to make India corruption free,” he said. “We reject the Standing Committee. The government is cheating the country and not just Team Anna. The government has duped the people of India.”
The question now is whether Hazare can generate the levels of excitement seen this summer, when his fast unto death made national headlines. Certainly, the government seems less concerned this time around, and appears keen to assess Hazare’s mass appeal before he embarks on a longer hunger strike from December 27 at New Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan.
Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh addressed a hurriedly convened news conference, but insisted the government wasn’t feeling under pressure from Team Anna.
“Anna is a simple man who is being influenced by people with political motives who surrounded him,” Singh said. He also indicated that unlike with the response to Hazare’s earlier fast, this time the government wouldn’t try to stand in his way. “Anna has the full right to go on a fast, but only parliament has the authority to pass any bill,” he added.
One reason for the government’s more relaxed attitude may simply be that Hazare is becoming something of a one trick pony. Perhaps more importantly, he is increasingly sounding like the voice of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.