The chickens are coming home to roost for Anna Hazare, who has abruptly called off his latest protest fast.
The 74-year-old social activist, who emerged as the face of an anti-corruption movement after his first, breathtakingly successful, fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in April, also announced the indefinite postponement of his mass “courting of arrest” scheme and planned sit-ins in front of the residences of Congress bigwigs like Sonia Gandhi.
The most immediate factor was likely the 102 degree temperature he was reportedly running as the result of a chest infection. But the reality is that the crowds had anyway disappeared from his fast venue in Mumbai, as well as a proxy location at Delhi’s Ramlila ground. Compounding the apparent lack of public interest has been the lack of media coverage, particularly among the electronic media. The dip in interest was also evident from the fact that barely any of the 100,000 mostly young people who had registered themselves for Hazare’s mass “courting arrest” campaigns showed up.
A third factor was that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government this time didn’t commit the kind of blunders it did last August, when it ordered Hazare’s arrest. This time, the government ensured that the state government of Maharashtra, a coalition government headed by the Congress, gave Hazare and his followers all necessary permissions before the event.
But arguably the biggest problem for Hazare has been overkill. With the Lok Sabha having passed the government’s Lokpal Bill with an oral vote on December 27, much of the public simply didn’t see the point in another fast. Whether the bill that was passed by the lower house is strong enough is therefore seen as a question for parliament, not something the government is responsible for.
To cap it all, even the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) didn’t allow one of several Lokpal-specific bills that would have bestowed constitutional status to the office of the Lokpal (ombudsman) to pass.
The message for Team Anna, then, should be loud and clear. If the movement wants to have any relevance it needs to find a way to connect on an emotional level with the public, as it managed with the early protests.
Hazare and his associates have said umpteen times that they were campaigning against the Congress to protest against a “weak” Lokpal bill. While they are at perfect liberty to do so in a democracy like India, the crucial question is how they could have so vocally rejected a bill that was yet to be passed by parliament?