Anna Hazare may be struggling with medical problems even as his supporters have started backtracking on their strategy of effectively pinning all of India’s corruption problems on the ruling Congress party. But the 74-year-old Gandhian social activist can’t be written off quite yet.
While his chastised team members have begun a raucous campaign in the five poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur by publicly stating that they aren’t for or against any particular party, Hazare himself has attacked the United Progressive Alliance government like never before.
Three weeks after his fast in Mumbai over the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill issue ended in a whimper, a livid Hazare broke his silence on Sunday, penning another strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which he leveled two serious claims against the head of the government for: “betraying” the country, and “controlling” parliament. But unlike with previous letters, which were addressed only to the prime minister, Hazare sent a copy of the letter to Congress leader and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.
Hazare also indulged in an unprecedented risk by calling Home Minister P. Chidambaram “corrupt” and questioning why the government acceded to Rahul’s demand to give constitutional status to the Lokpal, while ignoring Team Anna’s demand to include the Citizen’s Charter in the proposed legislation.
Hazare’s attack on Chidambaram revolves around a key demand of Team Anna, namely liberating the Central Bureau of Investigation from the government’s control. “Is it because it can protect corrupt leaders like P. Chidambaram or is it because you can arm-twist small political parties to garner support for your government?” Hazare wrote. “Do you support this logic? Two years back, you yourself said that the CBI is misused by all ruling parties. If that is so, then why not free it?”
A day before Hazare sent the letter, Team Anna started its campaign in the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand – the only state in the country to have implemented Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill without changes – and appointed a Lokayukta, bringing the entire state cabinet under his sphere of influence. This was the brainchild of new Chief Minister Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri, who was elevated to the position in September.
The move indicated the BJP’s belief that offense is the best form of defense. But Uttarakhand stands in sharp contrast with another BJP-ruled state, Gujarat, where there has been no Lokayukta for years. Gujarat Gov. Kamla Beniwal appointed a Lokayukta for Gujarat last year, an appointment that the government of Chief Minister Narendra Modi challenged in the High Court. The Modi government lost that challenge, but appealed to the Supreme Court, where the matter now rests.
The problem for Hazare is that the timing of the letter to the prime minister can’t be ignored in light of all these developments. And the reality is that it demonstrates once again that Hazare and his team have understood little about Indian politics, despite their recent inclination to meddle.
When Hazare began his anti-corruption campaign last April, the whole nation was mesmerized, and the story of his rise continued for months, largely because of strategic blunders committed by the UPA government. But now, the average Indian feels cheated because although Team Anna’s cause was undoubtedly a noble one, the group’s conduct has raised questions about Hazare’s judgment – he should have weeded out the problem voices when he had the chance.
In the end, Hazare may have overplayed his hand. And the people of India are ultimately the losers.