19 aug 2011
Torch of revolution has been lit, declares Anna Hazare
Two thousand people who had spent the morning waiting for Anna roared with approval, as they waved hundreds of national flags. “I have lost three kilos,” Anna said, “but you give me strength. This is just the beginning of the fight. Whether I am here or not, you must continue this battle. The torch of revolution has been lit. The youth of this country will carry it.” Through the day, the crowd surged; by the evening, there were at least 7,000 people present. In an evening address, seated in front of a huge poster of Mahatma Gandhi, Anna vowed that he will not leave this camp till a new anti-corruption law drafted by his team is passed by Parliament.
If the government or others doubted Anna’s drawing power, it was on powerful display today as he launched his 15-day mass-protest against corruption. As he emerged from Tihar Jail this morning after spending three nights there, 2000 people greeted him. On a truck, with a supporter shielding him from the rain with an umbrella, the 74-year-old stopped at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat before pulling into Ramlila Maidan.
Despite requests from Anna’s associates to let him make the journey alone and not disrupt traffic, thousands followed him. Massive traffic jams ensued. Anna, with folded hands, acknowledged the crowds.
At Rajghat, where he wanted to spend a few hours seated in prayer, Anna found it near impossible to move. Hundreds of people followed him as he made his way towards Gandhi’s samadhi. As the rain came down, policemen worried for the activist’s safety rushed him into a waiting car. At one point, they lifted him and almost carried him away from the crowd.
The stratospheric rise of Anna as a national icon, at the age of 74 and after years of activism, has been made entirely possible by the government, which is now hoping to engage with Anna’s aides for a truce. A series of bad decisions – like his arrest on Tuesday when he wanted to launch his mass-protest – have exposed that the political leadership has a morbidly low understanding of what the country wants, and why it has accorded superhero status to Anna. The past few months have seen the government lurching from one financial scandal to another. Ministers and bureaucrats have been jailed for using their offices to bankroll families and friends. The Prime Minister has on different occasions accepted that corruption is exacting a heavy price at home and is turning off investors abroad. Dr Manmohan Singh has said there is “no magic wand” to fight graft. Not exactly the sort of hard-hitting assurance that a nation in crisis can take comfort in.
Enter Anna and his team of advisors which includes activists like Arvind Kejriwal, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and former super-cop Kiran Bedi. Astutely, they moved Anna to the front of their India Against Corruption campaign. In April, they captured the mood and imagination of the country when Anna went on a four-day hunger strike. In towns and cities, thousands of people marched in solidarity, backing his mission for more accountability from those in office.
Then, like now, the government waffled between trying to write off Anna and treating him like a representative of the people. When he refused to end his fast, his demands were met. Anna and four of his nominees were invited to help draft a new Bill against corruption. Five ministers formed the other half of the drafting committee. The Lokpal Bill was to be introduced in Parliament before the end of August.
But there was an absence of consensus between the activists and the ministers. Both sides had vastly disparate takes on who should select the Lokpal or ombudsman committee, what sort of powers its members should have, and whether senior judges and the Prime Minister should be exempt from its investigation. Ultimately, both teams delivered separate drafts of the Lokpal Bill. The government chose to introduce its own version in parliament, daring Anna to fight back if he disagreed.
They have – even though their own Bill has evoked strong criticism for provisioning an all-powerful Lopkal that would have few checks and balances. Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill (or People’s Lokpal Bill) may yet arrive in Parliament. Rajeev Chandraskehar, an Independent member of the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, has submitted Anna’s version as a Private Member’s Bill. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha can send the bill to President Pratibha Patil. If she agrees, the Bill can be taken up after a month.
The government may also ask Team Anna to consult with a parliamentary committee that’s currently studying the government’s copy of the Lokpal Bill. “We are open to discussions,” said Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer who’s part of Anna’s core group.