The 74-year-old Anna Hazare, India’s rising anti-corruption star, ended his fast Sunday morning after 12 days of a high-voltage drama that can beat even a Hollywood thriller.
By Rakesh Raman
After a brief imprisonment on government orders a fortnight ago, Hazare walked out of the prison after a couple of days like a hero. Then he began his fast in New Delhi while thousands supported him through their physical presence on the fast venue, processions in different Indian cities, and through their reactions on social media sites mainly Facebook.
Hazare demanded that the government should accept his version of Jan Lokpal Bill – a document that suggests the creation of an all-powerful but complex authority to deal with rampant corruption in the country.
The Indian government didn’t want to succumb under Hazare’s pressure that he built with massive public support. So, it refused to accept any of the demands listed by Hazare’s team, saying it won’t be feasible to fiddle with the constitutional procedures on the diktats of a handful of ordinary citizens, and only the Parliament is authorized to make any new legislation.
Although Hazare’s team was adamant, it had realized that it won’t be able to twist the arm of the thick-skinned politicians most of whom are actually corrupt or promote corruption.
A series of corruption cases – Commonwealth Games scam, telecom scam, fodder scam, IPL cricket scam, vote-for-note scam – involving money worth billions of dollars has recently surfaced in which government ministers and even the Prime Minister are alleged to be involved. How can you expect such a government to accept anything that is against corruption?
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Realizing, Hazare’s team started scaling down its demands and finally a vague discussion took place in Parliament on Saturday. While it was not a serious exercise to discuss the critical features of the Lokpal Bill, the forum was mainly hijacked by the kids – relatively new Members of Parliament (MPs) – of aging politicians to read out their random thoughts.
As a result, the Indian Parliament looked like a playschool where some schoolboys were participating in a paper-reading contest. Finally, the government agreed willy-nilly to discuss just three of the long list of original demands that Hazare had earlier put forward.
The three areas for further discussion include citizen’s charter to fix the responsibility of government departments, bringing lower bureaucracy under the proposed Lokpal to monitor the activities of lower-ranked government workers, and establishment of Lokayukta in different Indian states to deal with corruption cases at the state level.
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As a matter of fact, government didn’t make any commitment and only decided to throw the whole issue in a dark tunnel, which has neither any beginning nor any end. The clever move of the government can’t and it won’t stop any corruption in India.
The Indian politicians from different political parties know how to dump any attempt that aims to curb corruption. It was the ninth time in the past four decades that the Lokpal Bill was briefly discussed, but it could never see the light of day. It is expected to meet the same fate now.
But that vague assurance from the government was enough for Hazare and his team to grab the opportunity and escape from the situation that was fast slipping from their hands. And Hazare’s own life was also in danger after staying without food for 12 days.
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But Hazare and his team projected it as their victory to avoid possible public backlash and decided to disappear from the scene after some onstage celebrations on Sunday. Clandestinely, it was a win-win for both the government and Hazare’s team.
While the government managed to show that it cares for public sentiments, Hazare became a modern-day messiah for the innocent people – most of whom never knew why Hazare went on fast and what inspired him to get up from it. People were just part of an ignorant crowd and were not aware of the complexities of Hazare’s demands.
Criticizing the directionless nature of Hazare’s campaign, earlier the government side even compared him with Pied Piper of Hamelin – the title character in a German folk tale and in a poem by Robert Browning – who entices people to follow him to their doom.
Hazare, who claims to be a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, suddenly came in national limelight just five months ago – in April – when he decided to go on a similar hunger strike against mounting corruption in India. And after four days of fast in the Indian capital New Delhi, he convinced himself to eat his food again while the government refused to accept his proposals.
Such agitations are common in India but governments do what they want to do, ignoring all public outcries. For example, a much bigger agitation, called Mandal Commission protests, took place in 1990 that asked the government to stop job reservations for people based on their castes rather than merit.
The enormity of the nationwide protests even led to the resignation of the Janata Dal party’s Prime Minister V. P. Singh. But even after two decades of that agitation, caste-based job reservation system prevails in India, as various governments woo the voters with job-based baits.
Earlier this month, a Bollywood movie Aaarakshan (which means reservation) was released to highlight the persisting problem of caste-based reservations. Different state governements in India decided to ban the screening of the film for the fear that it might antagonize some privileged voters.
Perhaps Hazare understands that corrupt Indian politicians preach democracy but practice dictatorship. And stiff bureaucracy is like an ugly arm of politics in India. So, asking the bureaucracy and polity to live without corruption is like asking you to live without oxygen.
No doubt, Hazare has succeeded in highlighting the corruption issue. But that is not enough. Now he needs to think out of the box to make a long-term and sustainable program to deal with corruption.
For the moment, what started with Bharat Mata Ki Jai, has ended with Bharat Mata Ki Jai (a slogan to salute India). Nothing less, nothing more. It’s up to Hazare to take it as an inspiring victory or a depressing defeat.