In another 24 hours, social activist Anna Hazare will begin his fast against corruption in New Delhi. The Union government is jittery—ministers have described the protest as unconstitutional and as challenging the authority of the constitution. There is no reason why it should be nervous.
Hazare has been allowed to protest in the Capital with several riders. Under the conditions outlined by the Delhi Police, he cannot protest for more than three days. The number of protesters at the venue of his fast cannot go above 5,000. These have been decried by “Team Anna”, Hazare’s band of supporters.
At a substantive level—the model of Lokpal envisaged by this group—there is no challenge. It will only add one more bureaucratic layer to the machinery that investigates corruption. The way to tackle the problem lies in another direction.
The challenge now is clearly political. The government finds itself on the back foot due to other reasons—corruption, court cases, investigations, among others—and not the fast per se. Yet, what its ministers have done by raising their voice in this shrill manner is to give legitimacy to the fast. A much better strategy would have been to let the Delhi Police handle the event without turning it into a political opera that it is now. By the constant criticism and sabre-rattling, they’ve played right into Team Anna’s hands.
Hazare and his team know this very well. Hence, their insistence on freedom from restrictions imposed. Prashant Bhushan, a member of the group said on Sunday: “If the government thinks the way in which it suppressed the fasting of Baba Ramdev…and if such a thing happens against Anna Hazare, then the country will witness protests on a mass-scale and ultimately, this government may not be able to withstand such a storm.”
Had the event been ignored, it would have died out in due course, as all such protests do. One thing is clear: This is not a mass movement that has caught the political imagination of the country. True, there have been protests here and there, but they are hardly threatening politically.
The protest-cum-fast should be allowed under the parameters laid down by the police and not be allowed to turn into a free for all of the kind seen during Ramdev’s protest in June.
Does India need a constitutional right to protest? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org