New Delhi: Activist Anna Hazare and yoga guru Baba Ramdev sat on a day-long fast on Sunday to lobby the government for a strong ombudsman law, but the event also revealed fissures among the anti-graft campaigners.
“We have to speed up growth and ensure that we stop the percolation of corruption,” Hazare said at the protest meeting at New Delhi’s Parliament Street. If the government failed to take specific steps to bring back unaccounted for money stashed overseas, Ramdev said he will start a campaign from 9 August.
“On 9 August, we will bring proposals from all gram sabhas (village councils) saying that we want to bring back black money and that it should be given back to the country,” Ramdev said, adding, that he will meet Lok Sabha members to gather signatures on the proposal.
Sunday’s protest was the first time after more than an year that Hazare and Ramdev joined forces against corruption and black money. While Ramdev was initially a part of Hazare’s fast in April last year, differences appeared and he did not attend Hazare’s 13-day fast at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds in August.
Three months ago, Hazare announced that the two will work together as a single “organization” to fight corruption. The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was criticized last year both for a mid-night police crackdown at Ramlila grounds where Ramdev was holding a protest in June and for the arrest of Anna Hazare ahead of his agitation in August.
Both Ramdev and Hazare spoke about India’s slowing economic growth and sought to link it with corruption. Ramdev claimed India’s economy will be strengthened if black money stashed abroad is brought back. He also sought answers from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on the dip in the gross domestic product and the fall of the rupee against the dollar. He alleged that foreign direct investment (FDI) in India of Rs 20 trillion held the “key” to those people allegedly involved in stashing black money abroad. “If the government names the actual owners of the FDI, the puzzle to black money will be solved,” he said.
Commenting on the protest meet, Harish Rawat, junior minister for parliamentary affairs, said the activists were free to protest against corruption. “They have full freedom to voice concern against corruption. But Anna Hazare and Ramdev should understand that in the name of fighting corruption, if they want to destroy the existing institutions, then the country will not accept it,” Rawat said. “They should understand that the existing institutions have been set up by our freedom-fighting forefathers.”
The main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said it was happy that the issue of corruption was being brought to the fore. “It (Hazare’s team) raising the issue of alleged corruption in allocation of coal blocks is a natural consequence of the Prime Minister shying away from making a statement in Parliament when the opposition had raised the issue on the floor of the House. We are happy about it,” BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said. “Now he (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) is answerable to the crowd on the streets. He is answerable to a bigger forum.”
Differences within the activist group also became apparent when Ramdev snubbed Arvind Kejriwal, a right to information activist and a member of Hazare’s team, for criticizing Singh and his cabinet of ministers and naming political leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad, J. Jayalalithaa and Mayawati.
“Today, we thought that we will not take anybody’s name. But Arvind took the names,” Ramdev said. “We don’t want any controversies. Arvind does not have any enmity with anyone. The names have been taken in some context. We are against personal criticism.” Kejriwal left the protest venue after Ramdev’s remarks. Later, however, Ramdev, Hazare, Kejriwal and another associate, Kiran Bedi, sought to play down the matter. Kejriwal tweeted that he was ill and had to make an early exit.
Ramdev earlier said in his speech that Singh should ensure that his cabinet is honest. “The country respects you for being an honest individual, but you have to maintain political honesty to ensure democratic and constitutional honesty,” he said. “And by doing this as your responsibility, Prime Minister, you should ensure that your cabinet, too, remains honest.”
PTI contributed to the story.