New Delhi: Anti-graft activist Anna Hazare, as he returns to the centre stage, seeks to politically isolate the Congress and the party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, already weighed by a host of corruption charges and controversies.
With both right- and left-wing political parties backing Hazare’s initiatives for a strong anti-graft Lokpal Bill, the issue may flare up in the forthcoming crucial state elections in north India.
Joint platform: Anna Harare with opposition leaders during his one-day hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Sunday. By Hindustan Times
Hazare’s attempt to pitch himself against the Congress by attacking the party’s general secretary Rahul Gandhi, expected to be its future prime ministerial candidate, indicates the ruling party is headed for another testing period, say analysts.
Hazare’s call for a debate on the Lokpal Bill during his one-day hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Sunday in the presence of thousands of supporters was accepted by the entire opposition, including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the two leading Left parties.
However, Communist Party of India (CPI) leaders and Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav asked Hazare and his team to leave it to Parliament to work on the legislation.
Almost all the leaders who participated in the debate favoured the inclusion of the lower bureaucracy and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the purview of the Lokpal Bill.
Despite dissent notes from many, including three Congress members, a parliamentary panel headed by Abhishek Singhvi, a leader of the ruling party, adopted a report excluding the lower bureaucracy. The report, tabled in Parliament on 9 December, has left it to Parliament to decide if the prime minister should come under the Lokpal’s purview.
Expressing solidarity with Hazare, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said there were no two opinions about having a strong Lokpal Bill. “We demand everybody who is in the government should come under the purview of Lokpal. We oppose the prime minister’s non-inclusion in the Lokpal Bill,” he said.
A.B. Bardhan, CPI general secretary, however, said: “Team Anna should not expect that each and every point it makes is accepted. They should show some flexibility.”
Raising the pitch, Hazare criticized the government for what he said was a “betrayal” and urged his supporters to get ready to “fill the jails” to ensure there is a strong Lokpal Bill. He reiterated his allegation that Gandhi was behind what he termed as the government’s change in stance over the Lokpal Bill.
“I do not have anything against Gandhi. He is a young leader. He is dreaming of becoming the prime minister. He can’t become the prime minister by sitting in a poor man’s hut in a day. He has to do more,” he said.
To bring a consensus on the draft law, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called an all-party meet on Wednesday to discuss the legislation.
Although two Congress leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that their party has been isolated in the issue, party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said: “All parties which are against the Congress and part of opposition came together under the umbrella of Hazare. It is baseless and wrong to say the Congress is isolated. No ally of the Congress is a part of this.”
A Congress member of Parliament said the party “misread Hazare from the beginning. The party didn’t realize Hazare is just a platform for the Left and right to join against the Congress. Unfortunately, this is not the Congress of (former prime minister) Indira Gandhi. All the frontal organizations that should have put up the fight for the party have been insulated by the young Gandhi (Rahul Gandhi).”
Political analyst N. Baskar Rao sees a visible isolation of the Congress. “The body language of the leaders who spoke at Jantar Mantar clearly indicated it,” he said.
Pointing out that the Sunday event was the first electoral meet of Hazare and team, Rao added: “It was the launch of an electoral political campaign headed by Hazare, and the Congress still lacks strategies to counter them. It’s bad news for the Congress, especially when it is having high expectations from the state polls.”
The fresh bout of troubles for the Congress comes a few days after the party had to backtrack from a major reform initiative that would have allowed 51% foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail due to a lack of support within and outside the ruling coalition. The decision has been kept in abeyance till there is a consensus among all stakeholders, including chief ministers and other political parties.
The new developments, political observers say, will also hurt Gandhi’s attempt to revive the Congress party in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, which will go for polls in early 2012. Gandhi has been targeting the state’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in his campaign rallies, and recent political developments indicate the Congress is taking on the Samajwadi Party (SP), the main opposition in the state, as well.
The party is set to announce an alliance with veteran farmer leader Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which has a strong support base in the western parts of Uttar Pradesh, according to a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh who declined to be identified. Singh’s party may get to contest in about 45 out of 403 seats and also a get a berth in the Union government. Gandhi is scheduled to begin his five-day election campaign on 13 December in the areas from where the SP draws its support.
“If the Congress makes the electoral alliance with RLD, it will consolidate its votes among the Jats and farmers (crucial vote banks) against both SP and BSP,” said Badri Narayan, a Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst.