New Delhi: Anti-graft activist Anna Hazare has decided to end his fast on Friday and promised to provide a political alternative to the public, indicating his intention to challenge the ruling Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in electoral politics.
Hazare and his team members asked supporters to express their views on what kind of candidates they would prefer in the elections.
“If one wants an alternative and what if one has to make a political party. I will not join a political party or government, but I will provide an alternative for the public.” Hazare told supporters at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. “To give a solution like this, a party needs to be made and you all will have to think who are these people who will be a part of this party.”
The UPA government, which was severely criticized for arresting Hazare in August last year, said the real intention of the activists has been revealed. “We have always said that these people seemed inspired by politics. It is good that whatever the intention was has come out clear,” information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni told reporters.
Putting an end to the movement, which began with Hazare’s first fast in favour of an ombudsman law in April last year, he said there was “nothing wrong” in forming a political party to bring about change.
Entering the fray: Anna Hazare during the agitation against corruption at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)
Experts are, however, sceptical on whether the mass mobilization seen in last year’s anti-graft agitation would translate into electoral success.
“It is their way of approaching the issue... but whether they will be able to convert it into numbers or whether they will attract the imagination of the people or not, I am not sure,” journalist Kuldip Nayar said.
Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation, which was once compared with the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan and the Mandal agitation, has lost part of its popular support, experts said.
Social and political analysts said people’s disillusionment over the prolonged agitation that failed to yield any tangible results, Hazare’s attempt to get involved in electoral politics in Hisar, the ambiguity in its focus and its increasing tendency to be urban-centric may have contributed to a decline in public support.
While experts agreed the massive public support Hazare received indicates frustration among the common people against the system as well as their quest for a binding force to press for a change in the country, they also underlined the agitation as being a reflection of the failure of the Congress party-led government to either give an intelligent political response or to present a comprehensive alternate approach to the menace of corruption.
Such demonstrations require more than just “expressive moments of anger” to sustain, according to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political analyst and president of the New Delhi based Centre for Policy Research, a think tank. “You can have expressive moments of protest. You can do that one-off, or twice or thrice. But the connection between the anger and the solution may not always be clear. You can get expressive protests, but that in itself does not constitute institutional solutions.”
Hazare and his team, who have been demanding a strong anti-graft Lokpal law, changed their “goal-post” and started targeting 15 allegedly corrupt ministers, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mehta said corruption is an issue that cannot have a one-point solution.
“On the other hand, if you have to then give a set of points, you cannot mobilize people. For instance, Hazare cannot go and say that look, these are the twenty things we need in order to contain corruption. This, I think, is the intrinsic dilemma to any anti-corruption issue,” Mehta said.
Hazare’s nationwide agitation gained popularity through social media websites, but that also made the movement very urban-centric. The agitation failed to strike a chord with the rural populace, said Christophe Jaffrelot, a French social scientist who has specialised in South Asia and particularly India.
“Right from the beginning, my feeling has been that this was a particularly middle class movement. It was an urban class movement... more like a shallow movement,” Jaffrelot said in a telephonic interview from France, adding that despite Hazare’s rural origin, he “did not try to mobilize” rural support, which worked against them.
The initial stand of Hazare’s team, which has now indicated its intention to enter politics, was not to attach themselves to any political party in order to remain apolitical. However, in September last year, Hazare’s team decided to campaign and treat the Hisar bye-election as a referendum on the Lokpal Bill.
“Hisar was a mistake. They had not really found their feet on the ground when they ventured into something like electoral politics. Their announcement of being political, although inevitable, worked against them,” Nayar said.
While Parliament in March passed a censure notice against members of Hazare’s team, Arvind Kejriwal, a close aide of Hazare, appeared in a district court last week on the same issue. Hazare’s team has been criticized for making comments that “lowered the dignity” of Parliament, according to the censure notice.
“Their problem is that they tried to denigrate the political class, all political parties and all politicians. That is not correct. They have to understand that people are not always moved by emotions,” said D. Raja, a Rajya Sabha member and a leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI).
While some experts are critical of the government’s draft ombudsman law, which is currently with a Rajya Sabha select committee, they said the UPA government failed at providing alternatives to the anti-graft ombudsman. “The Lokpal Bill in its current form will not do anything apart from giving us an illusion…. You have to stand up and say that this is the alternative story of how we will address corruption—this is where the government lost the plot,” Mehta said.
A Congress leader said the government’s mishandling of corruption charges led to a conducive environment for protests. “The mishandling of the government of issues like 2G (second generation) spectrum, Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Housing case provided a ground for people to come forward.”
“For me, the agitation has been a failed opportunity,” Jaffrelot said, adding that corruption was taking a toll on the Indian economy and bringing down public morale.