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You have done zilch to rid India of corruption. Get ready for my agitation: Anna to Modi

Joyjeet Das | Updated on: 31 August 2017, 0:06 IST
(Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Anna Hazare will be back in Delhi. And this time Narendra Modi will be in his anti-corruption crosshairs.

Hazare alleged that the Prime Minister has paid no heed to repeated letters from the activist urging him to induct a Lokpal and Lokayukta, and to ensure farmers get a fair price for their crops.

Hence he has decided to start a movement in the national Capital, Hazare said in an open letter to Modi Wednesday. The letter warned that Hazare’s movement would be on as long as “correct decisions in public interest” are not taken and implemented on the issues raised by him.

The tone of Wednesday’s letter was surprisingly aggressive. Hazare highlighted the fact that his movement was a response to Modi’s cold shoulder to him: “Earlier, on 28 March, 2017, I wrote to you and said if the laws on Lokpal and Lokayukta were not implemented, my next letter would be about the movement in Delhi,” Hazare wrote.

This is not the first time someone has written a letter to PM Modi. But Hazare’s correspondence is significant, considering his track record.

Throwback

Hazare has been leading Gandhian movements, mostly protesting corruption, for three-and-a-half decades now. He shot to national limelight in 2011, when his anti-corruption drive in New Delhi became extremely popular.

The media lapped it up when he started an ‘indefinite fast’ at Jantar Mantar, demanding the Union government (led by Manmohan Singh then) sit down with civil society members to frame laws to strictly penalise corruption and to create powerful Lokpal and Lokayuktas – basically public ombudsmen institutions.

His comrades at that time included former civil servant-turned-activist Arvind Kejriwal, former supercop Kiran Bedi, anti-displacement activist Medha Patkar apart from several godmen and celebrities.

Political stalwarts initially downplayed, even mocked, the movement; but eventually they were forced to agree to Hazare’s demands and it entered a joint panel with five non-political nominees, including Kejriwal. A draft Bill, however, was later turned down by Hazare and his followers for being lax.

Before he could start another round of fasting, he was arrested and sent to the infamous Tihar jail in Delhi. A few days later he was released and moved to the Ram Lila grounds outside Red Fort to carry on with the protest. By this time, his popularity had sky-rocketed from thousands within Delhi to millions across India.

Political implications

In a way, Hazare’s agitation, and the 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ gang rape protests, underpinned popular resentment against the second innings United Progressive Alliance’s government (2009-2014).

Corruption has remained a touchy issue with India’s voters for decades now, but without the ball rolling much. Hazare’s agitation snowballed spectacularly from a regular Jantar Mantar demonstration to a mass movement. His clean image helped matters and the UPA, especially the Congress, started to look increasingly beleaguered.

Later, there were rifts in his core team. A group including Arvind Kejriwal, advocates Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Manish Sisodia went on to form the Aam Aadmi Party to formally join politics. Others stayed away, though some like Bedi joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Kejriwal is now the chief minister of Delhi, although some of his party colleagues like the Bhushans and Yadav have broken away. Bedi is now the Lieutenant-Governor of Puducherry.

More importantly, the UPA and the Congress never really recovered from the setback and were washed out in the 2014 general elections. In fact, they are yet to find their feet.

What about Modi?

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept into power three years ago, banking largely on the Modi wave. If overt or covert Hindutva was one defining characteristic of that wave, the other of course was a projection of a ‘pro-development’ image that, by definition, was anti-corruption.

Modi tore into the Congress leadership in the run up to the 2014 polls, equating the party and its leaders with corruption and inefficiency. It paid off.

Since then he has cemented his position as the sole leader in his party and the government. A floundering Opposition has never really been able to bring the heat onto him, despite several contentious issues such as Hindutva vigilantism, targetting of Dalits, demonetisation, spurts in inflation, a general shift away from the culture of scientific temper.

A major section of the Press too has been uncritical of his governance, some even going out on a limb to praise him and his ministers. Coincidentally or otherwise, corruption hasn’t really become an issue, though reports have cropped up about the hobnobbing of several corporate houses with the ruling party and its government.

A case in point may be how the BJP now benefits the most from corporate political donations, as pointed out by the latest round of reports from the Association of Democratic Reforms. Even when stray allegations have surfaced, the ruling side has brazened it out.

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Three years after electing Modi into the centrals eat of power, Indians still don’t have a beeline of good jobs. Farmers keep taking their lives with alarming regularity. The labour force remains largely unorganised. Even the relatively better-off service sector employees have lost some sheen.

Modi, though remains teflon-coated. That smooth-sailing boat, however, may be rocked if Hazare hits the Capital again with his list of unfulfilled promises. His call to safeguard farmers may not find many takers in Delhi, but recent rallies by the likes of Yadav after the Mandsaur agitation and the demonstration by Tamil Nadu farmers has shown how restive rural population can also march to the Capital.

The demand for Lokayuktas and Lokpal has the potential to strike a chord with many more though. Even if the media doesn’t lend as much of a helping hand as it did last time, it must be kept in mind that the reach of social media has grown by leaps and bounds in the timebeing.

Modi can diffuse the situation by reaching out to Hazare, but even hours after the letter was released there was no official response.

First published: 31 August 2017, 0:06 IST
 
Joyjeet Das @joyjeetdas

Equal-opportunity critic and passionate about cinema, politics and food, not necessarily in that order. He writes, when the urge to tell a story overpowers everything else.

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