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Mainstream, Vol XLIX No 17, April 16, 2011

Fast Unto Death — Tide has Begun to Turn against the UPA

Thursday 21 April 2011, by Sushil Vakil

This article was written before Anna Hazare ended his fast following the successful conclusion of negotiations with the government. Its contents, however, are still valid; hence it is being published now.

It seems the present planetary position is not in favour of the UPA Government as it is landing itself in trouble one after the other. The Congress, supported by other parties, having been already in the centre of a storm due to the allegations of massive corruption in the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum and appointment and renewal of a tainted CVC, may have to weather more embarrassment with the hunger strike of the Gandhian disciple Anna Hazare. The well-known social activist has been on a fast unto death for the last three days demanding the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill for bringing bureaucrats and politicians under the purview of an ombudsman.

It is surprising that a hunger strike started for the Lokpal Bill is turning into a massive movement against the UPA Government. The fast unto death has received spectacular support from all sections of society not only in India but from abroad as well.

From social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to protests, people and social activists have unleashed a larger debate over corruption in public life. The alarming level of corruption at high places has brought young and old on one platform. The support for the Jan Lokpal Bill is swelling with each passing day as tens of thousands of people in cities across the country assure their support to Anna in his fight against corruption. The movement is being supported by even college and schoolgoing children.

Before commencing his fast Hazare had shot off a five-point letter to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, explaining the reasons for initiating the movement. Hazare also delivered a scathing assessment of the Group of Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister to draft the new Lokpal Bill: “You say that your Group of Ministers is drafting the anti-corruption law. Many of the members of this Group of Ministers have such a shady past that if effective anti-corruption systems had been in place, some of them would have been behind bars.” Instead of paying any heed, the UPA chose to let the septuagenarian leader do whatever he wanted to. The UPA has shown a similiar attitude to earlier allegations against its top leaders. But this time the Congress is being made to pay for its silence and side-stepping on the corruption issue.

Amazingly, instead of appealing to the Gandhian disciple to give up his fasting plan, the Congress spokesperson, Manish Tiwari, said: “Ours is a free country. If someone wants to fast, no one can stop him.” The party spokesman told candidly this to reporters when asked about the protest action of the crusader against corruption. But as the tide has begun to turn against the UPA the Congress has started to find some frivolous excuse to wriggle out of the situation.

The enlarging and unending movement initiated by the veteran leader is not only giving sleepless nights to the UPA leaders but has also left the government squirming. As the matters were getting complicated for the Congress, its leadership was forced to send an emissary to the fasting leader. While the government is still trying to resolve the crisis, the movement is snowballing into a major political and social issue. The Congress leaders are leaving no stone unturned to persuade the septuagenarian leader to give up the hunger strike by assuring him the passage of the Lokpal Bill shortly.

THE Hazare intiative appears to be making an impact. On Wednesday, Sharad Pawar, the Union Agriculture Minister, withdrew from a committee on corruption after Hazare pointed out that charges of graft were raised against him. This was followed by another announcement by the PMO that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has approved the new guidelines for appoint-ment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), following which the government set the ball rolling for choosing the head of the top anti-corruption watchdog after the removal of the controversial P.J. Thomas. The latest impact is the initiation of the fourth round of talks on the modalities for setting up the Lokpal Committee.

Indeed, corruption in all walks of life has crossed all limits of tolerance. It has made its way into the legislature, the executive and is slowly sneaking into some sections of the judiciary. Unless we make serious efforts to stop it now, it will destroy India’s democratic fabric. Hazare’s fast-unto-death demanding an effective anti-corruption law is perhaps the first of its kind. It is the second freedom struggle in the country. He is trying to deal with unprecedented corruption in a Gandhian way.

As a matter of fact Indians were unable to find a channel to express their feelings but Anna has given them an opportunity to hit where it hurts most. The intiative has been whole- heartedly welcomed by the citizens assuring their full support and at the same time asking others to back it. The intiative has been truly described as ‘India’s struggle for Second Independence’—a struggle wherein no politician is allowed to take part.

At the intial stage it was just Hazare’s fight. But now it is taking the shape of a national movement aimed at ending growing corruption and bringing down the UPA Government. It is another matter that whether the movement succeeds or not its sole beneficiary would be the BJP.

There is no denying the fact that if the Congress leaders don’t act sincerely the movement is likly to take the shape of the 1975 struggle initiated by Jayaprakash Narayan. He was instrumental in bringing about the fall of Indira Gandhi. Likewise if a solution is not found to end the present stalemate, both Sonia Gandhi and the UPA Government would have to bear a heavy cost.

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