LAHORE: As the 72-year old eminent Indian anti-corruption activist, Anna Hazare, gears up for yet another indefinite hunger strike from August 16 (Tuesday) to protest against the state version of the Jan Lokpal Bill aimed at deterring corruption, the Manmohan Singh government is busy drafting a strategy to save its blushes.
It is pertinent to note that Hazare has already threatened to stop even water intake if he is force-fed or confined against his wishes. According to a latest CNN-IBN television report on this issue, the former Indian army soldier Anna Hazare and his team have decided to go ahead with their August 16 fast, despite being denied permission by the Delhi Police.
The popular Indian television channel added on Monday: “Hazare and his aides said that they will court arrest if need be.” Quite evidently, the Indian government does not want a repeat of Anna Hazare’s April 2011 hunger strike when power circles in New Delhi were forced to accede to the activist’s demands.
Problems seem to compound for the Indian government as the Assam unit of “India Against Corruption”, an anti-graft body, would also start a 12-hour relay hunger strike on August 16 to express solidarity with Anna Hazare’s move, contending that if the government was serious about fighting corruption, why was the Prime Minister Office and judiciary left out from the bill?
The office-bearers of the Assam unit of “India Against Corruption” have also alleged that the government’s Lokpal bill was a conspiracy to keep away public servants, Prime Minister Office and judiciary from the ambit of action against corruption.
According to ‘The Times of India’ a large number of its online readers have already backed Anna’s demand that the office of the Indian prime minister be brought under the purview of the Lokpal.
According to ‘The Hindustan Times’ the Jan Lokpal Bill is a proposed anti-corruption law that would create an ombudsman called the Lokpal.
The Lokpal or the ombudsman would be an independent body similar to the Election Commission of India with the power to investigate politicians and bureaucrats without prior government permission.
As history goes, the first Lokpal Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha (Indian Lower House of Parliament) in 1969 but was stalled in the Rajya Sabha (Indian Senate).
A renowned 88-year old Malayalam newspaper, ‘The Mathrubhumi’, which was reportedly conceived as the mouthpiece of India’s freedom movement, had reported in its April 9, 2011 edition: “Anti-graft crusaders, led by veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare, called off their fast Saturday after 96 hours after the government agreed to their demand to introduce a more stringent Lokpal Bill to fight corruption.”
This Malayalam newspaper had also gone to publish the following time-line of activist Anna Hazare’s crusade in its afore-quoted edition. Here follows the time-line of Anna Hazare’s eventful struggle:
January 30, 2011: People march against corruption in over 60 cities to demand an effective anti-graft Lokpal bill. Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh and lawyer Prashant Bhushan were among the key participants in the rally in Delhi.
February 26, 2011: Anna Hazare calls press conference, announces that he would go on fast unto death from April 5 if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not take a decision on including civil society in drafting the Lokpal Bill. Expresses frustration on several letters written to PMO on the issue being ignored.
February 27: Rally taken out from Jantar Mantar to Ramlila ground, under the banner of Bharat Swabhiman, for stringent Lokpal Bill and to bring back black money stashed in foreign banks.
March 3: Prime minister writes to Anna Hazare, invites him for discussion.
March 7: Anna Hazare meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with Kiran Bedi, Swami Aginvesh, Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan.
March 8: Prime minister sets up sub-committee to look into the Lokpal Bill.
March 28: Activists’ meeting with the sub-committee remains inconclusive, Anna Hazare says he will go on fast as scheduled.
April 4: Anna Hazare confirms fast from April 5, calls upon the nation to join in. Prime minister expresses his ‘deep disappointment’ at the decision.
April 5: Anna Hazare, along with supporters pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat, marches from India Gate to Jantar Mantar where he starts fast. Supporters join the protest from 400 cities, more than 5,000 gather at Jantar Mantar. Main opposition BJP extends support; Congress calls it premature.
April 6: Fast enters second day, government members say they are not adverse to civil society’s suggestion. Sharad Pawar withdraws from a sub-committee following verbal attack from the activists.
April 7: Fast enters third day; activists meet sub-committee members, meeting remains inconclusive. Movement gathers momentum; film personalities and politicians extend support. Candlelight march taken out in Delhi.
April 8: Anna Hazare announces he will end fast Saturday morning after government agrees to notify formation of a panel, with 50 percent civil society members, to draft the anti-corruption law and introduce it in the monsoon session of Parliament.
April 9: Anna Hazare ends fast around 11 a.m. after government issues notification. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the Lokpal Bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament.
Many would recall that on February 27, 2011, an Indian Yoga teacher Baba Ramdev held a large rally of over 100000 people at New Delhi to protest against corruption.
Anna Hazare had also participated in this rally, which had chiefly highlighted Indian black money lying in tax haven of Switzerland.
It was at this particular rally that Anna Hazare had announced that he would hold a fast in April 2011 to put pressure on the government to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Speaking on the occasion, Baba Ramdev had declared to go on an indefinite fasting from June 4, 2011 at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground.
On June 4, some 65,000 followers of the yoga teacher had gathered at Ramlila Ground and queues extending up to three km from the entry point were witnessed.
At midnight, Delhi Police raided the ground and Baba Ramdev’s supporters were baton-charged, injuring over 50 people.
Cold water was thrown over power generators to create complete darkness to prevent any video recording of the whole attack. Baba Ramdev was consequently arrested while attempting to disguise himself in women’s clothing. He was detained at the local airport for a few hours and then flown via a helicopter to his Ashram in Haridwar. On reaching Haridwar, Swami Ramdev declared in a press conference that his fast unto death would continue.
The 40-year old Yoga teacher was banned from entering Delhi for 15 days. Ramdev accused the government of cheating him, and alleged that there was a conspiracy to kill him and that he was threatened during a meeting with senior ministers. (India Today, June 5 edition).
All political parties except the Congress Party condemned the police action; called it undemocratic and naked fascism, deplorable and short-sighted.
The episode was widely reported by the Indian media, which was barred by the police from covering the event.
The Indian media and politicians even compared it with the 1975 Indira Gandhi Emergency and the 1919 Jalianwala Bagh incident.
Activist Anna Hazare termed the crackdown of the agitation a strangulation of democracy. He said: “There was no firing otherwise the eviction was similar to Jallianwala Bagh massacre.”
He boycotted his Lokpal panel meeting with the government on June 6 and decided to go on one-day fast on June 8.
A bench of the Supreme Court of India comprising Justices B. S. Chauhan and Swatantra Kumar, after taking suo motu cognisance of forceful eviction of Baba Ramdev and his followers, had issued notices to state machinery to respond within two weeks (The Times of India, June 6).
The court asked them to reply as to what were the circumstances under which the people had to be dispersed at midnight by the use of force.
The National Human Rights Commission also issued notices on June 6, 2011 to the government of India, seeking reports within two weeks on the brutal midnight crackdown.
Ramdev eventually ended his fast on the ninth day by drinking a glass of juice at a Dehradun hospital, where he was on the road to recovery from the seventh day of his protest.
The latest Monday evening update of this story on CNN-IBN television said: “Yoga guru Baba Ramdev has appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to not repeat the Ramlila Ground crackdown incident with social activist Anna Hazare during his fast beginning on August 16. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ramdev also wrote that he hopes that the government will take concrete steps to bring back the black money stashed abroad. Security forces had swooped down on Ramdev a little past midnight on June 5 and detained him after firing tear gas shells and resorting to ‘lathi-charge’ on his supporters to end his day-old indefinite hunger strike on black money issue. “