A sprawling park at the heart of New Delhi! The choice of venue handed out to Anna Hazare for his second hunger strike from August 16 is puzzling. Not some obscure corner as Team Anna had feared that a government still smarting from his Fast No. I at Jantar Mantar would offer.
Rather, the Delhi police, administered by the Union home ministry, chose a place that is not only a stroll away from media offices, but also has an ample parking lot for OB vans to telecast live the event.
As if that were not enough, Anna & Co will begin its “second freedom struggle” at a venue named after Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan, who led the only successful movement against a Union government, riding on a wave of anti-Emergency sentiment. Does the government’s decision smack of poor political imagination or is it a show of bravura?
For its part, the government appears to be game for a showdown, unlike in April when it was caught napping at Jantar Mantar. It may have also learned from its other bitter experience, the crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s similar show in June.
“It is the responsibility of parliament to legislate. People are entitled to protest but can’t foist their legislative proposals on parliament. Any such attempt challenges parliamentary process,” HRD minister Kapil Sibal told ET on Sunday.
On Saturday, the Delhi police laid down 22 conditions, including limiting the fast to not more than three days, and a crowd of not more than 5,000 etc. Team Anna refused to sign on the dotted line and was engaging the government in a mind game till late Saturday.
However, the government has other plans up its sleeve. “Listen to the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address,” said a Congress leader, indicating that Manmohan Singh could roll out big-box initiatives on Monday.
Team Anna too knows the political scene is vastly different from April’s. Anna’s carefully crafted message, “We are not against parliament, but against the Central government”, signals that he and his team have realised the folly of taking on the entire political class.
Team Anna also faces the uphill task of retaining national attention. The second show lacks the freshness or curiosity the first evoked. The government has introduced the Lok Pal Bill in parliament and has referred it to a House committee. And the government, under pressure to show its anti-corruption moorings, is also fast-tracking Bills such as judicial accountability and whistleblower laws.
With the government certain to play hardball, the real issue before Team Anna is how to sustain the agitation. “A lot depends on how long Anna can fast,” said Swami Agnivesh. The Congress is already asking why none of Anna’s lieutenants are fasting along with him. “We all have to oversee preparations,” reasons Anna’s confidant Arvind Kejriwal.
Still, activists are discomfited by the government’s move to bring all NGOs under the Lok Pal scanner. “While the Bill has excluded all government staff below Class-1 officers under the Lok Pal’s ambit, it has included all NGOs. That provision can be misused. We say bring only the substantially funded NGOs,” says Kiran Bedi, a key member of Team Anna. Adds Prasanth Bhushan: “Anna’s fast will be an attempt to arouse the nation’s moral consciousness.” Economic Times