Team Anna readies for a bigger campaign, may take off gloves against BJP too

India Against Corruption, the rainbow coalition of activists headed by Anna Hazare, has accused all political parties of planning to pass a toothless Lokpal bill, and promised to launch an even bigger campaign against any such move.

Last year, Hazare had organized the biggest political protests in India since the JP Movement of the 70s, channeling ordinary folk’s anger against rising corruption and lawlessness in the country.

Responding to the results of an online survey in which about 90% of the respondents said they did not expect a strong Lokpal to be passed by the current Parliament, Arvind Kejriwal, one of the leading activists, said the next round of protests will be bigger than the one in August last year.

“It can be said once again that the people are now convinced that this Parliament will not pass a strong Lokpal bill. It looks like the government will bring a toothless Lokpal bill for the sake of passing one. All parties have given their assent [to this course of action,]” Kejriwal said.

It is notable that this is the first time that Team Anna has chosen to attack the entire political establishment, rather than just the government, for a failure to pass a strong anti-corruption ombudsman bill.

So far, Team Anna has always kept its sharpest words for the Congress Party, and the UPA government that it leads at the centre.

It had always adopted a softer posture towards the opposition, the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP, and had tried to get the BJP to support its demand for a strong Lokpal and block government’s Lokpal bill.

However, the BJP voted in favor of Government’s Lokpal bill when it was introduced in the Lok Sabha, resulting in the bill’s passage in the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The BJP’s supporting vote was despite its leaders severely criticizing the bill for providing numerous loopholes that would make it difficult to prosecute corrupt officials.

BJP leaders had tried to introduce amendments aimed at plugging the loopholes, but were defeated. Nevertheless, when the time came to vote on the government bill, the BJP supported the Congress in the Lok Sabha.

However, the BJP opposed the bill again in Rajya Sabha and the government, sensing a lack of support, decided against putting it to vote in the upper house. The Government then said it will study the amendments suggested by the opposition and its allies, including the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.

It is now expected to put the bill in front of the Parliament again in the current session. However, it is not clear whether it will introduce a new bill and put it to vote again in the Lok Sabha, or come up with the same bill as last time and put it to vote before the Rajya Sabha.

Team Anna, meanwhile, seems to have sensed a political conspiracy in the making and decided to go on the offensive.

Among the questions asked in its recent poll was whether the people supported Team Anna publicly campaigning for particularly candidates in elections. 82% of the nearly 7,000 respondents said yes.

Team Anna had invited criticism from many, including some of its own supporters, for opposing the candidates fielded by the governing coalition in recent state elections. Many felt an anti-corruption coalition had no business iopposing or supporting any political party.

However, Arvind Kejriwal argued the support and opposition was for individual candidates, irrespective of their party affiliation, and based only on how honest and sincere the candidates were.

“82% (of the respondents) have said yes, Anna should support candidates with a clean image,” Kejriwal said, commenting on the results of the survey.

However, at 82%, support for this particular measure was the lowest among the four questions put to vote. The other three questions — such as whether the people expected the current Parliament to pass a strong Lokpal bill — saw clear answers with more than 90% of the votes siding with Team Anna’s own opinion.

Kejriwal acknowledged that some of the movement’s supporters were averse to Team Anna conducting political campaigns in favor or against any candidate.

“Some respondents have said that Politics is a very dirty and despicable profession. One person even said that someone as clean as Anna should not even turn his eyes towards politics.”

Some supporters of Anna Hazare have called for the movement to simply field its own candidates in the elections, instead of supporting or opposing any particular party or candidate.

Not surprisingly, Team Anna is still undecided about its future course of action.

Kejriwal added that while the team is still discussing the possible shape of the agitation, it will be big enough to shake the entire political establishment.

“We do not intend to sit quietly if the government tries to pass a weak Lokpal bill… We appeal to the people to get ready for a big agitation,” he said.

The news is unlikely to bring any cheer to the ruling alliance. The Congress Party has failed to find expected success at most of the polls held since Hazare’s agitation, which saw lakhs of people come out on to the roads.

Besides, a direct entry by Team Anna into electoral politics by fielding its own candidates will be a threat to all parties, including the BJP, which has so far adopted a softer approach to the campaign.

Many political parties, such as Laloo Prasad’s RJD, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, the Shiva Sena and leaders like Sharad Yadav have launched venomous attacks on the activists and the anti-corruption agitation, primarily for questioning the authority of the Parliament.