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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hazare: If Lokpal Isn’t Passed, Congress Must Go

Anna Hazare threw down the gauntlet Tuesday, promising that if the government doesn’t pass an anti-corruption “Lokpal” bill in the winter session of Parliament, he’ll begin campaigning against the Congress party in upcoming state elections.

The challenge for Mr. Hazare, whose hunger strike in August galvanized a movement against graft and captured the nation’s imagination, is to avoid the perception that he’s turning overtly political and directly allying himself with opponents of the Congress, which controls the current coalition government.

Seeking to answer such concerns, Mr. Hazare, addressing a press conference in his village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra, said the Lokpal is his only concern and he isn’t generally advocating for other parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“If the Lokpal bill is passed in Parliament, I will appeal to people to vote for only good candidates with strong credentials, irrespective of party affiliations,” he said. “I will only appeal to people to send the right people to the temple of democracy.”

The dramatic events of August left casual observers with the impression that Mr. Hazare’s work was pretty much done. When the septuagenarian activist finally sipped coconut water to end his 13-day fast and his enormous demonstration at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi wound down, it looked as though he had forced the government to capitulate to his demands for a strong Lokpal, or anti-corruption ombudsman agency to investigative graft in public life.

In reality, all India’s Parliament did in late August was approve a non-binding resolution – an unsecured promise, if you will – to move on the Lokpal legislation and include some of Mr. Hazare’s key demands, such as his proposal for each state to have anti-corruption bodies and for the central Lokpal to have powers to investigate the lower bureaucracy, not just senior officials.

It has been 38 days since the government made that promise, and Mr. Hazare still can’t claim victory. He is clearly getting impatient, which is why he’s now promising to tour poll-bound states in coming months to campaign against Congress if the Lokpal doesn’t actually become law in the winter session. He also said he’d fast three days before next year’s Uttar Pradesh elections.

The government’s Lokpal draft is now being reviewed by a Parliamentary standing committee, and as any follower of India’s political scene knows, all controversial legislation – land reform, corporate governance reform, nuclear liability – takes a long time to slink through the system, as people across the political spectrum spar, negotiate, delay, lose a sense of urgency and eventually, perhaps, regain it. The Lokpal backers know this better than anyone: the bill was first proposed in the late 1960s, after all.

Mr. Hazare had begun turning attention in recent weeks to another issue, electoral reform, arguing that voters should have a right to recall politicians who let them down. But now, perhaps, he’s realizing that his fight for a Lokpal is far from over.


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