|Hazare Camp to Boycott Lokpal Meet Today|
Just hours after the dramatic police raid on Ramlila Maidan, Anna Hazare’s camp announced that they would boycott the meeting of the joint Lokpal panel scheduled for Monday and sit on a one-day hunger strike on June 8 as a mark of solidarity against the midnight strike against Baba, who has been externed from the Capital for 15 days.
The Hazare group also endorsed Ramdev’s demand for an ordinance to declare Indian funds illegally stashed abroad as national asset and to provide for means to bring the money back. Even Aruna Roy, member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council who had publicly expressed reservations about civil society’s anti-corruption agitation, joined the chorus of condemnation.
The Hazare camp upped the ante, laying down conditions for its further participation in talks on the Lokpal bill. It demanded that government clarify its stand on contentious issues like whether PM and judiciary should be brought under the proposed Lokpal bill, and also that the discussions in the joint panel be telecast live.
Earlier, thousands of policemen laid siege to Ramdev’s camp site and cleared it of it thousands of supporters while externing him from the Capital for 15 days. Baba on Sunday evening was stopped at Muzaffarnagar while on his way to Noida to start a fresh dharna.
The Hazare and Ramdev camps appeared to have drifted away for a number of reasons stretching from genuine differences of opinion on issues to the presence of RSS-leaning figures in the Ramdev camp to the desire to take control of the anti-graft campaign. In fact, government’s moves to indulge Ramdev capped by the red carpet rolled out for him on Thursday when four Cabinet ministers and the cabinet secretary turned up at the airport to receive him had led to apprehension that the yoga guru was being promoted as a counterweight to Hazare Campaign.
In sharp contrast, the Hazare team came out in open support for Baba, keeping their differences aside. Speaking in Delhi, Hazare accused the government of throttling democracy, and said civil society would launch protests throughout the country to “teach government a lesson”. “There might have been some faults with Baba Ramdev’s agitation but at midnight, beating up people — women, children and elderly — is a blot on democracy,” Hazare said. He announced that he would sit on a day-long fast at Jantar Mantar on June 8.
The newly-forged unity among civil society means that the government will now have to contend with a stronger opposition on its contentious proposal to keep the PM and higher judiciary outside the jurisdiction of the proposed Lokpal bill. There is a possibility that Baba, so far ambivalent on whether PM should be within the purview of Lokpal, may now support the Hazare group. Ironically, the police operation has salvaged Ramdev’s credibility which was under scrutiny after government claimed that he had already cut a deal before launching on a fast.
Keeping civil society engaged is helpful for the government to argue that it has been sensitive to the anti-corruption sentiments.
Its hopes of roping in other components of the political class to form a bloc against civil society are also unlikely to materialize with major political parties — BJP, Left, Samajwadi Party, BSP and JD(U) — all condemning the police action as reminiscent of repression during the Emergency of 1975. The sole exception was Lalu Prasad: hardly the poster boy for integrity in public life.
The police operation was cleared by government leaders at 5 pm on Saturday following the recognition that Baba was not going to call off his protest soon. It was executed efficiently, with Delhi Police managing to clear the camp site of protesters with maximum restraint. There was no lathi charge, while a few protesters suffered serious injuries and had to be taken to hospital.
Ramdev was flown to Dehradun in a BSF plane which had been kept on standby.
But the footage of firing of teargas shells and panic-stricken women and elderly running for cover relentlessly playing out on TV screens pointed to the risk of government having to pay a political cost. Being the incumbent and handicapped by scams on its watch, it was already the principal target of the anti-graft campaign. Any resentment over the midnight raid on Ramdev’s camp will add to the disadvantage. The risk is real considering that details of the 2G and Commonwealth Games scam are still pouring out.
Government justified the action as inevitable. There also seems to be the calculation that stress on “communal forces” as justification for Ramdev’s eviction could have political spinoffs. While keeping its distance from the police operation, Congress stressed the threat from “communal forces”.
But this may not help it earn concessions from the Hazare group. Joint drafting committee member Arvind Kejriwal said, “The government’s motives are suspect now. The government has been trying to crush the anti-corruption movement.”
In a statement, India Against Corruption said it condemned the “barbaric and unprovoked” action and demanded an explanation from the PM. The statement said, “Last night’s brutal assault of the government reminds one of 1975 Emergency. It is almost an emergency-like situation.” Hazare said that instead of “gore angrez” shooting down Indians in the Jallianwala Bagh incident, “kale angrez” had attacked people. Justice Santosh Hegde described the action as violation of “fundamental rights of citizens”.