New Delhi: Before ending its hunger fast in Delhi, the group of activists known as Team Anna announced that they are forming a political party which will contest the elections. Anna Hazare, 75, said he will not run for office, but will support his aides. “What do those in power know about corruption and the common man? They sit in air-conditioned offices all day,” he said.
It was Anna’s right-hand man, Arvind Kejriwal, visibly weak after a ten-day hunger strike, who announced that the activists’ political agenda. “You will name our party,” he told the crowd at Anna’s sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar.” Anna had not eaten since Sunday; his aides including Mr Kejriwal had been fasting for nearly twice as long and their health has been a cause of concern.
In a lengthy speech before ending his hunger strike, Mr Kejriwal elaborated on what the new party will stand for – transparency, better education, secularism, the poor farmer, the ripped-off aam admi. “This party will not be like others…the public will decide our agenda. We don’t want to win elections…we want to challenge the existing parties. The donations we receive will be posted on our website…this will dare the others to follow,” he added.
He also said if the government agrees to urgently pass the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill and introduce electoral reforms like the Right to Recall under-performing MPs and the Right to Reject unworthy candidates and nullify an election, Team Anna will cancel its plans.
“We have no great love for entering politics,” he said.
The government, which refused to urge them to end their fast, says the activists have always hungered for power while claiming otherwise. “They are hardcore politicians,” said Kapil Sibal, who is among the ministers who have accused Team Anna of trying to dictate terms to a democratically-elected Parliament. “Not one of them can win an election,” said Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party. “It will be a miracle if a few get away with their deposits intact.”
“We appealed to Anna because he has to fight a greater battle – to change the politics of India. He must bring the true form of democracy to the people,” said General VK Singh, who was the chief of the Indian army till earlier this year. He was among 26 prominent citizens who wrote to Anna yesterday, asking him to gift to the people “a political force.”
Critics say that a lukewarm reception to this later hunger strike -when compared to the epic turnouts for the protests pivoted by Anna last year – have proved that Team Anna can no longer get by as the self-proclaimed safeguard of public interest. The activists have conceded in the last 36 hours that politicking will be a daunting task – raising funds and ensuring their candidates are not corrupted by power if they are elected were cited as concerns. “How do we select candidates who have integrity? Write to us and tell us,” urged Mr Kejriwal.
Some supporters of Anna have warned that a formal entry into politics is more likely to end as a mis-step rather than a game-changer. “One has to think a 100 times before taking a plunge into electoral politics. If he joins politics, then the momentum gained should not be lost. When people with noble intentions join politics, either they don’t last long or they don’t achieve much,” said activist Medha Patkar.
“I don’t think Team Anna should get into politics because we are not ready for elections,” said Justice Santosh Hegde, who has been a core member of Anna’s group, but has often differed with the others on their tactics.
Team Anna says that the government has proved it has no interest in cleansing the country of graft. The activists believe the antidote lies in the Lokpal Bill, which Anna brought onto the big stage with him through a series of hunger strikes last year. The longest, in August, lasted 16 days, and made Anna the centrifugal force in a middle-class push against corruption. Anna ignored appeals from the Prime Minister and others to end his fast; he relented only after MPs promised to urgently debate the Lokpal Bill, which provides the blueprint for a national ombudsman agency with the powers to investigate and prosecute government servants.
The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha last year, but has tripped in the Rajya Sabha. Anna’s activists say without it, there is no chance of reintroducing probity in the governing class.