Anna Hazare is back. When the anti-corruption crusader prepares to launch an agitation from his village in Maharashtra on Thursday, the ruling dispensation has reasons to worry. The same popular anger against corruption that hastened the fall of the Congress-led UPA government five years ago may work against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government this time.
Anna Hazare has already focused on the Rafael deal, which had become a hot potato for the Union government. The activist gathered forces to bring about the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act in 2013 yet the ombudsmen have not been appointed so far. Anna Hazare has also taken up the farmers’ struggle this time. He spoke to Manorama from Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar.
You spoke about more revelations in the Rafael deal.
The Rafael corruption would not have happened had the government appointed the Lokpal. The deal smacks of corruption. The people are doubtful of the deal. A lot of information about the deal have been revealed. We will reveal more information at the appropriate time.
You have echoed the pet themes of the Congress, like the Rafael deal and the farmers’ debt relief. Do you expect the Congress to support you in an election year?
We do not want the Congress support. And I do not think they will bother to support us.
How do you evaluate the Modi government?
They better walk the talk. Chasing black money, depositing Rs 15 lakh in every man’s account, wiping the tears of farmers, creating lakhs of jobs...there were a lot of promises. What have they delivered so far? I wrote to the President last week to point out that the government is drifting towards totalitarianism.
The AAP government in Delhi had its genesis in the agitation you launched. The agitation also paved the way for a BJP-led government at the Centre. How do you compare those governments?
That strike had the sole purpose of wiping away corruption. The main weapons were the introduction of Lokpal and Lokayuktas. Arvind Kejriwal was the most vocal about those terms. He seems to have forgotten about those once he came to power. Even Modi has done nothing for a Lokpal.
You received ample support from people such as Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and V K Singh. All of them parted ways with you and rose to positions of power. Are you still in contact with any of your former supporters?
I think it is better to act alone. I am not in touch with any of them. My route is about service, village and the country while theirs is towards power and money.
Has the replacement of the UPA government by the NDA government made any difference to corruption?
Bribery is as strong as it was. Many incidents are kept under the wraps. I had toured several states last year. I was mobbed by television crews but not many reports came out in most of the media. I believe they were under government pressure. So no one is willing to speak out.
Who do you expect to support your agitation this time?
I have no money or power. Still I draw support from the people. As many as 500 people from across the country participated in a recent meeting to chalk out the strategy of the agitation. I do not know how big the agitation will become. But I can say for sure that it will give the government many sleepless nights.
The agitation comes in an election year. Is there any reason for that?
It is not related to the election. I had sat in strike at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds last March to demand the appointment of a Lokpal. I called off the agitation only after the Prime Minister’s Office assured me that the appointment would be done by October 2. When that word was not kept, I again protested in October. I withdrew the strike after the Maharashtra chief minister assured me that the appointment process was in progress. Even that word was not kept and I have no other way but to hit the protest path.
The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act was a major milestone in the fight against corruption yet it served no purpose because the ombudsmen were not appointed.
The bill was passed in 2013. Those were promising days. We thought everything was going to be alright with the anointment of Modi who had centered his election campaign on a fight against corruption. He has not done anything to appoint the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas even after five years in power.
The BJP leaders who passionately spoke for the bill in Parliament now remain silent. Modi and his ministers are afraid of a Lokpal. What is the point of a law if you do not appoint the people to implement it? The act empowers the people. The ombudsman can initiate an investigation against anyone including the prime minister. That is the beauty of it.
What recommendations do you put forward to improve the lot of farmers?
Dairy farmers pour out milk in the streets because they are not assured of a decent price for their produce. Farmers get only Re 1 for a kilogram of onions. They burn their fields and end their lives there. A project mooted for the welfare of 60-plus farmers remain a non-starter.
I want to ensure crop prices in relation to the cost of cultivation. Agricultural loans have to be written off. Implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan committee. Encourage drip irrigation across the country. If you ensure support prices for crops, farmers would not be forced to sell onions for Re 1 per kilogram. They will not be forced to take their lives.