THE ruling Congress-led government has committed a blunder, one which might further complicate things for it. The government would have done better if it showed signs of maturity in dealing with Anna Hazare.
The government is plagued by shady conduct of its members. Corruption on part of the government ministers is nothing new. Scam news is flashed out every other day, eroding the government's image. All these the ruling leaders should have known better.
And then there are people who would not like to take the corrupt practices as a run of the mill affair. Anna Hazare is one of them. In the fag end of his political career, the septuagenarian leader stood up to speak against corruption. He chose to go on a hunger strike to protest the government's watered-down anti-corruption law recently introduced in parliament.
The government reacted insensibly. He was taken in by the cops even before he could start his action. Events after that unfolded very fast. So speedily things have been happening from his arrest to his landing in Tihar jail (famous for housing the notorious criminals) to his release. Anna is now observing his 15-day hunger strike in the Ramilila ground in Delhi with thousands of his following.
Terms like "people's movement" and "second freedom struggle" are making rounds. Indirectly (or directly?) the government has helped create the situation by doing what it did to Anna. It made Anna the leader of the moment and gave birth to anti-incumbent protests. All these are likely to lead to greater events and will certainly make things difficult for Manmohan, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul.
Many believe Anna has caught the imagination of the nation. His call for rally has been well received across the country. Estimated crowd marching from the India Gate monument in central Delhi was between 60,000 and 70,000. Although Anna's precincts are filled with religious hymns and communal beats, it has given the common man to work on something that might help contain socio-political ills. Recent Arab uprisings should be a stimulus for the young Indians.
"For once we have brought the issue of corruption to every street of India," said K.C. Malhotra,a former history professor from Delhi University. "I am happy that Indians are united for a cause that will change our lives forever," he said. He was one among the thousands of Indians who converged at the India Gate to be a part of spontaneous mass rally that supported the hunger-strike by anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare.
Whether this showing of masses will really change the lives of the Indians is much too early to say. But it is obvious that Anna Hazare has managed to raise hopes in the minds of million Indians who crave for cleaner and tolerant social arrangements.
For the first time India's educated English-speaking middle class, a little less than one- third of the population, has taken to the streets. If the youths are drawn to Anna's cause and his programmes, it might make a difference. The poor and illiterate may find their hopes reflected in the urban educated youths.
In India, if you have corruption running in the veins of the rotting politicians and their cohorts, you also have people and institutions to stand up and protest.
However, Anna and his team are not expected to solve the problems of corruption and poverty overnight. But he has become a symbol of national discontent for now.
On the political front, Anna has unnerved the ruling alliance. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the activist's hunger-strike as "totally misconceived" and a dangerous challenge to India's parliamentary democracy. He also hinted at outside interference behind the protest.
The lackluster opposition parties grabbed the opportunity to pounce on the government. The BJP, the Left, Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (which incidentally is an ally of Congress-led UPA) and Telugu Desam Party have strongly expressed their position.
Although there are differences among opposition parties on the nitty-gritty of a new anti-corruption legislation, the parties focused on the consensus point, which was that the right to peaceful protest by Hazare cannot be violated.
From here on, the opposition parties might rally behind this leader and make best use of the situation against the government. Politics will wear a new dimension.
What Anna Hazare will opt to do from here is now a matter of wild imagination. He might allow himself to become the "compromise leader" of a greater opposition alliance to fight for next elections. Or, if he is encouraged by the response of the new generation of educated middle class to his "second struggle for freedom," India might have a new political party of a national character or as a regional institution.
Congress and partners have busy days ahead.