Times 2

What lies behind the crackdown on Hazare?

The events surrounding the anti-corruption campaigner appear to be working to a script to ensure Rahul Gandhi's succession
By Seema Sengupta

What would be Mahatma Gandhi's reaction, had he been around to witness the brutal police crackdown on his disciple and anti-corruption crusader Kisan Baburao Hazare, alias Anna Hazare?

For years, the activist has been confronting injustice and corruption in a style dear to the Indian soul for generations: earlier this year, the septuagenarian started a fast in order to put the government under pressure to enact stronger anti-corruption laws. Once conferred with the third-highest civilian honour of the land, he has now been arrested and is facing the wrath of the ruling Congress party for his effort to retrieve Gandhi's legacy of nonviolence at a time when India is struggling to fetter the home-bred rebellions shattering the nation's tranquillity.

Congress's general secretary and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi has been projected 'as a moderate face, sympathising with public disenchantment'. Photograph: Prakash Singh. AFP

A grand old man is leading a struggle against corruption in a country whose average age is relatively young. Not averse to taking a firm stand against the establishment for a just cause, he played a pivotal role in awakening the conscience of the nation, so much so that Mahatma's granddaughter Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee lauded the noble objective.

Hazare's first hunger strike in April won concessions from the government, which promised a parliamentary bill creating a special ombudsman with power to investigate and punish corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and judges. Hazare's dissent attracted widespread support and social media helped to ensure that his clarion call echoed around the country.

A baffled government, struck by a series of domestic scandals involving influential politicians, called in a drafting committee composed of civil society members and senior ministers, in order to prepare the broad parameters of such an ombudsman. Having failed to reach a consensus after painstaking negotiations, however, the government ended up introducing a bill that compounds the vulnerability of whistleblowers.

Short-changed by the ruling establishment, India's modern-day Gandhi threatened a fast unto death. The public, livid at the government's pernicious attempt to defame a person who has appropriated the most potent symbol of nationalism in Indian history took to the streets in vast numbers. Irked by administrative apathy towards the widespread abuse of authority, people on the street are now desperate to unearth the reason for a ruthless assault on civil liberties. What prompted this sudden high-handedness? Who is behind the orchestrated smear campaign against the anti-corruption activists?

The answer perhaps lies in the attempted projection of Congress party general secretary and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi as a moderate face sympathising with public disenchantment, at the expense of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Why else would the young leader be credited with the decision to rescind Hazare's detention order? True, the cabinet was facing the dilemma of having to protect Hazare's life from an indefinite hunger strike on the one hand, and interfering with the right to protest on the other.

Events on the ground, however, closely match a prepared succession script that envisages easing out the incumbent executive some time before the 2014 general election. Since the youngest offspring of the Nehru family is in no mood to lose credibility, the party and the dynasty might be seeking to quarantine Singh's successor from any genuine future inquiry conducted by an autonomous body.

Courtesy Guardian, UK

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