In support of Hazare

Politicians, social activists and non-governmental organisations rally behind Anna Hazare

By Manish Tewari
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Anna HazareIN A rare display of solidarity, politicians and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have joined hands in expressing support for Anna Hazare. On September 10, Hazare was sentenced by the Mumbai metropolitan court to three months simple imprisonment in connection with a defamation suit filed by Maharashtra social welfare minister Babanrao Gholap. Hazare had levelled corruption charges against Gholap.

In the wake of his arrest, the ageing Gandhian of Ralegan Siddhi has received messages of support from people cutting across party lines. Holding meetings in Pune and Delhi, many NGOs said it was time to expose the corrupt and not punish those who are trying to expose them. Politicians from various parties, except from the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have also issued strongly-worded statements supporting Hazare.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai high court has rejected a public interest litigation (PIL) for reducing the three month jail term of Hazare. The petitioner contended that Hazare was a crusader against corruption and this imprisonment was received by the public with grief. However, Hazare told Down To Earth that he is determined not to appeal against the verdict, (see box: Hazare breaks his silence)

Hazare's imprisonment came as a rude shock many. "I never thought that my son will have to go to jail for working towards social upliftment," says Hazare's mother. However, she says she is happy to have one of her sons totally committed to the cause of social welfare. Sujit Patwardhan, a Pune-based NGO activist, says that Hazare's imprisonment shows how indifferent the system has become. Summing up the general reaction of the civil society over Hazare's imprisonment, political scientist Rajni Kothari said: "It is a very wrong move on behalf of the executive and the judiciary. Hazare would never character-assassinate anybody. In fact, the minister should be asked to give an explanation."

Kothari feels that Hazare's arrest has many implications for civil society and the people's movement, especially for those who raise their voice against corruption. The NGO community feels that Hazare's arrest is an indicator of how the politicians are trying to stifle any move to expose them. Ashok Tanukdar of the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jana Andolan, a movement headed by Hazare, says that his organisation is planning a nationwide stir against Gholap.

Meanwhile, the villagers of Ralegan Siddhi have launched a campaign for Hazare. The sarpanch and villagers have started a solidarity signature campaign, helped by Hind Swaraj Trust, a NGO which is headed by Hazare. On September 10 - the day Hazare received the sentence - the villagers went on a fast.

The sarpanch of Ralegan Siddhi, Ganesh Rao, notes that the legal action has exposed the state government for what it is. Anil Sharma, a social activist of the village, says how a sitting minister and a former minister have earlier been proven guilty of corruption. However, Hazare tripped this time. Says Gabriel Britto, head of the National Addiction Research Centre (NARC) a Mumbai-based NGO: "I agree with Hazare that Gholap should be held culpable for corruption in his department." An activist must make an allegation only if he/she has substantial evidence, says Sheela Patel, director of a Mumbai-based NGO. The people have accepted corruption as part of life, feel NGO activists, Britto says that corruption in Maharashtra began during the illegal diamond trade with South Africa in the mid-1970s, when trade sanctions were imposed due to apartheid. It flourished when the liquor racket started after the imposition of prohibition. Soon, corruption spread in the areas of construction and film making in the post-liberalisation boom. "Even most of the political parties are trying to make inroads into these kind of (corrupt) practices for their survival," adds Britto.

However, in Hazare's case, politicians have come out with statements. Perhaps the most vocal of these was from V N Gadgil, the spokesperson of the Congress party and former Member of Parliament (MP) from Pune, Says Gadgil: "Even if my party does not allow me to participate in Hazare's movement against corruption, I will still join his movement. 1 think the Congress party should also join the movement."

Gadgil feels that Hazare's arrest is a part of the Shiv-Sena-BJP government's move to stifle opposition. He ridicules the double standards of the Shiv Sena vis-a-vis judgments. "The Shrikrishna Commission's report was not acceptable to the BJP government because it came down heavily on the Shiv Sena for its role in instigating the riots in Mumbai in 1992. It is ironical that the same government is admiring the judgement against Hazare," he says.

However, the flood of protests have not troubled the chief minister of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi. "The government has been cleared of all the allegations, going by the judgement and the conclusion of various commissions," boasts Joshi. He says no one should make an allegation against the government without substantial evidence.

But there are many who do not share loshi's views. Bhai Vaidya, former home minister of Maharashtra and now a Samajwadi Party leader, criticises the move of Shiv Sena and BJP to protect Gholap. Says Vaidya: "If Atal Behari Vajpayee talks about morality, he should first order a CBI inquiry against Babanrao Gholap." Hazare's struggle is not against any individual but is against corruption in general, he says.

Vithal Rao Tupe, the MP from Pune says that the people must participate in the movement in large numbers to make Hazare's movement a success. Former mayor of Pune, Shanti Lal Suratwala, said: "We are expressing our reactions in kitchens only. There is a need to speak in public against such an action of the government," Says Ajit Abhyankar, secretary (CPM), Pune city: "Hazare's dream of a corruption-free India will be realised only if people, including all political parties, join hands to fight against corruption".

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