While Anna Hazare awaits another round of meetings of the joint committee on the Lokpal Bill, his lieutenants are working overtime to repair the damage caused by the septuagenarian activist’s praise for rural development work done by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Having come under fire from different quarters for his ‘naïve remarks’, his lieutenants have now succeeded in persuading Anna Hazare to visit Ahmedabad and restore the ‘secular credentials’ of the anti-corruption agitation.
“Anna had clarified that his remarks were based on media reports about rural development works in Gujarat. He had also said that he was ready to correct himself if he found the truth otherwise,” Swami Agnivesh, a close aide of Anna Hazare, tells Open. “Now Anna has agreed to visit Ahmedabad in the second week of May, perhaps on May 10, where he will interact with social activists and Gandhians in the state and make a fresh statement at a public rally the same day.”
Hazare’s willingness to visit Ahmedabad followed considerable leg-work by his lieutenants. On 17 April, Agnivesh visited Ahmedabad and had a meeting with Mallika Sarabhai and other activists, who had disassociated themselves from Hazare following his remarks on Modi. “After a three-hour-long meeting with Sarabhai and other activists, I prepared a list of major shortcomings and weaknesses in the rural development works of the Narendra Modi government,” Agnivesh says. “The next day, 18 April, I met Anna Hazare at Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi and apprised him about the reality in Gujarat. He agreed to visit Ahmedabad in the second week of May.”
Though the lieutenants expect Hazare to clear the misgivings of dissenting activists, they themselves remain uncertain about whether they could actually mend Hazare’s ways. The uncertainty was visible at a meeting organised by Arvind Kejriwal, another aide of Hazare, at his Kausambi office in Ghaziabad, to chalk out a roadmap for Hazare’s Uttar Pradesh visit. Addressing the meeting, Agnivesh stressed the significance of Hazare as a symbol of the fight against corruption and the need for “someone accompanying him all the time” so that he could be checked, and kept from making other such remarks. Agnivesh even asked prominent members of the group attending the meeting to spare some of their time to be with Hazare. Though Agnivesh’s proposal did not yield any result, the unease among Hazare’s lieutenants was pretty clear.
Merely a day after breaking his fast at Jantar Mantar, Hazare had praised Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, saying their counterparts in other states should emulate them. “The work of the chief ministers of Gujarat and Bihar in their states should be adopted by other chief ministers,” Anna had said, though he added later that he was against communal politics and was highlighting only development works at the grassroots level. The uproar that his remarks caused forced Hazare to issue another clarification, reasserting his belief in secular politics. But even that could not undo the split that his remarks caused in civil society. Apart from angry outbursts from secular parties, the remarks compelled many social activists who had been associated with his agitation to publicly distance themselves from Hazare. The first to do so was Mallika Sarabhai, who shot off an email to him: ‘We are deeply shocked by your endorsement of Narendra Modi’s rural development. There has been little or no rural development in the state… Your endorsement is appalling and we will be forced to distance ourselves from the Lokpal movement unless it is irrevocably retracted.’
Similar shock was expressed by Medha Patkar, who had even addressed the general public at Jantar Mantar in support of Anna Hazare. “It was shocking to find that Anna Hazareji, after receiving support from all of us, with millions, publicly appreciated the rule as well as rural development work by the Chief Minister of Gujarat Mr Narendra Modi on the issue of corruption. Modi’s response to the initiative to bring in a strong enactment or to wipe out corruption is, to say the least, only politically motivated. If he is so committed to an institution like the Jan Lokpal, how could the Lokpal’s post be vacant in Gujarat since 2005?” asked Patkar.