Anna Hazare is all set to return to Delhi seven years after he shook the nation with his protests and fasts agitating against corruption. He had then sought enactment of a Lokpal law by Parliament. Much has changed in the political landscape in the intervening years, when the crusader shook the UPA-2 government and enthused crowds. The UPA has been replaced by the BJP-dominated NDA government of Narendra Modi. Though the Lokpal law was passed in 2013, it has not been implemented so far. Hazare's own disciples, led by Arvind Kejriwal, created political history by forming a party and storming to power in Delhi.
But Hazare has stayed away from Jantar Mantar, the hallowed agitation spot close to Parliament, even though he had repeatedly said he will return. Now, Hazare has said the agitation will begin on March 23, but he would be focusing on the issues of farmers, who, he says, are cheated by the Narendra Modi government. As Jantar Mantar has been declared off limits for agitations, Hazare will have to shift to the grounds near the Red Fort. In 2011, he not only had the support of the young urban volunteers of Save India Movement, but also the tacit backing of BJP and RSS to rattle Manmohan Singh. Now there is no political party openly supporting him, with even his old supporters like Kejriwal maintaining silence on Anna's plans. The BJP and RSS would be resisting the agitation as they would be defending Modi's track record. The main Opposition Congress does not want to get associated with Anna, who even now fulminates against the Congress leadership.
Anna is dependent on a disparate group of farmers' organizations in north and western India,which have been in the forefront of agitations in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. His advisers have carefully chosen March 23 as the day to launch the next agitation. By that date, the farmers in north India will be free before harvesting of the rabi crop and large numbers can gather in Delhi from western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, apart from delegations from more distant regions.
Delhi has seen large turnout of agitating farmers in 1980s and 1990s led by firebrand leader Mahendra Singh Tikait. When former deputy prime minister and Haryana strongman Devi Lal had brought massive crowds to Delhi's Boat Club, he had said next time there will be no ice-cream for Delhi'ites, as farmers will be camping on Rajpath. He was referring to the presence of large number of ice-cream vending carts around India Gate from evening to midnight, as citizens and tourists enjoy their favorite flavors.
Hazare is upset that the Modi government has failed to address major issues like remunerative prices for agricultural crops and waiver of backbreaking loans. He has also referred to his crusade against black money, as he accuses Modi government of not bringing back the black money stashed abroad by Indians. He also wants a hefty pension for farmers. Hazare's supporters think that he is tapping into the anger as was witnessed in elections for Gujarat assembly and major by-elections in Rajasthan. Though the BJP claimed its budget was pro-farmers, Hazare's primary demands like loan waiver and pension for farmers did not find a mention on Arun Jaitley's document. Hazare has also pooh-poohed the promise of paying one-and-a-half time the cost price of agricultural production as a farce.
As much water has flown in the Yamuna, it is to be seen how effective and massive Hazare's protests would be, as he lacks the committed cadres of the India Against Corruption campaign. But if there is a strong mood of anti-incumbency, then he will be tapping into it.