Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement under the India Against Corruption (IAC) umbrella has started gaining traction again. Today, (Wednesday) Azad Maidan in the city, will be the venue for a Samarthan Divas, where the IAC says, there are going to be 10,000 people attending the program which will be on from 2 pm to late evening. They plan to culminate with a candlelight protest at the Gateway of India at approximately 7 pm.
Though the anti-corruption platform resonates with people, the Anna movement in the city seems diffused and confusing. Too many targets -- from irrigation scams to corrupt ministers seem to have made the movement lose its sharp focus.
The Annamobile is trundling along, but controversies about the movement have gained the speed of an F-1 car, from Baba Ramdev hijacking the movement to problems with the media.
Here, the IAC clears the air on some issues that threaten to obfuscate the movement and insists it is a do-or-die for Anna this time.
An interview with the representatives of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, which is Team Anna.
Q: First up, what is the IAC's agenda for Mumbai today (Wednesday)?
IAC: On Wednesday, IAC Mumbai has declared it will be Samarthan Divas. Support groups are going to come in thousands to commit their support to the Anna movement. There will be people from the Boot Polish Association, Coolie Association, Dabbawalas, Diamond Merchant Association, School Bus Association, Steel Association, Swadeshi Market, Mulji Jetha Market, Film City Union, Hindustan Chamber of Commerce, Mumbai Pune Taxi Association and many, many more at Azad Maidan today to let the world know that Mumbai is united in the fight against corruption.
Q: When will the Wednesday protest start from, where and at what time?
IAC: Today, the Samarthan will be conducted from 2 pm to 6 pm at the Azad Maidan venue. Different organizations might come in groups together to the maidan. By 7 pm, the IAC will gather for candlelight protest at the Gateway of India. In Delhi, too, we had a candle light protest but that was bigger, this one is basically to get more people in the movement. In the Azad Maidan we are confined to the maidan itself, during this protest even the man on the road can see us, so there is more awareness. There may be some patriotic performances at the Gateway too, songs to be specific, but we are working on permission for that. We want people in that area to join us as well.
Q: First it was dabbawallahs; now it is boot polish wallahs what exactly are you trying to tell the people?
IAC: It is the dabba wallahs and the boot polish wallahs and diamond wallahs and all Mumbai wallahs who are telling the people, that Mumbai is ready to put up a terrific fight against corruption and those in power better be ready to answer to this tsunami.
Q: What are the IAC/Anna's demands this time around? They seem a bit hazy. People do not have a very clear idea about your agenda for this time’s agitation
IAC: We want the Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed. However, given that there are so many people in the Parliament who have been accused of scams and who have criminal cases registered against them, we realise that these people will never pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. Hence there is an urgent need to clean the Parliament, our temple of democracy. So this time, the IAC’s demand is that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) be set up immediately and it should investigate cases against the Prime Minister, 13 cabinet ministers, 162 MPs, and leaders of the opposition. This investigation should be completed within six months. If they are found guilty they should be punished and removed from Parliament. If they are acquitted. then the Parliament will be free of taint. Then, on a clean slate we can hope to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed.
Q: Have the IAC's aims got diffused? There seem to be so many things from the irrigation scam to others that the IAC is tackling…
IAC: Our aim is focussed on the Jan Lokpal Bill. Our two fold agenda is a fight against corruption and bringing about systemic reforms. Our volunteers in Mumbai are engaged in fighting corruption at all levels and they uncovered the irrigation scam. IAC Mumbai will continue to fight corruption at the local level in this manner and fight for the Jan Lokpal Bill at the national level.
Q: The last time the IAC was in Mumbai at Bandra (E) things seemed to have fizzled out, are you back at Azad Maidan because you realise that Bandra was a poor choice of venue?
IAC: BKC had 15000+ visitors on Day 1 and 40000+ on Day 2. So we do not accept that the things fizzled out. But yes Azad Maidan is an ideal venue, it is easy for people to get to and we have historically run many andolans from here. It is the natural choice and would have been our choice in December 2011 too had the police not refused permission.
Q. Do you think people who have nothing to do with the IAC cause are hijacking the platform for publicity? How do you plan to prevent this?
IAC: The IAC is a movement, not an organization. It is not just possible but desirable that people from all walks of life share this platform and join the fight against corruption. Our official channels will always be there to clarify the IAC stance on issues in case of ambiguity or conflict.
Q: Talking about conflict, the IAC seems to have a problem with yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Spell out what problem you have with him? You are not on the same page about Gujarat CM Narendra Modi apparently, so how would you resolve this?
IAC: We believe in the agitation of Baba Ramdev on the black money issue. Baba Ramdev’s organization may have many other agendas and issues, for which we have no stance. There is no need for IAC to be on the same page with regards to opinions. We believe that all parties and their leaders are similar in their attitude to corruption.
Q: Team Anna seems to be mired in controversy. The common man is questioning whether the IAC itself knows the direction this is taking
IAC: The common man is misled sometimes due to propaganda of those who fear IAC. But propaganda cannot sustain for long and the current andolan has shown that truth has prevailed. The common man is out in large numbers to support the movement.
Q. The last time around nearly one year back you all said it is do or die, now again you claim it is do or die movement? Congress has virtually ignored Team Anna
IAC: It is an indefinite andolan and all IAC members are ready to lay down their lives for the nation. This has put so much moral pressure on the government that the most brazenly corrupt are now running for cover. In one year, IAC has changed the way people think and the way this government behaves. We have already brought in accountability into public life, as awareness has woken up people and they are fighting corruption at all levels. No political entity can afford to ignore this tide.
Q: Will Anna’s health hold up in case of an indefinite fast?
IAC: Anna’s health is of great concern to all of us and IAC did not wish to risk his life. But it is the nation’s shame that an old man is ready to give up his life but our so-called leaders are not ready to give up their corrupt. Arvind Kejriwal’s health has deteriorated but he is determined to fight till his last breath. We are very worried for all anshankaris (those who are fasting).
Q: Former top cop, Kiran Bedi is not heard of or has not been in the news off late... has she broken away from the movement?
IAC: We see her on the manch at Jantar Mantar all day, do you not see her?
Q: With all the protesting, why don’t Team Anna members itself contest elections if they want change?
IAC: We get this question at least 10 times a day, it is hovering on the periphery but seriously, we have not sat down and talked about this as yet.
Q: What is your message to Mumbaikars who seem skeptical and cynical of the Anna movement?
IAC: The response of the Mumbaikars that we witnessed last weekend has been better than even the August agitation. So, the question of cynicism and skepticism is not founded on facts. Today, we expect to show that Mumbaikars are clear in their unstinted support to the movement.
Approximately 50 IAC volunteers were arrested at Sharad Pawar’s residence in Delhi. First amongst them was Saumya Ritesh a female IAC volunteer from Mumbai who travelled to Delhi to cheer Team Anna.
As Anna Hazare’s fast entered the third day yesterday, the activist who is fasting at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi said he regretted the attack on the media by his supporters. He also warned that he would call it quits if they indulged in violence again. Even Anna team member Arvind Kejriwal, who is also on a fast, said sorry for the misbehavior with the media. But, Kejriwal also pointed out that media house owners must decide if they support corrupt people or if they are with the country.