For the first time in several years, entire Opposition is arraigned against government on same cause

With nine non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) parties, including the Left, calling for nationwide protests on August 23 to demand new legislation for a “strong Lokpal authority,” there is a distinct possibility of the BJP-led alliance announcing a separate all-India protest against corruption the same day.

Though the non-NDA parties and NDA allies will not share the same platform, it is the first time in several years the entire Opposition is arraigned against the government on a same cause. The credit should go to social activist Anna Hazare, who has caught the imagination of many sections of society on corruption, though both non-NDA parties and the NDA have not linked their planned agitation to the protests led by Team Anna.

The decision of the non-NDA parties was announced by Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat after a meeting of their leaders here on Friday. The meeting was attended by CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, Janata Dal (Secular) president H.D. Deve Gowda, Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, AIADMK MP M. Thambi Durai and Biju Janata Dal, RSP and Forward Bloc leaders Bhartruhari Mahtab, Abani Roy and Debabrata Biswas.

At a meeting of the NDA leaders on Thursday, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav mooted a proposal for an all-India protest. “We should try and co-ordinate our planned programme with non-NDA Opposition,” he said.

Other NDA leaders responded, saying they would take a considered view of the suggestion. BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told The Hindu: “We are yet to take a decision on the matter and it would be announced in a day or two.”

NDA working chairman L.K. Advani, at a function here on Thursday, said the time had come for the entire Opposition to unite to ensure the ‘exit' of the UPA government.

At a function to release his book of blogs, Mr. Advani described as a positive development Tuesday's meeting of Opposition leaders, including those of the Left, in the chamber of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj for a joint strategy on Mr. Hazare's arrest.

Mr. Advani conceded that the Left had inhibition in associating with the BJP. But the BJP did not believe in “political untouchability.” He said: “However, their [Left] decision to attend the meeting in Ms. Swaraj's chamber following the outrage over action against Anna Hazare has given rise to hopes for some concerted action by all opposition groups against this government, which has done everything against aam aadmi [the common man].”

At the news conference after the meeting of non-NDA leaders, Mr. Karat dubbed the Lokpal Bill introduced by the government in the Lok Sabha as “weak and inadequate.” He said the protests would also focus on the “growing attacks” on democratic rights and demand protection of the right to conduct peaceful protests.

Condemning the manner in which Mr. Hazare and his supporters were arrested, he said, “The assaults on democratic rights are rising. In Delhi, if you plan to protest, you have to abide by 21 conditions set by the police. It is the same situation elsewhere. You have to fill up forms and give undertakings and there are various other restrictions.”

Mr. Karat said the leaders also discussed a mechanism to curb corruption in judiciary.

He felt that the Judicial Accountability Bill to be passed by Parliament should include the creation of a national judicial commission. In addition, they felt reforms were needed to curb money power and criminality in elections. Effective measures were required to unearth black money stashed away abroad.

Asked whether the coming together of the parties would pave the way for a third front, he said, “These are issue-based protests … Earlier, we had jointly organised an all-India hartal on the issue of price rise.”

To a query whether there was a plan for a Bharat bandh, he said this was the beginning of a nation-wide campaign against corruption. “We will meet again after August 23 to decide on the future course.”