Comparatively less TV coverage of movement as it looks like the group has lost steam
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is no longer in a mood to engage with Team Anna, the events of the last week demonstrate, even as several members of the group led by the maverick Gandhian are sitting on an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar here, still demanding a “strong Lokpal.” Sensing that Anna Hazare and his followers have lost steam, with TV channels no longer as eager to give them the wall-to-wall coverage that they had got used to getting, whipping up the sort of nationwide frenzy seen last year, senior Ministers and top Congress functionaries have, of late, adopted a dismissive tone whenever there is any mention of any member of the group.
A year-and-a-half after Mr. Hazare placed the issue of corruption in the public domain, striking a chord with a middle-class unhappy with the slowdown in the economy, the movement appears to have fizzled out. On Wednesday, a senior Congress functionary told The Hindu, “We had discussions with members of Team Anna last year on the Lokpal Bill. After that, a bill was drafted and passed in the Lok Sabha. We failed to get it through the Rajya Sabha — so the matter is now with a Select Committee of Parliament. It is the property of Parliament and for that body to deal with the issue. Whether they sit on fast or not will be immaterial to the final outcome.”
Indeed, within the Congress there has been a sense right from the start when the Union government formed a joint committee with members of Team Anna to try and draft a Lokpal Bill, to the much publicised meeting of four Ministers with yoga guru Baba Ramdev last year, that the UPA had bent over backwards to appease members of the civil society. The result: all of last year, as a series of financial scandals swamped the UPA, the government kept its head down, trying to put in place a series of anti-graft laws and measures.
There has also been a belief, articulated privately and sometimes publicly in the Congress, that Team Anna’s inspiration was coming from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Congress is also convinced that Mr. Hazare is being pressured by his associates into adopting an extreme position, and an effort was made by Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid a few weeks ago to wean him away. But that backfired — and since then there has been no looking back.
Manmohan talks tough
Then earlier this year, on June 4 at a meeting of the extended Congress Working Committee (CWC) here, after party president Sonia Gandhi lit into the Opposition, a combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took on Team Anna, without naming it, for the second time in a week, sharply attacking its members for spreading “canards and falsehoods” about him and his senior Ministers. Indeed, on that occasion, the two top leaders concentrated their firepower not just on their political rivals, but on all those holding them responsible for a range of ills, from corruption to policy paralysis, thus setting the tone for what was to follow in the coming weeks. This was even though a majority of the 42 speakers at the day-long meeting, CWC sources stressed that charges of corruption and high prices — including the recent hike in the petrol price — were together devastating the government and the party.
In the past week, senior Ministers such as Mr. Khurshid and Ambika Soni, and Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh have slammed Team Anna. Mr. Singh told a TV channel that while the Congress was for a dialogue, talks could not be held at “gun point” and urged Mr. Hazare and his associates to give up their fast. And on Wednesday, Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said: “We wish them good health and hope that God gives them good sense.”
Attack on media
The attack on the media by Team Anna has only served to strengthen the government’s resolve to take a tough line with the group. “I leave it to the media to draw their own conclusions as they are the best judges as they are at the receiving end,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told journalists, adding, “there should be democratic disposition to take media criticism in its stride.”