Team Anna to form ‘political alternative’

New Delhi: Social activist Anna Hazare and his team announced Thursday they would call off their indefinite fast against corruption Friday evening and proposed forming a “political alternative” as an answer to an “unresponsive” government.

Making the announcement to thousands of flag-waving cheering supporters, Hazare said he and Team Anna, as members of his civil society followers are known, were calling off their fast on Friday 5 p.m. The condition of three of the team, Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai, who have been on fast for the past nine days has worsened causing concern among supporters and the authorities. Hazare had begun his fast on Sunday.

Hazare’s announcement of a political alternative got an immediate response on social networking sites, with most welcoming the move while some wondered how the apolitical movement was suddenly changing colours. India’s next general elections are due in 2014 and political manoeuvring has begun keeping the polls in mind.

But the government was quick to react, with Congress minister Ambika Soni saying “we had always held that Team Anna was goaded by politics, and it is a good thing that they have come out in the open with their intention”.

Hazare and his team are demanding the government pass their Jan Lokpal bill for creating an ombudsman to probe graft in the system, and begin a probe against senior members of the cabinet for corruption. Of the 15 names they had given, Pranab Mukherjee is now the President of India.

The government has dismissed their allegations of corruption against the ministers, and said the Lokpal bill, which has been passed by the Lok Sabha, is now with a select committee of Parliament, which will come out with a final draft.

Hazare, addressing a gathering of a few thousands at the Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital, said the government was not listening to them and was not willing to pass the Jan Lokpal bill, and asked the crowd if they wanted a political alternative. The crowd cheered and shouted, “Yes, yes.”

Hazare then said: “The time has come to give a political alternative.”

“If we don’t send our own people to Parliament, things will not change,” he said.

He added: “There is no harm in giving a political alternative, but only those people should go to Parliament who love the country and have a clean background.”

However, Hazare, who the government has alleged was covertly backed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said he will “not join the system but will support it from outside”.

He also proposed a kind of a referendum on the political alternative, asking his supporters to answer questions on how they should ensure their candidates are not corrupt, or turn corrupt after entering Parliament.

Kumar Vishwas, a key Team Anna member, asked if the reason for their sudden decision to enter politics was because they had failed to move the government with their fast, said their goal was the Jan Lokpal bill. “If the government calls a special session of Parliament tomorrow and passes the bill and forms a Special Investigation Team to probe the 14 ministers for graft, then we are not interested in forming a political party.”

Information and Broadcasting Minister Soni, after Hazare’s team enters politics they would “realise what are the compulsions, what are responsibilities. Particularly, working with honesty is not easy.”

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury, reacting to the news, told reporters: “It is good they should come in politics but they have to decide what kind of politics they want to do.”

Earlier, 23 eminent personalities, including former army chief V.K. Singh, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and actor Anupam Kher, had urged Team Anna to call off their fast and seek to form an “alternative political force”.

In the evening, thousands of Hazare’s supporters marched from India Gate to Jantar Mantar.