Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare conceded today that he has vast differences with his aide, Arvind Kejriwal, about whether to transform their movement against graft into a political party. "I've told Kejriwal - I won't contest. I'm willing to support your candidates if they're good. But not just any candidate put up by you. Only if someone's really good," said Anna in Delhi this evening. Tomorrow, he will meet Mr Kejriwal and other frontliners of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.
Mr Hazare, who is 75, has deflected criticism that there's been a split within the IAC over Mr Kejriwal's decision to launch a political party. "Our paths are different. But our destination and ultimate goal are the same," Anna said. "I've taken two vows in life. One is to serve my country. The other is never to contest an election."
On Monday, amidst signs of Anna Hazare distancing himself from India Against Corruption's political agenda, a survey released by Mr Kejriwal's camp claimed that 76 per cent of the people it polled want it to form a party and fight elections. This directly contradicts Anna.
In August, Mr Kejriwal announced at the end of a 10-day hunger strike in Delhi that while Anna would not join a political party, his plan was to provide an alternative to people exhausted by endemic corruption. Unlike earlier fasts by Anna, this one, handled by his aides, did not draw large crowds to the base camp in Delhi, emboldening the government to make no attempt at appeasing the activists. "When an announcement was made at Jantar Mantar that we would enter the electoral fray, I asked some fundamental questions - how will the candidates of the new political outfit raise such huge funds? One needs crores to fight an election. Who will do a background check on the candidates? What's the guarantee that corrupt candidates will not enter this party?" Anna said, reiterating his concerns about the political dimension to the anti-graft movement.
Mr Kejriwal was Anna's most-senior lieutenant through a lengthy campaign for the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill, a proposal that would create a national ombudsman to investigate complaints against venal public servants. The bill has been cleared by the Lok Sabha, but did not make it through the Upper House, and is now being studied by a parliamentary committee.
Earlier this week, signs of a growing distance within Anna and Mr Kejriwal were obvious when Anna, in his blog, asked those planning to join his anti-corruption movement to contact him in Ralegan Siddhi. Till now, the Anna-led movement was headquartered in Delhi and run under the banner of India Against Corruption, a non-registered body perceived to be controlled by Mr Kejriwal.