Social activist Anna Hazare and his team announced on Thursday they would call off their indefinite fast against corruption at 5 pm on Friday and proposed forming a "political alternative" as an answer to an "unresponsive" government.
Making the announcement to thousands of flag-waving cheering supporters, Hazare had said he and Team Anna, as members of his civil society followers are known, were calling off their fast on Friday 5 pm. The condition of three of the team, Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai, who have been on fast for the past ten 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 manoeuvering 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".
As Team Anna's plan to form a political alternative on Thursday created a buzz, the government and Congress took a jibe at them saying their "real intention" has come out in the open while BJP said the civil society group has every right to form a political party.
"We have always said that these people seemed inspired by politics. It is good that whatever the intention was has come out clear. Many of the stances they took seem to suggest this. I am glad that they have gone ahead," information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni told reporters in New Delhi.
"Now they will realise, how much work you have to do in politics and what are the difficulties and compulsions," she added.
However, Soni also maintained that it was everyone's right to enter public life and Team Anna should go ahead and contest elections if they wanted to change the system.
Soni was asked by reporters if she thought the decision to announce launching of a political alternative was an exit strategy used by Team Anna to end their fast.
"Only they know what was their motive to sit for fast. I had on two or three occasions in my personal capacity asked them that they should please clear their motives - whether they want to join politics or end the fast," she said.
Soni also said that those accusing the government of not having brought the Lokpal should understand that the Bill was now a property of the Parliament.
"Now they have made their point and accuse the government of not bringing the Lokpal. This isn't the truth. Lokpal Bill was passed by Lok Sabha," she said.
"It wasn't passed because everybody wanted to discuss it further and further, Lokpal Bill is with a select committee of Parliament. It is the property of the Parliament, so they must understand before accusing the government from morning till night," Soni added.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh, a bitter critic of Team Anna, said his opinion about their "real intentions" has now been confirmed.
"Just as I always said, Team Anna's political ambitions are out in open! People should see for themselves the reality behind this 'MOVEMENT!" Singh said on his Twitter handle.
BJP said the civil society group has every right to form a political party and nobody has the authority to prevent anybody from contesting elections.
Dismissing suggestions that Team Anna may pose a threat to the prospects of BJP if it emerges as a political alternative, the party spokesman Shanawaz Hussain pointed out that when BJP's predecessor, Jan Sangh, was formed in 1952 there was one-party dominance of Congress and yet BJP has emerged as a formidable opponent.
"There are more than 60 politcal parties and seven national parties in India. Everybody has a right to form a party and to contest the elections. Nobody has the authority to prevent anybody from entering the fray," he said.
Asked if BJP would support Team Anna if it enters politics, Hussain said "we will join forces with whoever raises his voice against corruption."
In an apparent attempt to blame UPA for yesterday's declaration by Team Anna, BJP said had the Lokpal Bill been passed in December, things would not have come to such a pass.
Meanwhile, Team Anna on Thursday announced that it would end the indefinite fast on Friday evening. Anna Hazare's announcement on calling off the agitation demanding Lokpal Bill on Friday at 5 PM came on a day when a group of eminent personalities, including jurist VR Krishna Iyer and former Army chief Gen VK Singh, appealed for an end to the fast as the health of Arvind Kejriwal and two others deteriorated.
(With inputs from PTI, IANS)