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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

The original Anna

Shambhu Sharma, the Gandhian who started the lokpal movement is unhappy with the way Anna Hazare is carrying it on. Chetan Chauhan reports.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2011 10:07 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times

You could say he is a quitter who always put the nation first. In August 1942, a young Shambhu Dutta Sharma quit his job in the British Indian army to join Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India movement. On January 31, 2011, he quit his fast unto death to allow another Gandhian, Anna Hazare, to take up his cause for having an effective lokpal.

The decisions were never easy.

As a law graduate at age 24, when many of his peers were busy pursuing careers, Sharma chucked up "a lucrative job" to dedicate his life to the Gandhian ideology of non-violence protest to achieve pro-people goals.

"I am an imperfect follower of the perfect Mahatma" is his summary of 59 years of pursuing Gandhi's philosophy. During this time, he has been to jail twice: first during Quit India, and then in 1975 for protesting censorship during Emergency.

But the 'imperfection' in the Hazare team's adoption of the Gandhian way of protest has pained 93-year-old Sharma more.

"They (Team Anna) said they had Rs 80 lakh to fight for lokpal. I didn't have even 10% of that. I agreed on the condition that in three months they would have to show results," says Sharma, who launched the lokpal campaign in 1998.

Cupboards in his office are full of letters Sharma and a few other octogenarian Gandhians wrote over the last 12 years for an effective Lokpal. Yet their slow progress forced the team to hand over the baton to the younger team of so-called Gandhians.

Hazare sat on a fast. The government buckled under the pressure of an overwhelming public support for the campaign and formed a joint drafting committee with five representatives from Team Anna.

The differences soon became obvious and a war of words started between the government and Team Anna. It ended in June with two Lokpal drafts from the two sides.

"You (Team Anna) cannot call ministers with whom you are discussing an important legislation cheats and liars. That is not a Gandhian way to engage with the government of the day," Sharma says, sitting in the south Delhi office of the Servants of People Society, an organisation whose seeds were laid by Gandhi. Sharma, who lives with his grandchildren in north Delhi's Ashok Vihar, still spends seven hours a day in the office.

The unsavoury events of the last few months, on which he had written to Hazare, has forced him to question whether Gandhi's philosophy is still relevant in an age when the internet and television are favoured as tools for waging a satyagraha, rather than people-to-people contact.

Would the Mahatma agree with such tactics? "I don't know," says Sharma and pauses before adding that the Mahatma possibly wouldn't have minded using modern tools, provided they were not used to spread canard. But when Sharma restarts his campaign, he'll use the old tools.

Among Sharma's list of demands is the adoption of the Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill prepared by the Law Commission in 1999. It debars criminals from contesting elections by amending the Representation of People's Act.

"The government can check corruption if it amends existing laws. On lokpal, I am willing to accept the government draft as of now. In the future, the Prime Minister should be under its jurisdiction," he says. Sharma can spot improvements in the draft: for one, the powers to investigate and prosecute were not there in earlier drafts. He also disagrees with Team Anna when they say that the higher judiciary or whistle-blowers' protection should be brought under lokpal.

"Lokpal should not turn into a Frankenstein's monster," he said.

Sharma's campaign re-started this Saturday with a list of demands shot off to the prime minister and the Congress president, requesting clarification of their stance within a month. "If that doesn't happen we will go on a fast," he says. Unlike Hazare, who wants the Lokpal Bill approved by Parliament by August 15, Sharma will seek a reply from the government, which is a citizen's right.

Before the protests come to a head, in a mark of good sportsmanship, Sharma wishes Team Anna success.

First Published: Jul 02, 2011 22:40 IST

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