Gandhian Anna Hazare begins fast-unto-death on Lokpal Bill
Many other activists join Hazare in New Delhi seeking a stong legislation for the office of a powerful ombudsman
Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and many civil rights activists began a campaign for a strong law against corruption at high places on 5 April. Hazare started the campaign with an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, after paying homage to Mahatama Gandhi at his memorial at Rajghat.
Just before starting the fast, Hazare made an offer to the union government, asking it to involve prominent citizens and intellectuals in drafting a Lokpal Bill to effectively deal with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. His offer came in response to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) expressing disappointment on 5 April over Hazare insisting on a Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by activists. The PMO argued that there has to be a 'give and take' in accordance with democratic traditions.
Hazare was quite critical of the government. He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hoodwinked him into cancelling an earlier decision to go on fast by agreeing to just one meeting with activists on 7 March. "The Prime Minister says we trust you. We respect you. But, why did the PM not sit with us even once after the meeting last month?” he asked.
Hazare and other activists are demanding that the government form a joint committee comprising officials, activists and intellectuals to draft a Jan Lokpal Bill. The activists have argued that the Bill the government wants to push in Parliament envisages a toothless authority with no real powers to punish the corrupt.
Common people joined the campaign in large numbers. Many former bureaucrats and social activists, like former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and social activist Swami Agnivesh, also joined Hazare, while similar fasts began in Mumbai and a score of other cities and towns across India.
The activists demanded that the committee to draft a Bill should include eminent civil society members like Shanti Bhushan, Santosh Hegde, Kiran Bedi, and Prashant Bhushan. Former bureaucrat and an advocate of transparency in governance Arvind Kejriwal said, “It is absurd and an insult to the people of the country that a group of corrupt ministers are drafting the Lokpal Bill. If the government doesn’t set up a joint committee, we will lay down our lives here.”
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has welcomed Hazare’s fast, as it comes on the eve of its nationwide, two-month-long movement against corruption. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad appealed to Hazare to end his fast and asked the government to undertake a dialogue with the activists on a Jan Lokpal Bill and call an all-party meeting in this regard. He said there should be no further delay in enacting the Lokpal Act as an instrument of credible and effective action against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
The Janata Dal (United) has also supported the cause. Its president Sharad Yadav turned up at the venue of the fast and said he would try to push the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament.
Iftikhar Gilani contributed to the story.
Vijay Kumar is a Correspondent with Tehelka.com.