PM SAYS LOKPAL BILL TO BE INTRODUCED IN MONSOON SESSION
NEW DELHI, APR 9 : Cheered by tens of thousands, Gandhian Anna Hazare Saturday ended five days of fast for a rigorous anti-corruption law after the government met almost all his demands, turning the diminutive soldier-turned-activist into a national hero.
As the clock struck 10.52 a.m., the 73-year-old activist sipped lemon juice from a glass, triggering delirious celebrations at the protest venue in the heart of the city and ending an unparalleled non-political people’s movement against corruption.
It was the culmination of 97 hours when Hazare stayed away from food, sipping only water. The tens of thousands packing the area near the 18th century Jantar Mantar observatory erupted with joy, shouting full-throated nationalist slogans, cheering Hazare, throwing Holi colours and showering rose petals on the man on the rostrum.
“I have broken the fast because the government has fulfilled our demand by issuing this order,” he said, triumphantly flashing the gazette notifying the formation of a 10-member panel that would draft a stringent Lokpal bill to combat corruption in high places. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, criticised for the government’s earlier intransigence, sought to placate hurt feelings.
“The fact that civil society and government have joined hands to evolve a consensus to move this historic legislation augurs well for our democracy. I am pleased that Anna Hazareji has agreed to give up his fast,” Manmohan Singh said. “This (Corruption) is a scourge that confronts all of us. The government intends to introduce the Lokpal Bill in parliament during the monsoon session,” he said in a statement.
According to the notification - a point the government was reluctant to agree to but gave in as the civil society leaders insisted on it - the drafting committee of the Lokpal bill would comprise five ministers and five nominees of Hazare, including himself.
While the ministers are Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, M. Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed, the civil society members are Hazare, former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde, advocates Shanti and Prashant Bhushan and activist Arvind Kejriwal.
The chairperson of the committee is Finance Minister Mukherjee and co-chair Shanti Bhushan. While experts sorted out the legalities, there was exultation all over India where a string of high-profile corruption scandals has caused widespread disgust with the political class.
It was an emotive moment for the many thousands of unlikely activists who said they had been pulled into the country-wide movement because of their desire to see a clean India -- and because corruption affected them all.
In Mumbai, television actor Kunika said overwhelmed was a minor word to describe what she felt. “When the notification came, it was euphoric. I couldn’t stop my tears.”
Similar celebrations broke out in numerous towns and cities where citizens had been rallying in solidarity with Hazare, who in five days became India’s new symbol with his steely resolve to die if a legislation hanging since 1969 was not resurrected.
Shanti Bhushan, former law minister, said he expected the proposed Lokpal Bill to be passed unanimously by parliament in the coming monsoon session. Hazare, who began his activism in rural Maharashtra, gave full credit to what he called was a “people’s victory” to the media and the young. But he warned that many more struggles would have to be waged in the future.
“This is the start of another independence struggle, there is a very long way ahead,” he said, adding that sweeping electoral reforms were also the need of the hour. He also vowed to tour India.
But the hunger strike took its toll. A Hazare press conference scheduled at 5 p.m. was cancelled after his blood pressure shot up.
Hazare, however, did speak to the media at former police officer Kiran Bedi’s house, insisting he had no intention of blackmailing the government and describing fasting the most democratic form of protest.
Indians, he said, were fed up with corruption and this is why people came out in his support in such large numbers. Political parties, which had been shut out of the high-profile campaign, reacted as Hazare’s fast ended.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the new Lokpal Bill should cover politicians and bureaucrats and provide for time-bound action on corruption complaints.
India Inc. too saluted Hazare.
“Corruption in high places is denting India’s image. An effective and empowered office of (ombudsman) will be a significant instrument to curb corruption in the country,” said the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.