NEW DELHI, APR 7: His crusade against corruption triggering a virtual tsunami, social reformer Anna Hazare Thursday vowed to fast until death even as Congress president Sonia Gandhi urged him to end his hunger strike saying his demands will get the government’s “full attention”.
Addressing thousands of young and old who continued to pour into the protest venue here, Anna Hazare, who began his fast Tuesday, said he would not eat until the government gave a role to the civil society in drafting a stringent Lokpal bill to battle the cancer of corruption.
“My fast will continue till there is life in my body,” Anna Hazare, sounding firm but looking weak, told a swelling crowd close to the Jantar Mantar monument in the heart of the city.
His assertion ignited emotive cries of ‘Joh kabhi nahi haare, Woh Anna Hazare!’ (One who never gives up is Anna Hazare) and “Bharat Mata ki Jai!”
Cries of Vande Mataram and patriotic songs filled the air. The 72-year-old, a former soldier respected for his integrity, said Indian politicians “need to be trained in democracy”. Anna Hazare’s refusal to back off followed the failure of two rounds of talks Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal held with activists Arvind Kejriwal and Swami Agnivesh.
By evening, Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, stepped in, pleading with the Gandhian to end his protest.
“I am pained by Anna Hazareji’s fast unto death,” she said in a statement. She promised that his demand for a war on corruption would be given “full attention” by the government.
“There can be no two views on the urgent necessity on combating corruption in public life,” she added.
The statement had no effect on Anna Hazare, whose campaign has ignited solidarity rallies all over the country -- from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu and from Gujarat to West Bengal. In a first of its kind, Indians settled in foreign countries also took out protest marches, voicing support to the fasting man.
After his first dialogue Thursday morning, Sibal sounded confident.
“We had a very constructive dialogue. The broad parameters are generally agreed upon... We want Anna Hazare to give up the fast. We believe the civil society and the government should sit together and deal with the problem of corruption through an effective legislation,” he said.
But after more talks, Sibal admitted there was no agreement on the procedure to set up a panel to draft a Lokpal bill. “We need more time and we will be meeting tomorrow (Friday).”
As news of the impasse reached the venue, protesters -- whose numbers have varied from a few hundred to thousands at any given time -- denounced the government for not taking a firm stand against corruption.
In the evening, hundreds holding candles marched to the India Gate for the second straight day.
Doctors said Thursday that the Gandhian’s blood pressure was slightly high. But the feisty leader appeared unperturbed. He addressed the media in the evening and constantly waved to the sea of supporters. But with the sun beating down, some fell unconscious. Doctors at the site quickly attended to them.
Anna Hazare asserted: “I am just a little weak, otherwise am fine... I can continue like this for at least another seven days.” He sipped water frequently.
Political parties voiced support for Anna Hazare but he has refused to let them hijack his movement.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prakash Javedakar said: “The BJP agrees with the essence of the demand and the Gandhian way of protest. That’s why we have supported him.”
In Mumbai, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said that the central government was not scared of the fast but of the “public anger” it has aroused.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist sought “a strong Lokpal authority” to probe corruption charges against public servants and government officials. Bollywood, which normally keeps away from political issues, came out openly in support of Anna Hazare, an iconic figure in Maharashtra.
Bollywood hearthrob Hrithik Roshan tweeted: “I support Anna Hazare. Its TIME to make a CHANGE!”
Director Madhur Bhandarkar met Anna Hazare to tell him that the entire film industry supported his crusade.
Even Gopal Dass, who returned to India Thursday after spending 27 harrowing years in a Pakistani prison, told journalists at the border that India needed Anna Hazare.
“This India is not that of Mahatma Gandhi. This is the India of scams and corruption,” he added.