Friday, April 8, 2011

Anna Hazare to end his fast on Saturday


After single-handedly provoking a people's revolution, the 72-year-old activist who launched what he calls "India's second freedom struggle" is likely to end his four-day hunger strike tomorrow at 10 am.

The delay over announcement is mainly due to two issues: That Mr Anna Hazare is not happy with wording of Chairman and co-Chairman.

Both posts, however, will have same power.

The Chairman of the committee will be from the government, while the co-Chairman will be from the civil society.

Sources have said that Shanti Bhushan is likely to be the co-Chairman.

It took Anna Hazare over 82 hours of fasting to accomplish every point of an agenda that seemed preposterously ambitious when the week began. Till India pitched in, expressing its solidarity with rallies around Mr Hazare's cause - to force the government to introduce a new tough law to combat corruption, and to ensure that politicians alone are not entrusted with its conception.

So the government has agreed that a committee will be set up with five representatives of civil society, including Mr Hazare, and five ministers. At the head will be two chairmen - a minister and an unelected representative.

The government's unprecedented concessions were thrust upon it partly by Sonia Gandhi, who in a statement last night spelled out her support for his stand and urged him to end his fast. An equal amount of pressure was applied by lakhs of Indians online and offline, who dared the government to ignore the power of a people who swapped cynicism for a determination to be the change.

The turning point came this evening at 6 pm, when Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal met this evening with social activists Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh. At Jantar Manatar in Delhi, a short drive away, 6000 men, women and children sang "We shall overcome". A few minutes later, Mr Hazare addressed them, reassuring them that he was in good health. "You are my strength," he said.

For the last few days, Mr Hazare has with these speeches drawn middle class India Pied-Piper style from cities and small towns into taking on the system. For every demand that Mr Hazare presented, the government had an equal and opposite reaction. And slowly, it began conceding one point after another, till it was game, set and match for Mr Hazare.

So the government will agree to formally notify a committee to draft the Lokpal Bill. This will confer legal authority on the committee, which will be headed by two chairmen - one from civil society, the other a government representative. The committee will have five members who are non-elected representatives, including Mr Hazare.

And the government and activists have swapped their drafts of the bill - wide differences have existed between the two versions so far.

Till this morning, the sticking points were who would chair the committee, and what its legal status would be.

After Mr Hazare said he did not want to be Chairman, activists suggested that former Chief Justice of India JS Verma or retired Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde head the committee. Mr Sibal said this morning that ministers would not be a part of a committee chaired by a non-elected representative. The government also said that it could not sanction Mr Hazare's request for government order on the formation of the committee- an informal announcement would have to suffice. At 5 this evening, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "No government can abdicate its Constitutional responsibility by accepting the impossible condition."

But at two meetings - in the morning and evening - Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister urged senior ministers to end the impasse.

At the same time, in separate letters to Mrs Gandhi and the Prime Minister, Mr Hazare urged them to be more proactive and supportive of the Lokpal Bill.

He urged Sonia Gandhi and her National Advisory Council - set up to interface with civil society and provide legislative and policy inputs - to discuss the "broad content of the Lokpal Bill... and recommend the outcome to the govt." Mr Hazare has urged the Prime Minister to reconsider appointing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the head of the committee to draft the Lokpal Bill. "People are demanding non-political person as chair. I am not interested in this role. I propose Justice Verma or Justice Hedge as chair," he wrote.

Since September last year, India has confronted corruption scams of unprecedented scale. The list is topped by a telecom swindle that saw 2G spectrum being sold at throwaway prices in 2008 by then Telecom Minister A Raja. He is now in jail. His actions are estimated to have cost the government upto Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. As a series of financial skeletons have tumbled out of the government's closet, public anger has been esclating. The country needed a rallying point, and Mr Hazare provided an inspirational one.