Wednesday, April 6, 2011

People are maalik, Govt is sevak: Hazare




In a five-point letter to the Prime Minister, veteran activist and Gandhian Anna Hazare has explained why he is continuing with the hunger fast that the government has asked him to re-consider. Mr Hazare began his hunger strike on Tuesday, and says he will not eat or drink till the government proves its commitment to fighting corruption with a powerful new law - the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill). (Read: What is the Jan Lokpal Bill, why it's important)

Mr Hazare is clear that his agenda is not just to push for the bill, but to ensure that it is not drafted by the government alone - this, he says, would be undemocratic and would allow politicians to provide far too many loopholes to let themselves off the hook. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare)

"I have just sent a letter to the Prime Minister. I request the Prime Minister that the Lokpal bill is the right of the public, it's not a favour to them. You are sevaks, the people are the maaliks," the 72-year-old said. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare)

He also said that while different ministers have said that they had appealed to Mr Hazare to give them some more time to consider his demands, "62 years after independence, we still do not have independent and effective anti‐corruption systems. Very weak versions of Lokpal Bill were presented in Parliament eight times in last 42 years. Even these weak versions were not passed by Parliament."

And then Mr Hazare summarizes why his movement has captured the imagination and support of Indians at home and abroad. "At a time, when the country has witnessed scams of unprecedented scale, the impatience of the entire country is justified," he writes.(Read: Anna's 5-point letter to the Prime Minister)

Mr Hazare also delivers a scathing assessment of the Group of Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister to draft the new Lokpal bill. "You say that your Group of Ministers are drafting the anti‐corruption law. Many of the members of this Group of Ministers have such a shady past that if effective anti-corruption systems had been in place, some of them would have been behind bars," he writes in his note to the PM.

Mr Hazare's call to action - along with a group called India Against Corruption, he is asking people to hold rallies, or fast for as long as they can - is resonating across hundreds of cities, a sombre reflection of a country's disenchantment with the government over corruption. "Let people fill the streets like they did after India won the World Cup," said one young demonstrator.(Watch: Anna's crusaders - Students, housewives)

Mr Hazare, on his part, thanked the youth of the country today for supporting him, and described the nationwide movement demanding action against corruption as "another freedom struggle." (Watch)

What Mr Hazare and other prominent activists want is for the government to ensure that those appointed to investigate corruption charges are free of political influence. They want an institution called the Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in each state. On the group's official website, indiaagainstcorruption.org, they state that these offices, "Like Supreme Court and Election Commission... will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations." (Read: Why Hazare, Others oppose Lokpal Bill 2010)

Mr Hazare says from how these officials would be selected, to their ability to accept complaints directly from the public, and then lodge police cases, the Lokpal and Lokayukta must be empowered much more than what the government has offered.

To ensure this, Mr Hazare wants civil society to be represented on the committee that drafts the Lokpal Bill. The government has said that while it values Mr Hazare's commitment and suggestions, legislation is the business of Parliament. The Prime Minister's Office tried unsuccessfully on Monday night to persuade Mr Hazare to cancel his fast. On Tuesday, as he launched his strike, spin-off demonstrations pulled in big crowds in cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore. (See Pictures | Comment: What should India do to fight corruption?)

On Wednesday, Kapil Sibal, a minister who is part of a "sub-group" of ministers dealing with the Lokpal bill, said that Mr Hazare had been reassured that his request would be given the government's full attention. "We are open to all suggestions...but we were asked to commit that in principle, a joint committee will function. We were told that this must be done before April 5," he said. "We said we are a subgroup and we are not empowered to commit to this...so we need more time...and we will present this to a Group of Ministers (GoM) who will take a decision. So we requested that sometime be given to the government to deal with these issues. Civil society should have confidence in the government. We are deeply concerned with the issue of corruption." (Watch)

Mr Hazare doesn't accept these explanations. He said on Wednesday morning that "If the government were serious about fighting corruption, why are there so many delays in getting to work on it?