New Delhi: Four days after he launched a fast here that caught the imagination of India, iconic Gandhian leader Anna Hazare Friday night declared "victory" in the campaign for a stringent Lokpal Bill to battle corruption and said he will end his hunger strike Saturday morning.
As tens of thousands gathered at the protest venue in the heart of the city singing and shouting slogans, creating a carnival like atmosphere, the soldier-turned-activist from rural Maharashtra told journalists and cheering supporters that the "people of India have won".
"From the way the government has accepted (our demands), the people of India have won," the visibly pleased 72-year-old said, the roar of men and women almost drowning the electrifying announcement.
"The government is ready, so I am ready," he said, adding that his own protest would end only when the government announced a 10-member team that would draft the Lokpal Bill that has been left hanging since 1969.
The panel would have five members each from the government and the civil society. It would include Hazare as well as Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, who would be the co-chairman, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan.
Shanti Bhushan, a lawyer of repute, climbed on to the stage where Hazare was seated and announced to wild cheers: "Today, the government has had to bend."
He called the moment "the biggest victory of the people after 1977" when the Indira Gandhi-led Congress was voted out of power after the dark days of Emergency.
He said after being intransigent for more than three days, the government had agreed to issue a notification on a joint panel that would draft the Lokpal Bill, accepted all five names from the civil society proposed by Hazare and have it passed in the upcoming monsoon session of parliament.
Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal, who talked to Hazare's aides, announced separately: "This is a happy day for us. It is a victory for democracy."
Friday night's development followed four action-packed days when Hazare's fast ignited an unprecedented mass movement all over the country that drew people from all walks of life -- from the young to the elderly, from rural folks to urban dwellers, from traders to businessmen, and from students to Bollywood.
Hazare was determined to have a stringent Lokpal Bill that could probe corruption in high places including the prime minister, ministers and MPs.
The bill had been pending since it was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1969 but could never get past the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, despite being introduced on nine occasions, the last time in 2008.
With assembly elections underway in five states, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) initially took a tough stand against Hazare but relented as it saw the protest spread rapidly to all parts of India, with scores going on solidarity fast in town after town.
Concerned over the groundswell of protests, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday stepped in to attempt a breakthrough in the stand-off with anti-corruption crusaders.
He held back-to-back meetings with his ministers and Congress leaders including party president Sonia Gandhi, apart from calling on President Pratibha Patil. There were worries that Hazare's 'jail bharo' campaign from April 13 could worsen the situation.
His intervention was necessitated after Sibal's talks with Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal failed.
Amid the continuing deadlock, Hazare refused to relent. He also made it clear that if there were shortcomings in the government draft, he wouldn't break the fast.
In the meantime, support for Hazare swelled. From Delhi to Mumbai and from Kerala to West Bengal, thousands took to the streets hailing a man they likened to a modern day Mahatma.
Sensing the public mood, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh extended support to Hazare. The thousands at the Jantar Mantar protest venue went wild when Delhi Metro chief E. Sreedharan pledged his support to Hazare.
"We will not bow before the government. The massive support we have got from people has made the government realize the importance of the bill and soon they will accept the demand," Hazare thundered earlier Friday.
Bollywood actor Anupam Kher declared Friday night: "It is a victory for billions in India and even abroad. If cricket can bring India together, so can the battle against corruption."
First Published: Saturday, April 09, 2011, 00:25