New Delhi: Amid stirring strains of Mahatma Gandhi`s favourite hymn Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram and the rousing Vande Mataram played by thousands of slogan chanting supporters, veteran social activist Anna Hazare -- dubbed as the ‘modern day Mahatma’ -- announced on Wednesday that he has no plans to end his fast-unto-death until the government agrees to enact the ‘Jan Lokpal bill’ to fight corruption in public life.
72-year-old Hazare`s fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi found resonance from across the country and also outside. In what has become one of the biggest mass movements in recent times, thousands have come forward to join the crusade against corruption.
According to India Against Corruption, the banner under which the protests are being held, people from 400 cities and towns are participating in the movement.
Addressing the huge public gathering at Jantar Mantar, Hazare termed his struggle for eradicating corruption from the society as “second Satyagraha”, on the lines of the peaceful protest launched by Mahatma Gandhi against the British.
"This is democracy and we want people`s participation in drafting the Lokpal Bill," Hazare told reporters.
“The movement will continue. This is the next independence struggle. After a long struggle lasting from 1857 to 1946, the British were uprooted, but the situation never improved. This independence struggle is aimed to deliver justice to the poor,” he said.
Pointing out that the gap between the haves and have-nots is increasing with each passing day, Hazare added, “The gap between the rich and poor is increasing. Some are living to eat, while others are struggling to eat enough to be able to live.”
The crusader of many such battles appeared enamoured by the support extended to the anti-corruption movement by the youth of the country. He said, “I am happy to see the involvement of youth in the movement and the support of people from across the country.”
Hazare also made it a point to stress that his movement is not against any political party or individual but is against the “mindset” of corruption prevalent in the country.
“Which party is good enough to repose faith in it? Yes, there are good people in all parties. That is why I appeal to everybody that if this struggle succeeds then people from all parties have to come together to save the country,” he said.
Thousands flocked to Jantar Mantar, a short distance from Parliament House, which became a virtual lodestone for all seeking to right governmental wrongs. The gathering included Magsaysay award winners Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Sandeep Pandey.
Students and human rights activists in the evening held a candlelight march.
Thousands more stepped out of their homes in various states to be counted amongst those in this fight. The word has spread vocally and also through social networking sites and SMSes.
As the pressure built up, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar stepped down from the high-powered anti-graft ministerial panel after Hazare criticised his inclusion.
Om Prakash Chautala, Ajit Singh, Madan Lal Khurana and Uma Bharati had to make hasty retreat as protesters said no political party would be allowed to gain mileage from their movement. Similar reports came in from other parts of the country.
Hazare revealed that he has shot off a fresh letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealing him to consider the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill as the right of the people of the country.
In the letter he said he was pained that the government, rather than addressing the issue of corruption, was "misleading" the people over his agitation by trying to allege “conspiracies”.
Responding to criticism that his protest was "premature", Hazare in his letter to PM said he was not that kind of person who could be "instigated" into going on an indefinite fast.
"Dear Manmohan Singhji, this is an insult to my sense of wisdom and intelligence... I take advice from many friends and critics but do what my conscience directs me to do,” he said in the letter.
"It is my experience that when cornered, governments resort to such malicious slandering. I am pained that the government, rather than addressing the issue of corruption, is trying to allege conspiracies when there are none," he added.
Hazare, however, said Singh is a "good man" who is not tainted by corruption. "Remote control se khadbadi hota hai. (The problems are created when a remote control operates),"he said.
Questioning the intent of the government, Hazare said, “The Bill has been pending for more than 40 years. We are also ready for it, but first tell us what the bill is all about. Without that happening it would be cheating on the government’s part. That’s why we are demanding that a joint committee be formed to draft the bill and then it can be presented during the Monsoon Session, we are ready to wait till then.”
On his earlier meeting with the Prime Minister over the Lokpal Bill issue, he said, “I told him (PM) directly that we have trust in you, but do you have the support of your colleagues? If yes, then why has corruption increased over the years?”
He however dismissed Law Minsiter Veerappa Moily’s announcement that the government intends to bring the legislation during the Monsoon Session of Parliament.
The government is trying to extend an olive branch saying it was "certainly not opposed to any of the suggestions".
"We are committed to set up an institutional mechanism to deal with corruption, the Prime Minister is committed, our chairperson Sonia Gandhi is committed, so the party is committed, the government is committed," Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said.
The draft Lokpal Bill 2010 provides for filing complaints of corruption against the Prime Minister, ministers and MPs with the ombudsmen. However, Hazare says the bill in its present form is toothless.
Hazare is demanding enactment of Jan Lokpal bill to give wider powers to the Ombudsman. He is pressing for the formation of a joint committee comprising 50 per cent officials and the remaining being citizens and intellectuals to draft the Bill.
The UPA government, battling a series of corruption allegations, fought the unexpected onslaught and said it was not averse to civil society`s suggestions.
With Agency inputs