Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sonia Gandhi appeals to Anna Hazare to end fast

New Delhi:  "The government is drunk with power and is for the people to make it sober" said Anna Hazare this evening, on the third day of his hunger strike.  Thousands clapped at Jantar Mantar where they had gathered for his latest address.  In cities across India, demonstrations drew larger numbers than ever before.  In Mumbai, students wore caps that said, "I Am Anna Hazare." 

Mr Hazare and a group of social activists have two points on their agenda: they want the government to introduce a new law to serve as "an antibiotic against corruption." And they want representatives of civil society to be part of the committee that drafts the law. Today, the government agreed to that.  But who will head the committee, and its legal status remain points of difference.  (Read: Govt says yes to joint panel, no to Anna Hazare as chairman)

This evening, Congress President Sonia Gandhi urged Mr Hazare to end his fast with this statement:  "There can be no two views on the urgent necessity of combating graft and corruption in public life. I believe that the laws in these matters must be effective and must deliver the desired results. I am sure that Anna Hazare Ji's views will receive the government's full attention as we move forward to fight this menace." (Read: Who is Anna Hazare?)

Since he began his hunger strike on Tuesday, Mr Hazare has become the icon of a nation tired of  discovering how it has been had by the people it elected to power.  The 72-year-old Gandhian said he had no choice but to begin his die-unto-death fast -repeated discussions with the government for a Jan Lokpal Bill  (Citizen's Ombusman Bill) were leading only to more discussion. So Mr Hazare ignored an appeal from the Prime Minister, and began his strike on Tuesday morning, unleashing a people's revolution. (Watch: Govt drunk on corruption, says Anna)

The government seems to have been surprised that Mr Hazare's call to action has resonated so loudly with middle class India.  Young school children, waving the tricolour, attend his rallies with parents or teachers.  Housewives say they are needed more to campaign for the war against corruption than in their homes.   On the internet and on the ground, the support for Mr Hazare is surpassed only by anger and mistrust of politicians. (Read: What is Jan Lokpal Bill? | Why Anna Hazare opposes it)

Last night, the Prime Minister told his senior ministers to engage with Mr Hazare and of social activists who have joined forces with him, largely through an umbrella organization called India Against Corruption. 

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal met with two of Mr Hazare's closest associates this morning-  Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal, known for his initiative in delivering the Right to Information Act to India.

No agreement was reached.  But both sides made major concessions. The activists are now negotiating with one of the ministers they had attacked openly in recent days for ignoring corruption.  And the government has agreed that the committee that drafts the bill will include representatives of civil society.  Mr Sibal explained the differences that for now remain irreconcilable. "There is no agreement on two issues - that is issuing an official notification to form the committee and making Mr Hazare the chairman of the committee. So we need more time and we will meet again tomorrow and see we can evolve a procedure with which we can move  ahead." (Watch: Jaan, dil both belong to India says Hazare)

Activists want the government to issue a formal notification about the committee, conferring legal status.  Mr Sibal and others point out that this would set a dangerous precedent - legislation being opened up to non-elected representatives.   The government has offered instead to announce the committee.   Mr Hazare and others say that's not enough.

The government also says that to have Mr Hazare chairing a committee that includes ministers would be politically incorrect. 

Mr Hazare announced today that while he will not head the committee, he will be a member.

For the millions across India who have now placed their faith in him, that may not be enough.
Source: NDTV Correspondent

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