Veteran social activist Anna Hazare on Saturday broke his fast after over 90 hours of spearheading the campaign against corruption after government issued a gazette notification constituting a 10-member joint committee of ministers and civil society activists, including him, to draft an effective Lokpal Bill.
After a last-minute twist almost derailed a peace deal between Anna Hazare and the government, the Gandhian on Friday announced that he would call off his fast on Saturday morning with official negotiators accepting all his conditions.
Hazare first helped supporters break their fast before ending it himself. Thousands were waiting for Anna Hazare to break his fast. The 72-year-old took a few sips of juice offered to him by a little girl. Loud cheers erupted and the strains of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn “Raghupati Raghava Raja” filled the air.
Social activists Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar and Kiran Bedi hailed Hazare’s campaign as the Gandhian said he would to continue the fight for the “second struggle for independence”.
Hazare, who began his fast Tuesday morning, congratulated the people for the success of the movement that saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issue a statement promising that the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill, with more teeth to effectively counter corruption in public life, would be introduced this July in the Monsoon session of Parliament.
Terming the movement a second freedom struggle, he said the system had to be changed. “We have got a lot of strength from the people,” the former soldier said, adding that there would be further revolutions on other issues confronting India.
“We have to keep our unity intact,” he said. He said what was significant was that this movement had no religion. The youth were at the forefront of this campaign, he said.
The notification by the Ministry of Law and Justice said the Joint Drafting Committee to prepare a draft of the Lokpal Bill will have five ministers from the government and five nominees of Hazare, including himself.
The five ministers are finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, chairperson, home minister P Chidambaram, law minister Veerappa Moily (convenor), HRD minister Kapil Sibal and water resources minister Salman Khurshid.
The civil society will be represented by Hazare, former Supreme Court judge N Santosh Hegde, former law minister Shanti Bhushan (co-Ccairperson), lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.
The notification said the Joint Drafting Committee will commence work forthwith evolving its own procedure to prepare the proposed legislation. The committee shall complete its work latest by June 30, it said.
For civil society protesters who had laid siege to Jantar Mantar, where Hazare had been on fast for the last four days, it was a decisive victory. After holding out over a formal notification of a joint committee of activists and ministers, the Centre on Friday agreed to issue a government order that was accepted by activists. Besides a joint panel with a 50:50 ministerial-activist composition, the Centre accepted Hazare’s offer of the committee being co-chaired. This is the only compromise the activists agreed to after the Centre said it would concede the chair to Hazare’s group but no minister would be on it. Hazare said the co-chair formula was a middle path as he was keen that ministers be on the panel. “Ministers will give the panel more weight, it will make the government more receptive to agreeing to the draft the committee draws up,” Hazare explained.
But it was not all smooth sailing. Before Hazare told his supporters, “You will be happy with what the government has agreed to…ye janata ki badi jeet hui (this is a big victory for the people),” there were a few missteps. The deal that looked so tantalizingly close seemed to slip away. After the 6 pm meeting on Friday with HRD minister Kapil Sibal, minority affairs minister Salman Khursheed and law minister Veerappa Moily, Swami Agnivesh said an announcement would be made at Jantar Mantar by the Gandhian.
“You will be happy,” he said. But at ground zero, backstage discussions seemed to stretch on forever before Hazare surprised the crowd by saying that he was still on fast and awaiting a draft.
Official sources said the draft agreement had been cleared by Hazare. But there were divisions in his camp, preventing him from calling off his fast. “The government has accepted all the conditions. It agreed that an official notification would be issued once he said his fast was over,” a source said.
A Hazare group leader saw things the other way around. The Gandhian’s breaking his fast, he said, was contingent on a satisfactory government order being issued. He said once the activists were satisfied that the terms agreed to had been honoured, the agitation would be over. Some activists in the Hazare camp have been insistent on a notification.
But after the thrills and some near spills, the surging crowd at Jantar Mantar and India Gate left no doubt about how the match had gone. Civil society had won hands down. It looked like an innings defeat for the government which had only on Monday frostily expressed its “disappointment” at Hazare’s decision to fast and dismissed the stir as saffron inspired.
Hazare’s handsome victory seems a significant political milestone, marking the impact of popular opinion in a media-influenced age. It is the culmination of a string of corruption scams that placed graft at the political centrestage. It saw the ruling party worrying about a “JP-type” stir that turned tables on Indira Gandhi in the 70s.
As has been the case in the past, the turning point came with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s intervention on Thursday and her backing the demand for a strong anti-corruption law. On Friday, the peace moves gathered momentum after a meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence attended by Sonia. Soon, it was evident that the government was preparing to cut its losses and “stoop to conquer”, as an official source put it. This saw Sibal telling the media that the government and civil society were on the same page and “this is a happy day for us. I express my gratitude to Annaji”.