Veteran social activist Anna Hazare Tuesday began his “fast unto death” in New Delhi for a stronger Lokpal Bill that provides for stringent punishment for corruption, and thousands of people in many cities lent support by launching hunger strikes and taking out rallies.
“This is the second ‘satyagraha’,” said Hazare, who started his fast at Jantar Mantar in the national capital after first paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at the Rajghat memorial.
Hundreds of supporters holding flags and placards calling for a more effective anti-graft Lokpal Bill, thronged the Rajghat and Jantar Mantar as Hazare sat for his fast.
The 72-year-old activist was joined by supporters, including Right To Information (RTI) activist Arind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, Magsaysay Award winners Kiran Bedi and Sandeep Pandey and many others.
According to India Against Corruption, the banner under which the activists have united to fight corruption, over 5,000 people assembled to support the veteran activist at Jantar Mantar, while supporters from over 400 cities and towns joined the campaign from their respective places.
Hazare Monday said he is starting a “fast unto death” to press for the demand to involve civil society in formulation of the anti-graft Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill.
I am going on fast because we want representation from civil society in drafting the Lokpal bill, 50 percent from civil society and 50 percent from government. If the government frames the bill without people’s participation, it will not be democratic, it will be autocratic, Hazare told media Tuesday before starting his fast.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had Monday expressed “deep disappointment” over Hazare’s decision to go ahead with the planned hunger strike, but said he had enormous respect for the social worker and his mission.
Prime Minister says I have faith and respect for you. Why didn’t he sit for discussion even for one day with us after the meeting last month? he asked.
Many cities saw activists coming out in support of Hazare.
In Lucknow, a signature campaign was launched to express support to the anti-corruption crusade. People from all walks of life, including students, teachers, doctors, lawyers and professionals, turned up for the signature campaign, supporting Hazare’s demand for more stringent punishment for corruption than the government draft bill provides for.
In Bangalore, Mahendra Kumar Gandhi, a 51-year-old yoga trainer, started indefinite fast following Hazare. Over 50 others joined him at the Freedom Park in heart of the city.
Protest fast was also observed in Mysore, Mangalore, Udupi, Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, Bellary, Tumkur and other places in Karnataka, Anand Yadwad, a coordinator of the protests, told in Bangalore.
In Mumbai, people took out a rally and joined in cars, on motorbikes and on foot as it moved from Shivaji Park in south-central Mumbai to Azad Maidan in south Mumbai where over 5,000 people gathered in support of Hazare’s campaign, many observing a day-long hunger-strike.
The activists are demanding the government adopt the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by leading legal experts and personalities including Arvind Kejriwal, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
The Jan Lokpal Bill calls for setting up Lokpal and Lokayuktas (in states) independent of government control. In the activists’ version, investigation in any case will have to be completed in one year, and punishment would be a jail term of minimum five years and maximum of life imprisonment.
The government’s version recommends a prison term of minimum six months and maximum seven years as punishment for corruption.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) extended support to Hazare and urged him to end his fast. The party asked the government to incorporate necessary changes in the proposed anti-corruption legislation so that it is more effective, and “not make it a prestige issue.”
“The entire country is today waiting for effective action against the cancer of corruption. The wish of the people should be respected,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said in Delhi.
Janata Dal-United chief Sharad Yadav, who was present to show solidarity with Hazare, said he was convinced that the Jan Lokpal Bill was the need of the hour to tackle corruption in the country.
“Just as the Election Commission and the Supreme Court are effective bodies, similarly an institution which is to fight corruption has to be equally powerful,” Yadav said.
“I approve of the draft prepared by Hazareji and others. I am willing to back it in parliament,” he added.