Hazare stares at victory, government bends over Lokpal

August 25th, 2011 - 10:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Anna Hazare New Delhi, Aug 25 (IANS) A 10-day standoff over a strong anti-corruption law appeared heading towards a resolution with indications that Anna Hazare might call off his fast Friday after the government agreed to his demand that the Jan Lokpal Bill be debated in parliament.

The virtual climbdown by the government came Thursday after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an emotive appeal to Hazare to end his hunger strike in view of his failing health but the 74-year-old activist declined unless parliament discussed three key issues.

These, he said to cheering supporters at the Ramlila ground, included covering the lower bureaucracy in any Lokpal, setting up Lokayuktas in the states, and framing Citizen’s Charters for all government departments.

With a defiant Hazare sticking to his stand and tens of thousands continuing solidarity protests in the country, the government had to bend, triggering premature celebrations at the Ramlila ground.

Congres leader and Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh declared after meeting Hazare and then the prime minister: “The government has agreed to all three sticking points.”

Law Minister Salman Khurshid added that the Lok Sabha will Friday debate Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill and similar bills aimed at putting in place an effective mechanism to root out mounting corruption.

With Hazare’s fast entering a worrying 10th day, Manmohan Singh made an emotive appeal to him to give up the hunger strike saying he had more than proved his point. Hazare has sipped only water since Aug 16.

“I respect his idealism, I respect him as an individual… I applaud him, I salute him,” Manmohan Singh said in the Lok Sabha as former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde warned of chaos if anything happened to Hazare.

“He (Hazare) has become the embodiment of our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption,” Manmohan Singh said in a rare public tribute. “His life is much too precious and I would urge Hazare to end his fast.”

His appeal was immediately echoed by opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.

The statement from Manmohan Singh, prime minister since 2004, seemed to indicate that his government and the Congress party were aware of the huge political dent caused by the Hazare fast.

In response, Hazare maintained he would call off his fast only if the ruling party and the opposition agreed on the issues he wanted parliament to discuss.

“Till then I will not give up my hunger strike,” he declared to a roar from the crowd. “They (government) are cheats. We should not get cheated.”

Hazare confidant Arvind Kejriwal earlier called upon the Hazare supporters to march to Delhi from all over India if the government remained adamant beyond Friday.

“In that case people should come (to Delhi) in lakhs,” he said. Some 2,000 farmers from Uttar Pradesh have set out for Delhi, a farmers union said.

Team Anna also called for demonstrations outside the prime minister’s house, forcing authorities to quickly shut down four Delhi Metro stations in the vicinity.

Security was beefed up after some 50 people did turn up close to the house waving Indian flags and shouting slogans against the government. It was the third such protest in two days.

With Congress president Sonia Gandhi also appealing from the US to Hazare, her son and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi expressed concern over the Lokpal logjam.

Gandhi met the prime minister, whose day was packed with meetings with senior ministers and Congress leaders to find out ways to end the campaign by Hazare that has galvanized tens of thousands.

The BJP, after initial reluctance, announced its support to the Team Anna Lokpal bill that advocates sweeping measures to battle corruption.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari also urged Hazare — who remains mentally strong while looking physically feeble — to give up his hunger strike “in the country’s interest”.

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