Thousands join anti-graft crusade as Hazare begins fast (Intro Roundup)

April 5th, 2011 - 11:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, April 5 (IANS) 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 small and big 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 under a pandal by the 18th century masonry observatory a stone’s throw from Parliament House.

A couple of anti-corruption crusaders joined the 72-year-old activist, among them Right To Information (RTI) activist Arind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, Magsaysay Award winners Kiran Bedi and Sandeep Pandey.

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.

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.

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.

In Mumbai, people took out a rally 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 Congress party, however, said Hazare’s hunger-strike was premature.

“When the process was already on, adopting such a path is perhaps not appropriate, probably unnecessary. We respect Hazare very much but the path he has adopted is premature,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said in Delhi Tuesday, referring to the sub-committee formed under Defence Minister A.K. Antony for discussions on the bill.

He urged the social worker to engage in a constructive discussion which could lead to enactment of a more comprehensive legislation.

Tewari said that in a democracy government moves the bill and the parliament enacts it and there is enough scope of incorporating constructive suggestions even through amendments.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) extended support to Hazare but also 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.

“I approve of the draft prepared by Hazareji and others. I am willing to back it in parliament,” he added.

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