New Delhi: Anna Hazare, who has become the face of a mass movement named India Against Corruption, has said he will resume his hunger strike at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on August 16.
“It seems that the Jantar Mantar protest that had stopped, will have to be started again,” the 72-year-old Gandhian said today. “It is not in their hearts,” he added, “to build an India free of corruption.” Later in the day he said that activists were preparing to resume their protest and that – in view of the police action at the Ramlila Grounds to dismantle Baba Ramdev’s hunger-strike – were ready “to face lathicharge or bullets if necessary.”
The Congress reacted sternly, in keeping with the new tough line that the government has taken with Mr Hazare and other activists who are working on the Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill). “Four persons don’t represent a civil society of 1.2 billion people,” said Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, referring to Mr Hazare and his four nominees to the drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill.
In April, Jantar Mantar became the base camp for lakhs of Indians who supported Mr Hazare as he fasted for nearly a week. Satellite protests in cities across India stumped the government, which agreed to Mr Hazare’s demands. He wanted a new law against corruption to be enacted, and he wanted activists who represent civil society to formally draft that law. After arguing that legislation was the prerogative of Parliament, the government gave in. Mr Hazare and four activists formed one half of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee; five senior ministers formed the other.
The two sides have not been able to bridge their gap. After the committee’s seventh meeting yesterday, both the government and the activists said they would each draft a version of the Lokpal Bill. For the first time in India’s history, two avatars of the same bill will be sent to the Cabinet for review. Not by choice, says the government. Law Minister Veerappa Moily charged, “Team Anna is not sincere about getting the Lokpal Bill. They are obstructing the war on corruption which has been launched by Sonia Gandhi and the UPA.”
The biggest points of difference – like whether the Prime Minister and senior judges should be covered by the Lokpal Bill – were not even referred to at yesterday’s disastrous meeting. The activists say even basics like who should appoint the 11 members of the Lokpal remain unresolved. Prashant Bhushan, nominated to the drafting committee by Mr Hazare, elaborated on what the activists are unhappy about.
“The government sees the Lokpal (Ombudsman) as an 11-member body with no effective machinery, no investigative machinery working under it …and this 11-member body will take all the decisions on behalf of the Lokpal. They see it only as a body to deal with high-level corruption where these 11 members will decide on these issues. But the Bill we have envisaged will have this 11-member Lokpal at the top which will supervise and administer a full investigative and vigilance machinery which will deal with investigation of corruption at all levels…among all public servants. It will be a completely independent body,” said Prashant Bhushan.
The government says it stands committed to delivering its version of the Lokpal Bill by June 30 – a deadline that was first set by Mr Hazare. The drafting committee will meet again on June 20 – but both teams concede that a compromise is near impossible. NDTV