The struggle will continue, promised Anna Hazare soon after breaking his 98-hour fast in New Delhi this morning. What persuaded him to eat again was a copy of the gazette notification announcing a joint committee to draft the Lok Pal Bill.
Hazare’s demand for the Bill, which gives an independent ombudsman powers to prosecute ministers, bureaucrats and judges, had drawn spontaneous support from thousands who flocked to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, the seat of Hazare’s fast, and many more on the internet, sparking speculation that it could be India’s Tahrir Square in the making.
The government found itself agreeing to all the three things it had refused earlier: It formed a joint committee, issued a notification on its formation, and agreed to a civil society member as co-chair.
Hazare said the struggle for a committee consisting of civil society and government representatives was over, but there could be more once the Bill was drafted.
“This is just the beginning of the fight against corruption. Our responsibility has now increased,” the 73-year-old social activist said, setting August 15 as the deadline for the passage of the Lok Pal Bill.
His fight would not end with the anti-graft legislation; it would continue for a reform of the electoral system, including a provision for the right to recall elected representatives from the gram panchayat level.
In the morning, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement saying the government would introduce the “historic legislation” in the Monsoon session of Parliament. The Bill has to be drafted by June 30, after which the role of the committee would end.
Hazare would be part of the 10-member committee chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherji and co-chaired by lawyer Shanti Bhushan. The other four civil society members are Arvind Kejriwal, Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan and Swami Agnivesh.
The five government members are Law Minister Veerappa Moily, Home Minister P Chidambaram, HRD and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal and Water Resoures Minister Salman Khursheed, in addition to the finance minister.
“The first meeting is slated for April 16. Of course, it is a tentative schedule as we will have to ensure the availability of members,” said Moily, who is also the committee’s convenor. “We need to work together for a national cause. There are no differences between the government and civil society. The common cause is to bring the Lok Pal Bill.”
The Congress and the UPA Government it leads maintained a straight face, as the anger of the public seemed to be uniformly against all parties.
Maneka Gandhi was booed on the first day, Uma Bharti and Om Prakash Chautala on the second. Placards making fun of Rahul Gandhi could also be seen in the venue of the fast.