Anti-corruption Anna Hazare held his daylong fast at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Sunday over the issue of a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill. And, for a change, it was attended by leaders of India’s major political parties (although the Congress stayed away).
One highlight of the day was that opposition leaders from parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam and the Shiromani Akali Dal offered their views on the bill, and assured Hazare that parliament would be passing a strong piece of legislation. However, they also advised him not to expect all points of his Jan Lokpal Bill to get through.
Hazare ended his fast with a long, aggressive speech that took potshots at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. According to IBN Live, Hazare called the prime minister “weak and powerless” and singled out Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram for allegedly conspiring to put down his movement and for throwing him in Tihar Jail. He also lashed out, again, at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, accusing him of pressuring the parliamentary standing committee to dilute the Lokpal Bill’s provisions.
“Rahul Gandhi is a young man. I have nothing against him. He dreams of becoming prime minister, but he has to do a lot for that,” NDTV reported Hazare as saying. “He has to make sacrifices. It’s not enough to spend a night in a hut. He must spend many nights in a hut.”
The 74-year-old crusader also made a strong pitch for the decentralizing power by empowering village panchayats (councils). He said panchayats are superior to parliament and state assemblies and that parliament and state assemblies have no right to take a decision with respect to a village without obtaining the express permission of the village panchayat. In addition, he told his supporters that he had written a letter to Singh demanding that all donations to political parties, even a single rupee, should be audited.
Hazare threatened to intensify his anti-corruption protests by risking arrest if the government failed to do what he is asking, adding that it was up to the government to ensure that he doesn’t have to restart his agitation from December 27, as settled on by Team Anna.
“We will take this agitation into the new year,” he said. “It will be such a new year that our country has not witnessed for the last 64 years.”
The BJP point of view, as articulated by Arun Jaitley, was significant. Jaitley was at complete variance with Team Anna on the issue of putting the Central Bureau of Investigation under Lokpal, a demand that Hazare has been extremely vocal about. Still, the BJP leader advocated the need for freeing the CBI’s investigative powers from government supervision.