New Delhi: Campaigning for a strong Lokpal Bill, close aides of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare have started an indefinite fast today to protest against the government. 75-year-old Anna will also go on a hunger strike from July 29, joining fellow team members like Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai. "The aim is to campaign for a Lokpal Bill... the government is only giving us assurances, but takes no action," Anna said, referring to the anti-graft legislation that has been his movement's raison d'etre.
The activists' camp has been set up at Delhi's Jantar Mantar. This morning, Anna visited Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat before he headed to the sit-in protest.
Anna had been advised by doctors and Mr Kejriwal to skip the hunger strike. As a concession to their request, he said he will join the fast four days after the others.
The activists are protesting against the government's refusal to launch an inquiry against the Prime Minister and 14 senior cabinet ministers, who they have accused of corruption. Team Anna had written to the Prime Minister in June, asking for an independent inquiry against each of the ministers. The PM declined. Among the ministers blacklisted by Team Anna was Pranab Mukherjee, who has been sworn in as the President of India. "As president...he has immunity from an investigation...but we will continue to make people aware of what he has done," said Mr Kejriwal.
Their allegations of graft against the PM and others have provoked much criticism for being unsubstantiated. Mr Kejriwal has said that he is happy to provide the documents that prove otherwise to an independent commission. He repeated today the allegations that had led to a formal censure from parliament in March this year. "If you kidnap, rape, murder, you can become an MP," he said.
Last year, Anna held four hunger strikes - the lengthiest one in August drew enormous public support - to pressure the government to introduce the Lokpal Bill. The legislation is intended to combat corruption among bureaucrats and politicians. It sets up a national ombudsman or Lokpal that will investigate charges of graft. However, the bill which passed the Lok Sabha, did not clear the Rajya Sabha. It is now being studied by a parliamentary committee.
Anna also reiterated charges that ahead of this fast, the government tried to create a rift within his camp. He said that Law Minister Salman Khurshid met him near Pune last month and asked him to keep the meeting confidential. At that session, he said, Mr Khurshid promised that Sonia Gandhi and the PM will look into his demands. But given the government's track record, Team Anna has once again upped the ante against the government just days ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament and on the same day that the new President takes oath of office.