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. (Forum: Will Anna's 2nd fast galvanize India again?)
The activists who are supporting him shared why. The government "has turned the Lokpal Bill into a Jokepal Bill," said Arvind Kejriwal. (Read: What is Jan Lokpal Bill, why it's important)
Today's announcements come after the government said that two drafts of the Lokpal Bill - intended as the basis of a tough new law against corruption - will be prepared, one by Mr Hazare's team and the other by senior ministers.
Mr Hazare warned that activists like him are ready to start a new round of countrywide protests and "face lathicharge or bullets if necessary."
The government reacted sternly with a lengthy press conference by three of the five senior ministers meant to be working with Mr Hazare's team on the Bill. Mr Kejriwal had suggested that the government wants to kill the Lokpal Bill. "The bill will not be killed...it's the activists' version that may be stillborn," said Salman Khursheed, Minister for Corporate Affairs. He was flanked by Education Minister Kapil Sibal and Home Minister P Chidambaram. "Is fasting the way to draft a law?" asked Mr Chidambaram.
In April, Jantar Mantar became the base camp for lakhs of Indians who supported Mr Hazare as he fasted for nearly a week. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare?)
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, including Mr Kejriwal, formed one half of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee; five senior ministers formed the other. (Read: Anna Hazare breaks fast, unites India)
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 could be sent to the Cabinet for review. Not by choice, says the government. The trio of ministers said today that at meetings, they find themselves in agreement with civil society activists over some points of the new Bill. But in public, they alleged, the activists speak only of a huge rift. Mr Sibal also repeated a complaint he has made earlier - that Team Hazare uses inappropriate language when criticizing the ministers it's dealing with. "We showed restraint right from the beginning...to not have tu tu main main... We decided to be patient ...because for us, the bill was very important," said Mr Khursheed.
But the chasm is not just over the larger features of the Lokpal Bill - like whether it should apply to the Prime Minister and senior judges. It's the heart of the matter- like who should appoint the 11 members of the Lokpal and what sort of resources the committee would have - that has become a sticking point. The activists want the Lokpal to have an independent team of administrative and investigative officers that can look into complaints of corruption at the local level. The ministers want the Lokpal to function as an advisory body to the government - and they want its 11 members to be nominated by the government.
"Nowhere in the world does an ombudsman have the kind of powers and structure that we are being asked to provide," said Mr Khursheed.
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.
The mistrust between the two sides, never a secret, was on belligerent display again. Activists have demanded that the government share audio recordings of the meeting held so far by the Drafting Committee. "What will they do with it?" asked Mr Sibal. "Do they want to play it on a channel and then castigate us on what comments ministers are making...to make a splash in the media?"