Anna Hazare breaks fast; now in Gurgaon hospital and stable

Anna Hazare breaks fast; now in Gurgaon hospital and stable
New Delhi:  After about 290 hours, Anna Hazare ended his hunger strike in Delhi this morning. Two little girls, Ikrah and Simran - the tricolour painted on their cheeks and wearing Anna caps - offered him coconut water and honey to bring up the moment.

The 74-year-old had not eaten in more than 12 days; He has lost 7.5 kgs. Anna Hazare left Ramlila Maidan for hospital and has reached the Medanta Medicity hospital in Gurgaon. Doctors expect him to be in hospital for a couple of days.

Mr Hazare's doctors say he is on a special diet of honey and coconut water and he needs rest. Dr Naresh Trehan, who has been heading a team of doctors monitoring Anna's health for the past 12 days, told NDTV, "... his condition is stable and all vital parameters are fine." (Read)

Before leaving the Ramlila Madan, where he lived and fasted for 10 days, Anna exhorted the thousands of supporters gathered to continue their non-violent fight against corruption, a battle that he said had just begun. "You don't become Anna by wearing the Anna Topi", he said, "You become Anna by practicing my principles." He thanked the people and said the Parliament of the people was supreme.

Anna also called for electoral reforms and said that people should strive for right to recall and right to reject their MPs in case they failed to perform their duties. The Gandhian was often criticised during fortnight-long protest of undermining the principles of democracy and he made a point to say that whatever changes he and his team want, would be done in accordance with the Constitution.

Before Anna broke his fast, his key associate Arvind Kejriwal administered an anti-corruption oath to the people gathered at Ramlila Maidan - the massive ground was full, people were surging ahead and Anna in his first words made repeated appeals to the crowds to be orderly.

Mr Kejriwal also announced that supporters would gather today at 6 pm at India Gate to celebrate the "victory against corruption." (Watch: It is a victory for all Indians, says Anna)

A struggle, crisis, a historic moment

A little over 15 hours before Anna Hazare ended his fast, the Indian Parliament accepted the three demands that were his pre-conditions for ending hunger strike against corruption. These will now form the basis of a new and historic anti-graft legislation.

In the 12 days that he fasted, Anna persuaded thousands to attend his camp in Delhi or march in solidarity in other cities; forced the government to blink first and blink hard; and generated international headlines.

His critics charged him with hijacking democracy; politicians across parties including the Prime Minister have thanked him for forcing attention on the country's frustration with the misuse of public offices, and more importantly, the bribe-giving and taking that governs everyday life. "Anna Hazare has become the embodiment of people's concern and disgust with corruption. I applaud him, I salute him," the PM said in Parliament on Thursday.

Rahul Gandhi's stand on Friday indicated a more wary view of Anna's methods. He thanked Anna for articulating the sentiments of the poor on the issue of corruption, but also warned that democratic processes could not be undermined. "We must not weaken the democratic process which is lengthy and elaborate, but is inclusive and fair," Mr Gandhi said.  A process that was "divorced from democracy sets a dangerous precedent," he added, pointing out that while today it was about corruption, an important issue, "tomorrow you may have protests for something less universally accepted."

Mr Gandhi's stand was shared by many who argued that Anna was misusing his hunger strike to dictate terms on legislation, willfully undermining Parliament. Despite those accusations and recurring concern about his worsening health by doctors assigned to monitor him regularly, Anna held his ground. From Delhi's sprawling Ramlila Maidan, where he drew blockbuster audiences, the Gandhian negotiated from a position of strength. "Anna, tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhaare saath hain (Anna, you fight, we are all with you)" became India's more verbose equivalent of "Yes, we can." Anna's topi or cap was seen on newborns, freedom-fighters and women senior citizens. "I am Anna," declared T-shirts sported by students who skipped college to park themselves at Anna's sit-in.

The Government-Team Anna standoff

Anna's challenge to the government was direct: he would not eat till it introduced his version of a new anti-corruption bill for consideration in Parliament. The Lokpal Bill is named after the agency it mid-wives, which will have nine members with the power to pursue complaints of corruption against public servants. The activist and his advisors, nicknamed Team Anna, wrote off the government's draft as one designed to under-achieve. Team Anna put together its own version, which they titled the Jan Lokpal Bill or People's Lokpal Bill. Not all civil society activists support Anna's draft. Another group led by Aruna Roy has created a third version of the Lokpal Bill.  Still other versions exist.

Anna's critics say the extent of his give diminished his claim of representing a democracy.  His original demand was that only the Jan Lokpal bill should be introduced and accepted by September 8, when this session of Parliament concludes.  The negotiations between his team and the government reflected wild mood swings in the last few weeks. Finally, there were three must-haves that Anna listed as essential for both an effective Lokpal, and for his fast to conclude.  This morning, in Parliament, the government introduced a resolution that accepted the basic principles of those points.

Anna's anti-corruption movement made its first appearance in April, when he fasted for four days demanding that the government introduce a Lokpal Bill. Various versions of the bill had been debated for 62 years. A series of financial scandals conceived and exercised by politicians and bureaucrats suggested the government had been operating in a continuum of corruption. The country was ripe for a new hero who could become its rallying point.

As many have pointed out, the national support for Anna was not centred upon his version of the Lokpal Bill but his war-cry against corruption.   And so as Anna fasted, the streets filled. Stumped, as if it had no suggestion of the people's frustration with graft, the government fumbled, then agreed to Anna's first demands:  that the Lokpal Bill would be introduced before the Monsoon Session of Parliament ended, and that Anna and his team would help write it. 

It was a dangerous precedent, the government stressed, for non-elected representatives to play a formal role in legislation. But the steely force and expanse of the support for Anna forced it to bend. So five ministers were married with Anna and four of his nominees in a drafting committee to write the bill.

The divorce, as expected, was swift and harsh. After private meetings that ended with public accusations, both sides decided to deliver different versions of the Lokpal Bill. Team Anna said the government was obliged to render both versions in Parliament. The government, in a decision that has haunted it since, reduced Anna's version to a footnote and earlier this month, tabled its own draft.  The Opposition, like Anna, questioned the government's decision to exempt the Prime Minister's Office from the purview of the Lokpal. As the BJP's Arun Jaitley said, "Should the world's largest democracy suffer a corrupt PM?"

The last two weeks

Team Anna prepped for battle. It declared Anna would start a new hunger strike on August 16 and asked India to participate in "a second freedom struggle."  The government shot itself repeatedly in the foot to block the protest. Congress members attacked Anna's reputation, party spokesperson Manish Tewari said he was "seeped in corruption from head to toe."

Anna was denied several locations in Delhi for his mass-protest; then he was granted a park where he was told the crowd had to be limited to 5000 people. When he said he would not follow these restrictions, he was arrested on August 16 and moved to Delhi's high-security Tihar Jail, famous once for hosting the most hardened criminals, and more recently, several politicians accused of bare-faced corruption. The government could not have created a worse PR nightmare for itself. Anna announced his fast had begun. Demonstrations began across the country.  Fumbling for an eject button, the government blamed the Delhi Police for arresting Anna; his release was sanctioned the same night.

And then Anna pulled a switcheroo. He refused to leave jail till the government agreed to let him hold his protest without any conditions for how many people could attend or how long he could fast. Ramlila Maidan in Central Delhi was hastily made-over despite the Delhi rain and slush. Four days after he had entered Tihar Jail, Anna emerged, waving from the top of a truck. With close to 2000 people following him, he stopped at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat before arriving to a hero's welcome at his camp on a Friday morning.

That weekend, Anna's drawing power blazed. Unprecedented numbers of people marched from India Gate to Ramlila Maidan. Twice a day, Anna addressed them, always urging them to stay peaceful, and constantly underlining, "Whether I am here or not, you must continue the fight. The torch of revolution has been lit. Don't let anyone extinguish it."

Doctors checked Anna regularly. By Tuesday evening, they said his condition was worrying. The Prime Minister wrote to Anna urging him to end his fast. The government deputed two ministers, Pranab Mukherjee and Salman Khurshid, to talk to Anna's representatives: Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. When the talks headed into vertiginous turf, the Prime Minister finally intervened. 

Widely criticised for refusing to comment or in any way address the nation throughout the crisis, on Thursday, Dr Manmohan Singh finally chose Parliament and a debate on corruption to speak about Anna. After paying tribute to Anna, the Prime Minister offered that Parliament could begin a debate on the Jan Lokpal Bill.   

The government also decided that Anna's aides were part of the problem. So the PM sent a message directly to Anna through Vilasrao Deshmukh. A senior leader from Maharashtra who has also served twice as Chief Minister, Mr Deshmukh has handled Anna's fasts in his home state on six different occasions. The activist and he share a good rapport.  It was agreed that parliament would immediately begin a debate on the Lokpal, and it would focus mainly on Anna's vision of the agency.

Saturday Special

Yesterday morning, a compromise glimmered tantalizingly as Pranab Mukherjee initiated the debate.  The Opposition's Sushma Swaraj delivered a memorable speech which urged MPs to prove to the country that a healthy debate can be conducted without noisy protests or acrimonious exchanges.

Just when it seemed like Anna had what he needed to call off his fast, his associates demanded that the discussion in parliament be followed by a resolution and a vote. The BJP said if that's what it would take to win Anna, it was willing to go along. The Prime Minister consulted with senior ministers and Ms Swaraj as well as LK Advani.  The close coordination between the Opposition and the government on this crucial Saturday was memorable.

That paved the way for a debate and unanimous approval for a resolution accepting Anna's three must-have demands. As Pranab Mukherjee presented the resolution and members of both Houses thumped their desks as one, the Indian Parliament scripted its own bit of history.

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