Anna Hazare breaks fast, unites India

New Delhi:  Social activist Anna Hazare finally ended his hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi today after the government issued a notification constituting a joint committee of ministers and civil society activists to draft an effective Lokpal Bill.

The 72-year-old Gandhian went on a "fast-unto-death" on April 5 demanding that the government introduce a bill to tackle corruption immediately, and that politicians alone not be in charge of drafting that bill. The government has agreed to most of his demands. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare?)

"This victory is a result of your sacrifice," he told his supporters at Jantar Mantar, adding that "this is only the beginning. Our real fight begins now. If the government does not pass Lokpal Bill, I will come back to fight again." (Watch)

Mr Hazare later addressed mediapersons in New Delhi in the evening where he said that the overwhelming support from the people surprised him. He also said that it was not an attempt to blackmail the government and that this is a victory of the people.

People thronged India Gate in New Delhi and held a candle light vigil to mark the victory. There were celebrations in other parts of the country as well. (Watch: Carnival across India)

Cutting across all barriers, Anna's supporters sang and danced. There was a sense of triumph all around.

Before breaking his fast, Mr Hazare also offered water to some of his supporters who had fasted along with him.

It took Mr Hazare almost 98 hours of fasting to accomplish every point of an agenda that seemed preposterously ambitious when the week began. Till India pitched in, expressing its solidarity with rallies around Mr Hazare's cause.  

Earlier this morning, a copy of the notification on the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill was handed over to Mr Hazare's representative Swami Agnivesh, who then gave it to Mr Hazare. (Read: Govt issues notification on Lokpal Bill joint panel)

The government has agreed that the panel that will draft the Lokpal Bill will include five representatives of civil society, including Mr Hazare, and five ministers. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be the Chairman of the panel; and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, who has been picked by Mr Hazare, will be the co-Chairman. (What is Jan Lokpal Bill?)

Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed will be the other government representatives on the panel.

Besides Shanti Bhushan, those representing civil society on the panel will be Anna Hazare himself, eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, retired Supreme Court Judge Santosh Hegde and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.

In a statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the coming together of civil society and government on the Lokpal Bill issue as "a step that augurs well for democracy," saying it signifies the mutual resolve to combat corruption.

On Friday, it was decided that the joint committee will be notified formally with a government order that will explain its term and references, conferring legislative authority upon it. Mr Hazare had said he will break his fast after the order is out; Kapil Sibal had said it will be issued at 10 am on Saturday. But when Swami Agnivesh went to collect the order from Kapil Sibal this morning, he was handed over a copy of the notification on the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill - this was the activists' original demand. "We have got much more than we expected," Swami Agnivesh said, coming out of the minister's residence. (Watch)

While Mr Hazare has his reservations about the title "co-Chairman," he has been assured that the post comes with the same powers and authority as the Chairman's. It was this concern that led to a two-hour delay on Friday between the meeting that negotiated the compromise and Mr Hazare's public announcement to end his fast.

The breakthrough came after Mr Hazare's representatives - Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, and Arvind Kejriwal, all activists in their own right - met with three senior ministers on Friday evening. The government's delegates were Law Minister Veerappa Moily, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and Minorities' Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed.

At two meetings on Friday- in the morning and evening - Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister urged senior ministers to end the impasse.

The government's unprecedented concessions were thrust upon it partly by Sonia Gandhi, who in a statement on Thursday night spelled out her support for Mr Hazare's stand and urged him to end his fast. An equal amount of pressure was applied by lakhs of Indians online and offline, who swapped cynicism for a determination to be the change.

That mood reflected on Friday evening at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, a short drive away from where the ministers were finalising a peace treaty with the activists. Six thousand men, women and children sang "We shall overcome".  A few minutes later, Mr Hazare addressed them, reassuring them that he was in good health. "You are my strength," he said.

For the last few days, Mr Hazare has with these speeches drawn middle class out of its inertia. For every demand that Mr Hazare presented, the government had an equal and opposite reaction. And slowly, it began conceding one point after another, till it was game, set and match for Mr Hazare.

Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said on Friday, "This sets a precedent - it shows how civil society and government can work together. We are happy that we are now ending these days of uncertainty through a resolution in which both sides had confidence in each other."

Mr Sibal expressed hope that the bill would be introduced in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. (Watch)

The government and activists on Friday swapped their drafts of the bill - wide differences have existed between the two versions so far.

Since September last year, India has confronted corruption scams of unprecedented scale.  The list is topped by a telecom swindle that saw 2G spectrum being sold at throwaway prices in 2008 by then Telecom Minister A Raja. He is now in jail. His actions are estimated to have cost the government upto Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. As a series of financial skeletons have tumbled out of the government's closet, public anger has been escalating. The country needed a rallying point, and Mr Hazare provided an inspiring one.

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