New Delhi: Surrounded by thousands of supporters at Delhi's Jantar Mantar, activist Anna Hazare, still on a hunger strike and his right wrist full of raakhis, made two important announcements on Thursday. He said his aides want feedback within 48 hours on whether they should form a political party. He also said that their fast will end today at 5 pm. (Vote: Should Team Anna join politics?)
"There is nothing wrong with forming a party...we need to provide an alternative to the people," the 75-year-old said, sharing that the public's interest has to be safeguarded. His camp was filled to capacity; around him, a sea of flags waved.
The movement he fronts, India Against Corruption (IAC), has launched a referendum on Twitter and on its website about what sort of role it should play now. <a href="http://www.indiaagainstcorruption.com/f37/should-team-anna-jump-into-politics-13741" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">See forum</a>
The government, which has long accused the activists of trying to dictate terms to a democratically-elected Parliament, said Team Anna has always been power-hungry and must contest elections to prove its claim of representing the will of the people.
Cabinet Minister and Congress leader Ambika Soni pointed out that joining the political process is an arduous task. "Some of us always felt they were always inching towards active politics. They'll understand obligations and constraints," she said. (What politicians say)
Earlier on Thursday, a group of prominent citizens including Justice Santosh Hegde and former Army Chief General VK Singh wrote to Anna, urging him to end his fast and focus on giving people a political alternative. "The ongoing fast represents a voice of conscience... the political establishment has not cared to listen, leave alone to respond, to this voice," their letter says, urging Anna and his associates to "form an alternative political force." (Read letter)
Anna has been fasting since Sunday; his aides, Arvind Kejriwal, Gopal Rai and Manish Sisodia, have not eaten in nine days.
Anna's critics say that the decision to end the hunger strike to formalise the activists' political strategy is a much-needed exit from an unsuccessful stand-off with the government. This time around, ministers said the concerns about Team Anna's health would prompt no appeals to end the fast or offers for talks. After nine days without any food and worrying medical reports, the activists had to end their strike without appearing to be defeated.
In an interview to NDTV last month, Anna had said he would not contest elections but said that if his aides decided to enter politics, he would evaluate their ability to serve as MPs and then decide whether to support them.
This protest camp and hunger strike was organised by India Against Corruption to demand the immediate introduction of a new law against graft, based on the Lokpal Bill. Through a series of fasts last year - one of which lasted 16 days - Anna has raised the awareness of the Lokpal Bill across the country. The proposed legislation is named for the national ombudsman agency that it births, with the powers to investigate and prosecute corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
The government says it has done its job by bringing the bill to Parliament - it was passed by the Lok Sabha in December, but has been held up in the Rajya Sabha since then. Ministers say they are committed to pushing the legislation through, but timelines cannot be forced by activists using hunger strikes as blackmail.(Track live updates)