Telecom Minister met this evening with social activists Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh. Sources have told NDTV that a committee to draft Lokpal Bill will be formally notified. This committee is likely to have 2 chairmen, one of them from the civil society as activists have been demanding.
At Jantar Manatar in Delhi, a short drive away, 6000 men, women and children sang "We shall overcome" in support of what began as a hunger strike and cascaded into a people's revolution. (Read: Anna's latest letters to PM and Sonia)
Jantar Mantar has become the Ground Zero of this movemet; its icon is Anna Hazare - the 72-year-old Gandhian who went on a "fast-unto-death" on Monday. He has two demands: That the government introduce a bill to tackle corruption immediately, and that politicians alone not be in charge of drafting that bill. Several activists and lakhs of Indians have merged as one umbrella group - India Against Corruption. In cities across the country. Fasts and rallies are held everyday, daring the government to ignore the power of a people earlier desperate and now determined for change.
Mr Hazare spends his days and nights addressing the large crowds that gather before him. His negotiations with the government are conducted via letters (he wrote again to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi today) and through Swami Agnivesh and Mr Kejriwal. In talks yesterday with Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, the activists managed to win a major concession. -the government agreed that a committee to draft the anti-corruption law or Jan Lokpal Bill would have five ministers and five representatives of civil society. The sticking points were who would chair the committee, and what its legal status would be. (What is Jan Lokpal Bill? | Why Hazare opposes it)
Activists first said they wanted Mr Hazare as Chairman. Mr Hazare said he wanted to be a member, not the head. He then suggested that former Chief Justice of India JS Verma or retired Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde be made the Chair. Mr Sibal said this morning that ministers would not be a part of a committee chaired by a non-elected representative.
The government also said that it cannot sanction Mr Hazare's request for a formal notification on the committee - an informal announcement will have to suffice. Activists say that without legal status, the committee will not be taken seriously." But this evening, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "No government can abdicate its Constitutional responsibility by accepting the impossible condition."
This evening, Mr Hazare offered a compromise - two chairmen, one from the government, one from civil society.
He urged Sonia Gandhi and her National Advisory Council - set up to interface with civil society and provide legislative and policy inputs - to discuss the "broad content of the Lokpal Bill...and recommend the outcome to the govt." Mr Hazare has urged the Prime Minister to reconsider appointing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the head of the committee to draft the Lokpal Bill. "People are demanding non-political person as chair. I am not interested in this role. I propose Justice Verma or Justice Hedge as chair," he wrote.
The government says that protocol and precedent must both be weighed. Allowing non-elected representatives to help draft legislation is dangerous, suggested Mr Sibal. And that is why, he said, the committee cannot be formally notified in Parliament. Instead, an announcement would have to suffice. Activists including Mr Hazare say that's not good enough - without legal status, the committee's suggestions will not be taken seriously.
As the government tries to hold its ground, Mr Hazare is being urged by lakhs of Indians across the world not to cede his. Mr Hazare has long used hunger strikes as his tool of protest. But a younger audience of Indians has made his acquaintance through his India Against Corruption campaign. In colleges across the country, students are fasting in solidarity with him. In cities across the country, housewives, executives and schoolchildren are taking the time to join rallies that have a singular agenda - zero-tolerance for corruption. (Watch: Cambridge students join Anna's crusade)
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 risen along with a determination to be the change.
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