New Delhi: Anna Hazare, on a day-long fast Sunday, set a 2014 deadline — when general elections are scheduled — for an all-powerful anti-corruption watchdog and threatened to launch a court arrest stir in August if the government doesn’t act against corrupt ministers.
A large gathering of his supporters — 2,000 according to police estimates — had converged at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital to rally behind Hazare during the fast protest, his fifth since last year.
The day-long token fast, according to Hazare, was to draw attention to the lack of government protection to whistle blowers who expose graft in government offices.
The agitation began with a short film screening on the whistleblowers — some of them government officials — who have been killed during their fight against corruption over the last few years.
Hazare said the government has failed to protect the whistleblowers.
“The people who are fighting against corruption and have given their lives, the government is not doing anything to protect them,” he told reporters.
“Twenty-five people are dead… Their (whistleblowers’) mothers, their children, their fathers, their wives are crying for justice. But the government is not listening to the cries of people. The government has turned deaf and dumb.”
Family members and parents of some of the dead whistleblowers, including that of Madhya Pradesh police officer Narendra Kumar who was allegedly murdered by mining mafia, were also present at the fast venue.
The septuagenarian social activist has been asking the government to pass in parliament the Jan Lokpal bill with a stronger whistle-blower protection provision.
The government has already passed in the Lok Sabha its Lokpal bill which Hazare and his team have trashed as weak with loopholes that would help corrupt to get away with their crimes.
The Lokpal bill is pending before the Rajya Sabha and is likely to be taken up again in the ongoing budget session.
Minutes before breaking his fast, Hazare alleged that the “government’s intentions are not clear and that is why they are not serious on the Lokpal bill”.
“There will be a big struggle. Then the government will listen. The government will be forced to introduce the Jan Lokpal bill,” he thundered with a stern message: “Introduce the bill or go in 2014.”
He also warned of a nationwide court arrest agitation if cases were not filed against ministers involved in corruption.
“By August, if FIRs are not filed against tainted ministers, then be ready for a jail bharo andolan.”
He also demanded that the “Right to Reject” candidates in elections should be allowed.
He also demanded that voters should have the right to reject any candidate to curb what he said “goondas’ election to parliament”.
“We were requesting the government to bring the right to reject. This is important,” he said.
He urged his supporters to wake up for a renewed movement. “We don’t have to sleep now. We have slept enough.”
In Delhi’s Janatar Mantar, the septuagenarian in August last year held a 12-day fast that galvanised a nationwide support for him.
Hazare returned to the national capital for the agitation which comes months after his failed attempt to gather crowds in Mumbai in December last year when he had call off his protest at Azad Maidan there, citing ill-health.
Buoyed by Hazare and his crowd, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to target the government on corruption saying it was “not serious” about the anti-graft Lokpal bill.
“The government is not serious and honest about passing a strong Lokpal bill. So, whether it is Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev, they feel the need to fast again,” BJP leader Balbir Punj said.
The Congress said the Indian government is committed to a strong Lokpal bill but it is for the parliament to make the law.
But the ruling party seemed not perturbed by the Hazare protest. “The government is committed to a strong Lokpal but it is for the parliament to decide what kind of law has to be made,” spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.