India wins again, anna hazare to call off fast today

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Old 09-Apr-2011
India wins again, anna hazare to call off fast today

New Delhi April 9:

After a last-minute twist almost derailed a peace deal between Anna Hazare and the government, the Gandhian announced that he would call off his fast at 10am on Saturday with official negotiators accepting all his conditions.

Civil society protesters laying siege to Jantar Mantar, where Hazare has been on fast for the last four days, won a decisive battle. After holding out over a formal notification of a joint committee of activists and ministers, the Centre agreed to issue a government order that was accepted by activists. Besides a joint panel with a 50:50 ministerial-activist composition, the Centre accepted Hazare's offer of the committee being co-chaired.

This is the only compromise the activists agreed to after the Centre said it would concede the chair to Hazare's group but no minister would be on it. Hazare said the co-chair formula was a middle path as he was keen that ministers be on the panel. "Ministers will give the panel more weight, it will make the government more receptive to agreeing to the draft the committee draws up," Hazare explained.

But it was not all smooth sailing. Before Hazare told his supporters, "You will be happy with what the government has agreed to...ye janata ki badi jeet hui (this is a big victory for the people)," there were a few missteps. The deal that looked so tantalizingly close seemed to slip away. After the 6 pm meeting with HRD minister Kapil Sibal, minority affairs minister Salman Khursheed and law minister Veerappa Moily, Swami Agnivesh said an announcement would be made at Jantar Mantar by the Gandhian.

"You will be happy," he said. But at ground zero, backstage discussions seemed to stretch on forever before Hazare surprised the crowd by saying that he was still on fast and awaiting a draft. Official sources said the draft agreement had been cleared by Hazare. But there were divisions in his camp, preventing him from calling off his fast. "The government has accepted all the conditions. It agreed that an official notification will be issued once he says his fast is over," a source said.

A Hazare group leader saw things the other way around. The Gandhian's breaking his fast, he said, was contingent on a satisfactory government order being issued. He said once the activists were satisfied that the terms agreed to had been honoured, the agitation would be over. Some activists in the Hazare camp have been insistent on a notification. From the government side, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to be the co-chair, with other members likely to include Sibal and Moily.

Defence minister A K Antony is also being considered as a member, while Moily will be the convener. The panel could finish its work by June 30. But after the thrills and some near spills, the surging crowd at Jantar Mantar and India Gate left no doubt about how the match had gone. Civil society had won hands down. It looked like an innings defeat for the government which had only on Monday frostily expressed its "disappointment" at Hazare's decision to fast and dismissed the stir as saffron inspired.

Hazare's handsome victory seems a significant political milestone, marking the impact of popular opinion in a media-influenced age. It is the culmination of a string of corruption scams that placed graft at the political centrestage. It saw the ruling party worrying about a "JP-type" stir that turned tables on Indira Gandhi in the 70s. As has been the case in the past, the turning point came with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's intervention on Thursday and her backing the demand for a strong anti-corruption law.

The peace moves gathered momentum after a meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence attended by Sonia. Soon, it was evident that the government was preparing to cut its losses and "stoop to conquer", as an official source put it. This saw Sibal telling the media that the government and civil society were on the same page and "this is a happy day for us. I express my gratitude to Annaji".

The official announcement is expected on Saturday as Hazare reacted to urgent messages assuring him that the government was hardly likely to go back on a deal it had arrived at after considerable heartburn. When the government's draft reached Hazare and his group, modifications were demanded. The activists also wanted a clarification that the government side should comprise ministers. After the evening meeting, Sibal and his colleagues went to meet the PM and civil society representatives conferred with Hazare.

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