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Parliament accepts Anna’s demands

Gandhian to end fast today

New Delhi: After 12 days of fasting that ignited unprecedented protests across India, a triumphant Anna Hazare declared on Saturday night that he will end his protest at 10 am on Sunday after parliament took the first step towards framing a strong anti-corruption legislation.

The announcement that electrified the thousands at the Ramlila ground here came after Hazare was given a letter from Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that said that parliament had accepted the three key demands raised by the social reformer from Maharashtra.

These included — for a strong Lokpal — the setting up of Lokayuktas in states, bringing the lower bureaucracy within the Lokpal’s ambit, and the framing of citizen’s charters in all government departments.

This followed an eight-hour animated debate during a special session of parliament convened in view of the 74-year-old’s fast and failing health.

His health condition only fuelled more protests in major cities and towns, virtually bringing the government to its knees and stunning the political class.

On a day of highs and lows, parliamentarians packed both houses to dissect an issue that had held the nation in thrall since Hazare began his protest on August 16 after he was detained by Delhi Police.

“Parliament has spoken. It is the will of the people,” a smiling Dr Manmohan Singh said after the debate ended at 8 pm.

As the news reached Ramlila Maidan, where Hazare has been fasting amid tens of thousands of people, thanksgiving prayers were conducted for the successful conduct of a movement that has seen few parallels in 64 years of India’s history as an independent nation.

But even as he called for celebrations, the weak but triumphant Hazare warned that only half the battle had been won in the war for a corruption- free India.

“We have won only half the battle,” said Hazare, standing before wildly cheering crowds and flanked by his key aides and cabinet minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, former Maharashtra Chief Minister who delivered the Prime Minister’s letter.

Looking none the worse for his ordeal, Hazare paid tribute to the common people for making the government bend to its demands and said he would end his fast at 10 am on Sunday.

The soldier-turned-activist had vowed to end his protest only if a parliament decision accommodated the three issues – having Lokayuktas in every state, citizen’s charters for government departments and inclusion of lower bureaucracy in the Lokpal’s ambit.

Oscillating between hope and despair, the fluid situation seemed headed towards some solution when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee expressed in the Lok Sabha “a broad sense of the house” that includes an in-principle acceptance of the three demands.

There was neither any resolution nor a voice vote, just desk-thumping by members drawn from all parties. The scenes were replayed in the Rajya Sabha a short while later.

The government and the opposition showed rare unanimity on parliament’s prerogative to make laws, with everyone agreeing on the need for a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) and eradicating corruption.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid gave full marks to Hazare: “A new chapter has been written in Indian history. I congratulate Anna Hazare.” (IANS)

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