Hazare begins fast, draws support from BJP, JDU

New Delhi: Ignoring Prime Minister`s appeal, veteran social activist Anna Hazare today began a fast-unto- death here to press for a comprehensive anti-corruption bill to give wider powers to the Ombudsman, a demand supported by BJP and JD(U).

Joined by scores of people including reformist Swami Agnivesh, former IPS officer and activist Kiran Bedi and Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey, 72-year-old Hazare began his hunger strike at Jantar Mantar after paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at his samadhi at Rajghat.

In his home state Maharashtra, anti-graft groups and activists too rooted for the cause with protesters taking to streets in Mumbai.

"I will observe fast-unto-death till the government agrees to form a joint committee comprising 50 per cent officials and the remaining citizens and intellectuals to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill," Hazare said here.

Hazare went ahead with his agitation despite an appeal last night from the Prime Minister`s Office which expressed disappointment over his decision to go on fast unto death.

Requesting Hazare to heed the PMO`s appeal and engage in a discussion which could lead to enactment of a comprehensive legislation, the Congress described his agitation as "unnecessary" and "premature". It said the government had constituted a panel headed by Defence Minister A K Antony to go into the issue.

"Prime Minister has already constituted a sub-committee headed by Antony….. When the process was already on, then adopting such a path is perhaps not appropriate, probably unnecessary. We respect Hazare very much …. The path he has adopted is premature," party spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters.

Noting that the PMO has appropriately articulated its disappointment over Hazare`s course of action, he said in a democracy, "there is enough scope that if any constructive suggestion comes, amendments can be moved."

From Rajghat, Hazare proceeded to India Gate in an open jeep where tricolour waving supporters were present.

Appealing to Hazare to end his fast over the Lokpal Bill, the BJP asked the government to incorporate necessary changes in the proposed anti-corruption legislation so that it is more effective, and "not make it a prestige issue".

"The Lokpal Bill should become an effective and credible instrument for fighting corruption among bureaucrats and those in power…. The entire country is today waiting for effective action against the cancer of corruption. The wish of the people should be respected," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The principal opposition demanded that the Centre convene an all-party meeting to discuss the `Jan Lokpal Bill` issue.

"The Lokpal Bill has to be credible. Many good suggestions can be incorporated. Government should not make it a prestige issue," Prasad said.

Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav, who was present to show solidarity with Hazare, said he was convinced that the Jan Lokpal Bill was the need of the hour to tackle corruption in the country and said he was ready "to back it in Parliament".

"Just as Election Commission and Supreme Court are effective bodies, similarly an institution which is to fight corruption has to be equally powerful," Yadav said

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi also lent his support to Hazare.

"I lend personal support to Hazare and other activists for a comprehensive Lokpal bill for uprooting corruption," Modi told reporters on the sidelines of his `Janata Darbar` programme in Patna.

The PMO release last night said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has enormous respect for Hazare and his mission.

"The Prime Minister says we trust you (Hazare), we respect you. But, then why did the PM not sit with us even once after the meeting last month," Hazare said.

The anti-corruption crusader said he was disappointed after Prime Minister had in the last meeting with social activists over the proposed law to tackle corruption rejected their demand for a joint committee.

"If the government alone drafts this bill, it will be autocratic not democratic, there will be discrepancies," Hazare, who has observed fast to protest against corruption many times in the past too, said.

During `Gudi Padwa` celebrations in Hazare`s village Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district, villagers displayed their support by putting up black clothes in on their `gudis` as a mark of protest against government.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and MPCC president Manikrao Thakre too asked Hazare to call off his fast.

Activists of the `India Against Corruption` movement began a fast at Azad Maidan in Mumbai, to support Hazare.

A rally of around 100 cars and bikes was organised from Shivaji Park in central Mumbai to Azad Maidan this morning, as a part of the protest.

"Several people have pledged their support via text messages and e-mails. Others are fasting at their homes or offices," Mayank Gandhi of NGO Jagrut Nagrik Manch, claimed.

In Delhi, Hazare`s supporters held banners demanding enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill at the earliest and claimed that at least six lakh people had vouched their support to the anti-corruption drive by signing a letter.

"All the activists present here would be on a day-long hunger strike, but, Hazareji, would continue his fast till the government agrees," Kiran Bedi, also a Magsaysay award winner, told the gathering.

She urged people across the country to join Hazare in this "crucial demand" for an effective anti-corruption legislation and said all citizens should observe a day-long fast.

"We need bodies like the Lokayukta to stem corruption at state-level. We all know what is the condition of the only one that is presently functional… in Karnataka. He is fighting a battle himself," Bedi said.