The campaign waged by hunger striking anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare has captured the imaginations of a large cross section of society.
Mr Hazare’s campaign has turned him from a noted social reformer into a national figure.
He has demanded that, by the end of the month, parliament pass a bill his team has written setting up an anti-graft ombudsman, to oversee every part of government from the serving prime minister and Supreme Court down, holding every government body accountable for corruption and potentially becoming a powerful new arm of the state.
Bismillah Geelani is New Dehli is keeping us update on the movement that has captured the nation.
New Delhi’s Ramlila Ground is filled with the sounds of patriotic songs, hymns and slogans.
Around 50,000 people from across India are here to show their support for the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare.
Many of them are waving the tri-colour Indian flag. Others have it painted on their faces.
The popular slogan here is “I’m Anna, you are Anna, now the entire nation is Anna.”
Among the protesters is 72-year old Dhirendra Pratap.
“I’m not here to oppose any one; neither do I support any one. I just know one thing that corruption is a cancer which is eating up India. I want to see it eradicated in my lifetime and Anna Hazare has given us hope that it is possible.”
Anna Hazare himself is sitting on raised platform in front of a large portrait of Mahatma Gandhi.
He regularly stands up, waves the tricolor flag, shouts a few slogans and assures his supporters that he’s fine.
“I am perfectly all right. My blood pressure, sugar and everything is normal. Even now I can run up to two Kilometers and come back running. There is no need to worry at all.”
The crowd cheers loudly and shouts praises to him.
But 10 days of continuous fast have taken a toll on the 74-year old.
His deteriorating health is evident from his tired, pale face and sunken eyes.
Naresh Trehan heads the team of doctors monitoring his health.
“All the parameters are showing signs of deterioration. From the safety point of view, we had recommended that Anna should be moved to hospital but he strongly refused, then we requested that he should at least allow intravenous infusion so that he remains out of the danger zone he first agreed then he said his conscience does not allow him to do so. We are trying our best to keep him safe but he must also cooperate.”
The government is also worried about Hazare’s health.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a personal appeal to Hazre to end his fast.
All political parties have unanimously urged Hazare to suspend his fast while negotiations are going on.
The government says they are trying hard to break the deadlock.
Salman Khursheed is Law Minister.
“The talks are going on in a positive manner and attitude. But the priority is Shri Anna Hazare’s health. We are all concerned and we would like to be able to do whatever is possible to create a situation in which he can break his fast.”
The government has already held seven rounds of talks with Anna Hazare’s associates but key difference on several issues remain.
In a fresh attempt the government has agreed to debate in Parliament all versions of the anti-corruption Bill including the one prepared by Hazare and his group.
But it insists that the final bill go through the usual parliamentary procedure. This involves the law being scrutinized by a Parliamentary standing committee before it is voted in the parliament.
Most political parties support government’s stand.
Sitaram Yechuri is a senior leader with the Marxist Communist Party of India.
“The Parliament has its own way of functioning We should not try to bypass the Parliamentary procedures because law making is a serious business. It needs through deliberations and discussions and it takes time.”
But the activists say the government is not sincere and is using delaying tactics.
Prashnat Bhushan is a member of Hazare’s group India Against corruption.
“The whole purpose of sending a bill to the standing committee is to ensure that all relevant views come on board. This is a bill which has been discussed and debated for the last 42 years and very intensely for the last 8 months and all reasonable views have been put on the table. No purpose is served in sending it now to the standing committee. This should be discussed in the parliament and passed. Sending it to the standing committee in these circumstances is an attempt to just postpone it somehow.”
Back at the Ramlila Ground the immediate concern is Hazare’s health.
Although by agreeing to discuss the law in Parliament the government has conceded one of Hazare’s key demands, but Hazare is still Skeptical.
“I don’t trust them. The politicians cannot be trusted. They have betrayed me twice and I won’t let it happen again. Let’s see how seriously they go about it.”
Hazare says while he may end his fast, his protest will continue until all his demands are met.