New Delhi: Public support continued to grow for Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign on Sunday even as some civil society activists criticized his demands and methods, and the government appeared to be opening channels for talks.
Harish Rawat, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has initiated a “dialogue process” with Hazare and his supporters, who are demanding that their version of a draft law for instituting an anti-graft watchdog, or Lokpal, be adopted.
“The dialogue process has already been initiated at various levels through well-wishers. This dialogue is at various levels, which are not parallel to each other but complementary to each other,” Rawat told PTI news agency in Dehradun, adding that Hazare should understand the “constitutional limits” of the government.
Hazare has been on an indefinite fast since Tuesday, calling for the adoption of the so-called Jan Lokpal Bill.
“We have not shut any channels for talks. They are still open,” he said on the sixth day of his fast.
Addressing supporters, Hazare said he won’t move from the venue of his fast, the capital’s Ramlila Ground, until his demands are met. “It does not matter even if the Prime Minister comes. Unless the Jan Lokpal Bill comes, we will not move away from here.”
Umesh Chandra Sarangi, Maharashtra’s additional chief secretary, met Hazare on Saturday and Sunday, but Hazare’s team members denied he was a mediator.
“We have not got any feelers from the government till now... Anna Hazare did hand over copies of both the Bills to him (Sarangi), but it was a personal meeting,” said Manu Singh, a member of Hazare’s team.
The government introduced its version of the Lokpal Bill in Parliament this month. But the draft law does not bring the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal, as demanded by Hazare and his supporters.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said the government was in favour of a strong Lokpal Bill and there was a “lot of scope for give and take”.
The parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice has been studying the government’s Lokpal Bill. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a member of the ruling Congress party who heads the panel, said on Sunday the panel has also received the Jan Lokpal Bill formally.
The Bill was submitted to the panel by Congress Lok Sabha member Praveen Singh Aron, Singhvi said. “We will, of course, look into it very carefully, as indeed we will look into all the diverse aspects of civil society representations, political representations, and government representations.”
But Hazare’s campaign was criticized by some well-known social activists.
In a television interview, writer and activist Arundhati Roy said the Jan Lokpal Bill was creating an “oligarchy” and “handing the power to another set of people”.
Social activist Aruna Roy, who is also a member of the National Advisory Council, which sets the UPA government’s social agenda, said in an interview that she was not open to a debate on the Lokpal Bill at Hazare’s fast venue.
“I feel that parliamentary procedures and that it (the Bill) being in front of the standing committee is important for me,” Roy said to CNN-IBN news channel. “This is a democratic process and Parliament is a part of democratic structure... The danger is that if we get rid of these institutions and say that discussions will happen outside Parliament, then tomorrow there can be a huge mobilization of any kind of extremist group by anybody who will demand that no debate should happen in the Parliament.”
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) also submitted its version of the Lokpal Bill to the committee.
Union ministers also slammed Hazare’s campaign.
“The way the civil society movement is continuing in the country, it gives an impression that the leaders have become legislators,” finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Kolkata.
V. Narayanasamy, minister of state at the Prime Minister’s Office, said Hazare was seeking publicity. “Hazare is unfortunately trying to create a crisis for the government with the support of various internal forces,” he said in Puducherry.
But public support for Hazare’s campaign showed no sign of ebbing. Hazare’s supporters held a massive rally from New Delhi’s India Gate to the fast venue, Ramlila Ground. Supporters poured in at the venue in large numbers, shouting slogans, singing and dancing.
“There is a lot of power in unity,” said Ramesh Chandra, a retired worker from Haryana, who came to fast venue for the third day in a row. “If we all come together, the government will have to listen to us.”
Chanchal Mahesh Parihar, a homemaker from Noida, said she was more hopeful about the success of the ongoing agitation than the one in April, when Hazare went on fast demanding that civil society representatives be included in the panel drafting the Lokpal Bill.
“This time the crowd and support for Anna is much more,” she said. “We are hopeful something constructive will come out of it.”
PTI contributed to this story.