New Delhi: Team Anna started its indefinite hunger strike here on Wednesday demanding a probe against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 14 of his cabinet ministers for alleged corruption charges against them.
The fast coincided with installation of Pranab Mukherjee as the 13th President of the Republic. Team Anna claims Mukherjee was also involved in corruption as the federal minister and are threatening to release documents in support of their claim.
Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, however, is not fasting for the time being. He has given a four-day ultimatum to the government to set up Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the corruption charges, failing which he would join his close associates Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai who are leading the fast.
Framed pictures of Prime Minister Singh and his ministers accused of being involved in corruption was promptly displayed on the dais at Jantar Mantar, the venue of the fast.
Hazare had on Tuesday announced that he would also sit on hunger strike but later changed his mind under pressure from his colleagues since doctors have advised him against undertaking fast due to his fragile health. Team Anna feels the veteran social activist joining the fast after four days would create greater impact.
The fast started with a ruckus as some youth who claimed they belonged to the National Student’s Union of India (NSUI), the student body of the ruling Congress party, tried to storm to the dais raising anti-Hazare slogans. They were stopped by Team Anna volunteers and handed over to the police. Both NSUI and the Congress party later clarified that the youth did not belong to their ranks.
Hazare had undertaken fasts four times last year the longest being in August that lasted for 16 days, following which the government relented and agreed to introduce the anti-graft Lokpal Bill in Parliament. While the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, it was not put to vote in the Rajya Sabha and has sine been referred to the Select Committee of Parliament with no indication when it would be brought back before the Parliament.
“They don’t want a strong Lokpal Bill or else Prime Minister and his corrupt colleagues would get exposed,” Hazare mocked at the ground zero, where the police have allowed them to protest until August 8, the day the monsoon session of Parliament begins.
In case the agitation prolongs beyond August 8 and they are evicted from Jantar Mantar, Team Anna may have to join hands with the yoga guru Baba Ramdev who is slated to start his fast on the black money issue at the Ramlila Ground from August 9.
Compared to their earlier fasts, the public response was comparatively tepid, leaving many wonder if repeated fasts are leading to lack of interest amongst the masses.
While the government tried to prevent Team Anna from undertaking the fast with Law Minister Salman Khurshid meeting Hazare secretly near Pune last year with the message from Prime Minister Singh and the Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi reiterating their commitment to a strong Lokpal Bill, there is no indication that the government would accede to set up SIT to get probed corruption charges against itself.
“Corruption charges against central ministers are not acceptable… On a day when the whole nation is celebrating new President, there is no need for a fast. We are looking into the Lokpal issue,” senior federal minister Ambika Soni said.