Team Anna asks if it should enter politics; fast ends tomorrow evening

New Delhi:  Surrounded by thousands of supporters at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, activist Anna Hazare, still on a hunger strike and his right wrist full of raakhis, made two important announcements today. He said his aides want feedback within 48 hours on whether they should form a political party.  He also said that their fast will end on Friday at 5 pm.

There is nothing wrong with forming a party…we need  to provide an alternative to the people,” the 75-year-old said, sharing that the public’s interest has to be safeguarded. His camp was filled to capacity; around him, a sea of flags waved.

The movement he fronts, India Against Corruption (IAC), has launched a referendum on Twitter and on its website.

The government, which has long accused the activists of trying to dictate terms to a democratically-elected Parliament, said Team Anna has always been power-hungry and must contest elections to prove its claim of representing the will of the people.

“You can’t hold the government to ransom,” Cabinet Minister and Congress leader Ambika Soni said. She also pointed out that joining the political process is an arduous task.

Earlier today, a group of prominent citizens including Justice Santosh Hegde and former Army Chief General VK Singh wrote to Anna, urging him to end his fast and focus on giving people a political alternative. “The ongoing fast represents a voice of conscience…the political establishment has not cared to listen, leave alone to respond, to this voice,” their letter says, urging Anna and his associates to “form an alternative political force.”

In an interview to NDTV last month, Anna had said he would not contest elections but said that if his aides decided to enter politics, he would evaluate their ability to serve as MPs and then decide whether to support them.

This protest camp and hunger strike was organised by India Against Corruption to demand the immediate introduction of a new law against graft, based on the Lokpal Bill. Through a series of fasts last year – one of which lasted 16 days  -Anna has raised the awareness of the Lokpal Bill across the country. The proposed legislation is named for the national ombudsman agency that it births, with the powers to investigate and prosecute corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

The government says it has done its job by bringing the bill to Parliament-  it was passed by the Lok Sabha in December, but has been held up in the Rajya Sabha since then. Ministers say they are committed to pushing the legislation through, but timelines cannot be forced by activists using hunger strikes as blackmail.

Anna has been fasting since Sunday; his aides, Arvind Kejriwal, Gopal Rai and Manish Sisodia, have not eaten in nine days.

The Delhi Police asked them last evening to check into hospital, reminding them that they had agreed in writing to seek medical attention if their health deteriorated.   The activists refused, stating that they would decide when to end their hunger strike.

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