Jan Lokpal Bill
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Lokpal Bill movement
In 2011, Hazare initiated a Satyagraha movement for passing a stronger anti-corruption Lokpal (ombudsman) bill in the Indian Parliament as conceived in the Jan Lokpal Bill (People’s Ombudsman Bill). The Jan Lokpal Bill was drafted earlier by N. Santosh Hegde, former justice of the Supreme Court of India and Lokayukta of Karnataka, Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court and Arvind Kejriwal, a social activist along with members of the India Against Corruption movement. This draft bill incorporated more stringent provisions and wider power to the Lokpal (Ombudsman) than the draft Lokpal bill prepared by the government in 2010. These include placing “the Prime Minister within the ambit of the proposed lokpal’s powers”.
Hunger strike in Delhi
Hazare began his fast unto death on 5 April 2011 at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to press for the demand to form a joint committee of the representatives of the Government and the civil society to draft a stronger anti-corruption bill with stronger penal actions and more independence to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas (Ombudsmen in the states), after his demand was rejected by the Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. He stated, “I will fast until Jan Lokpal Bill is passed”.
The movement attracted attention in the media, and thousands of supporters. Almost 150 people reportedly joined Hazare in his fast. Social activists, including Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejriwal, former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, and Jayaprakash Narayan lent their support to Hazare’s hunger strike and anti-corruption campaign. People have shown support in Internet social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Online Signature Campaigns like avaaz got 6.5lakh signatures in just 36 hours. In addition to spiritual leaders Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Ramdev, Swami Agnivesh and former Indian cricketer Kapil Dev, many celebrities showed their public support through Twitter. Hazare decided that he would not allow any politician to sit with him in this movement. Politicians like Uma Bharti and Om Prakash Chautala were shooed away by the protesters when they came to visit the site where the protest was taking place. On 6 April 2011 Sharad Pawar resigned from the group of ministers formed for reviewing the draft Lokpal bill 2010.
The movement gathered significant support from India’s youth, visible through the local support and on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Protests spread to Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Shillong, Aizawl and a number of other cities in India.
End of hunger strike after meeting demands
On 8 April 2011 the Government of India accepted all demands of the movement. On 9 April 2011 it issued a notification in the Gazette of India on formation of a joint committee. It accepted the formula that there be a politician Chairman and an activist, non-politician Co-Chairman. According to the notification, Pranab Mukherjee will be the Chairman of the draft committee while Shanti Bhushan will be the co-chairman. “The Joint Drafting Committee shall consist of five nominee ministers of the Government of India and five nominees of the civil society. The five nominee Ministers of the Government of India are Pranab Mukherjee, Union Minister of Finance, P. Chidambaram, Union Minister of Home Affairs, M. Veerappa Moily, Union Minister of Law and Justice, Kapil Sibal, Union Minister of Human Resource and Development and Minister of Communication and Information Technology and Salman Khursheed, Union Minister of Water Resources and Minister of Minority Affairs. The five nominees of the civil society are Anna Hazare, N. Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan Senior Advocate, Prashant Bhushan, Advocate and Arvind Kejriwal.
On the morning of 9 April 2011 Hazare ended his 98-hour hunger strike by first offering lemon juice to some of his supporters who were fasting with him. Hazare then broke his fast by consuming some lemon juice. He addressed the people and set a deadline of 15 August 2011 to pass the Lokpal Bill in the Indian Parliament.
“Real fight begins now. We have a lot of struggle ahead of us in drafting the new legislation, We have shown the world in just five days that we are united for the cause of the nation. The youth power in this movement is a sign of hope.”
Differences with the government on draft bill
During the meeting of the joint drafting committee on 30 May 2011, the Union government members opposed the inclusion of the prime minister, higher judiciary and the acts of the MPs under the purview of the Lokpal in the draft bill. On 31 May 2011, Pranab Mukherjee, chairman of the joint drafting committee sent a letter to the chief ministers of all states and the leaders of the political parties seeking their opinion on six contentious issues in the proposed Lokpal Bill, including whether to bring the prime minister and judges of Supreme Court and High Courts under the purview of the proposed law. But the civil society members of the drafting committee considered that keeping the prime minister and judges of Supreme Court and High Courts out of the purview of the Lokpal would be a violation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
Anna Hazare and other civil society members decided to boycott the meeting of the joint Lokpal Bill drafting committee scheduled on 6 June 2011 in protest against the forcible eviction of Swami Ramdev and his followers by the Delhi Police from Ramlila Maidan on 5 June 2011, while they were on hunger strike against the issues of black money and corruption and doubting seriousness of the government in taking measures to eradicate corruption.
On 6 June 2011, the members of the civil society of the joint Lokpal bill drafting committee in New Delhi sent a letter to Pranab Mukherjee, the chairman of the committee, explaining reasons for their absence at the meeting and also asked government to make its stand public on the contentious issues related to the proposed draft legislation. They also decided that the future meetings will be attended only if they were telecast live. On 8 June 2011 at Rajghat, describing his movement as the second freedom struggle, Anna criticised the Government for trying to discredit the joint Lokpal Bill drafting committee and threatened to go on indefinite fast again from 16 August 2011 if the Lokpal Bill is not passed by then. He also criticised the Government for putting hurdles in the drafting of a strong Lokpal Bill and its attempts to malign the civil society members of the joint Lokpal panel.
On 28 July 2011 the union cabinet on approved a draft of the Lokpal Bill, which keeps the Prime Minister, judiciary and lower bureaucracy out of the ambit of the proposed corruption ombudsman Lokpal. Hazare rejected the government version by describing it as “cruel joke’’ and wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and told him his decision to go on an indefinite fast from 16 August 2011 at Jantar Mantar if the government introduced its own version of the bill in Parliament without taking suggestions from civil society members.
Why are you (government) sending the wrong draft? We have faith in Parliament. But first send the right draft, our agitation is against government, not Parliament. The government has overlooked many points. How will it fight corruption by excluding government employees, CBI and prime minister from the Lokpal’s purview? We were told that both the drafts would be sent to the Cabinet. But only the government’s draft was sent. This is a deceitful government. They are lying. How will they run the country? Now I have no trust in this government. If it is really serious about fighting corruption, why is it not bringing government employees and CBI under Lokpal?- Anna Hazare
Within twenty four hours of cabinet’s endorsement of a weak Lokpal Bill, over ten thousand peoples from across the country sent faxes directly to the government demanding a bill with stronger provisions. The Mumbai Taxi Men’s Union, comprises over 30,000 taxi drivers have extended their full support to Hazare’s fast by keeping all taxis off the roads on 16 August 2011. Lawyers of Allahabad High Court described Lokpal Bill proposed by the government as against the interest of the country and pledged their support to Hazare by hunger strike at Allahabad on 16 August 2011. On 30 July 2011 Vishwa Hindu Parishad supported Hazare’s indefinite fast by saying movement for an effective anti-corruption ombudsman needs the backing of people.
On 1 August, Public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India by Hemant Patil, a Maharashtra-based social worker and businessman, to restrain Hazare from going on his proposed indefinite fast. The petitioner demanded to prohibit the fast alleging that Hazare’s demands are unconstitutional and amount to interference in legislative process.
Arrest and aftermath
On 16 August 2011, Hazare was arrested four hours before the planned indefinite hunger strike. Rajan Bhagat, spokesman for Delhi Police, said police arrested Hazare under a legal provision that bans public gatherings and protests at the park in Delhi where he was planning to begin his hunger strike. Police took that action after Hazare refused to meet the conditions put forward by police for allowing the protest. The conditions included restricting the length of the fast to three days and the number of protesters at the site to 5,000. Later Anna was sent to Tihar jail under judicial custody for 7 days. After announcements by Prashant Bhushan (Hazare’s lawyer), local television, and social media sites (including Facebook), a march of thousands in support of Hazare began from the India Gate to Jantar Mantar.
Along with Hazare, other key members of the India Against Corruption movement including Arvind Kejriwal, Shanti Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia were also detained from different locations. It was reported that about 1,300 supporters were detained in Delhi. Media also reported that the arrest sparked off protests with people courting arrests in different parts of the country. The opposition parties in the country came out against the arrest, likening the government action to the emergency imposed in the country in 1975. Both the houses of Parliament were adjourned over the issue.
Eventually, after being kept in judicial detention for 24 hours, he was released by police, but Hazare and his supporters refused to sign bail bond and he was sent to Tihar Jail. They demanded permission to observe a fast in support of the Janlokpal bill, without any conditions. Hazare continued his fast inside the jail.
After his arrest, Anna Hazare received massive support from people across the country. There were reports of “nearly 570 demonstrations and protests by Anna supporters across the country” against the government’s imprisonment of Hazare and others. Due to the nationwide protests of millions, the Indian government agreed to release Hazare from jail and allow him to begin a public hunger strike of fifteen days. After talks with public authorities Hazare decided to hold his protest at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi. On 20 August 2011 Hazare ”left the Tihar Jail for the Ramlila Grounds”. Hazare promised reporters “he would fight to the ‘last breath’ until the government gets his team’s Jan Lokpal Bill passed in this session of Parliament, which ends on 8 September.”
Fast at Ramlila Maidan
On August 20, 2011 thousands came to the Ramlila Maidan to show their support for Hazare, while “his advisers made televison appearances to rally public support and defend themselves against criticism that their protest campaign and refusal to compromise is undermining India’s parliamentary process.” The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) condemned Hazare’s deadline for passing the bill as undermining democracy, which operates by “holding wide-ranging consultations and discussions, allowing for dissent and evolving a consensus. …He [Hazare] has the right to protest and dissent. But nobody can claim it as an absolute right and deny the right of dissent to others.” The Congress party confirmed that Maharashtra Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Umesh Chandra Sarangi (who has a history of mediating between Hazare and government officials) was meeting with the social activist again “to find points of consensus and defuse the situation”. On August 21, 2011 “tens of thousands” came to Ramlila Maidan to support Hazare as he sat on an elevated platform. It was reported that Hazare at that point had “lost more than seven pounds since beginning his fast”, despite this he stated “‘I will not withdraw my hunger strike until the Jan Lokpal bill is passed in the Parliament. I can die but I will not bend.’”
Electoral reform movement
In 2011, Anna Hazare demanded an amendment to the electoral law to incorporate the option of None of the above in the electronic voting machines during the Indian elections. The “None of the above (NOTA)” is a ballot option that allows an electorate to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in an electoral system, in case of non-availability of any candidate of his choice, as his Right to Reject. Soon, the Chief Election Commissioner of India Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi supported Hazare’s demand for the electoral reforms.
Protest against atrocities against Swami Ramdev and his supporters
On 8 June 2011, Anna Hazare and thousands of his supporters observed fast from 10 am to 6 pm at Rajghat to protest against the midnight crackdown of 5 June 2011 by the Delhi Police on Swami Ramdev’s fast at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi. The fast was initially planned to be held at Jantar Mantar, but the venue was shifted after the denial of permission by the Delhi police. Anna Hazare held the Prime Minister of India responsible for the atrocities and termed the police action as a blot on humanity and an attempt to stifle democracy. According to one of the Anna’s young supporters, the large presence of youths in the protest was due to their support to his use of nonviolence means of protest similar to Gandhi.
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