The crowds that usually throng Anna Hazare’s agitation were missing on Tuesday — both at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi and at the fast venue in MMRDA grounds, Mumbai.
Earlier in the day in Mumbai, Hazare began his three-day fast. Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Medha Patkar participated. The crowds were thin and touched about 1500 by late afternoon, after which the people began dispersing by 5 pm.
Raju Parulekar, who was translating Anna Hazare’s blog till he was removed from the job, was provoked to tweet: “Itna sannata kyo hai bhai Anna aur Prashant ke yahan...”
However Hazare’s demands drew support from NCPRI whose Shekhar Singh on Tuesday said that Hazare should continue to keep up pressure on the government if a strong Bill is to be a reality.
In Parliament, as every speaker from every major party grabbed the opportunity to speak, the government was closetted in meetings. Under pressure, the government might bring its own amendments, party managers said, especially relating to clause 24(3) of the Bill that says that the membership of any member of Parliament can be terminated in the event a chargesheet being filed against him under the order of the Lok Pal in the special court.
The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj said the selection committee for appointment of Lok Pal under the present Bill is heavily loaded in favour of the government. The panel for appointment of officers in CBI for the post of superintendent and above, except the director, also has significant presence of government nominees. The roles of the Lok Pal, CVC, the government and the accountability of the CBI remain ambiguous. She criticised the curtailment of the federal principle in the appointment of Lok Pal-equivalent in the states.
The Congress core committee met to work out how best to handle the situation if the worst happens — the Bill is passed by Lok Sabha but fails in the Rajya Sabha where the numbers are such that the outcome could be unpredictable. On the streets, the appetite to fight for a Lok Pal was noticeably sated.
IAC volunteers at the Delhi venue said that many of those who came last time had gone to Mumbai. “Wait till December 30 when Anna comes here, the crowds will also come,” said Ramprasad, a schoolteacher from a Government school in Rohini. He said he might lose his job if he joined the jail bharo campaign.
Munavvar from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, who is a migrant worker in Delhi, said that last time, his grandmother had come for the protests as the village pradhan and had brought villagers along. She wanted to come again. But no one brought them, he said. He did not know why the protests were happening. But he strongly believed that Hazare was working for the people. “The crowds are thin as Annaji is not there,” he said.
IAC activists seemed prepared for a long-drawn battle. It has discarded all deadlines regarding the passage of the Bill and is now insisting that the Bill be withdrawn and replaced with a stronger Bill to be passed in two or three months. “We will intensify the agitation if the Bill is passed in its present form,” said Kiran Bedi.
Their stand coincided with that of the BJP whose leader in Parliament Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday asked the Government to withdraw the Bill and come back with a better Bill in two or three months. In Delhi, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Devinder Sharma led the agitation. Shanti Bhushan said: “Let them make CBI independent with investigative powers to Lok Pal and also remove the selection and removal procedure from Government control. The other matters can be addressed once the law is made.”
The IAC had thus reduced their demands from four to just two, while the Government on Tuesday seemed to be in no mood to relent on even a single demand of IAC or the opposition.