New Delhi, Apr 9 : Gandhian activist Anna Hazare today called off his hunger strike bringing to an end his 98-hour protest after government issued a gazette notification constituting a 10-member Joint Committee of ministers and civil society activists, including him, to draft an effective Lok Pal Bill. Curtains were drawn on the anti-corruption campaign that drew instant nationwide support with a little girl giving the 73-year-old activist a glass of water at 10.45 am at Jantar Mantar, the nerve-centre of the agitation for a strong legislation to combat political and administrative graft. Earlier, Hazare offered water to some women, among the over 300 activists who had joined the fast.
Social activists Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar and Kiran Bedi hailed Hazare's campaign as the Gandhian said he would to continue the fight for the "second struggle for independence". In the morning, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement saying the government intends to introduce the "historic legislation" in the Monsoon session of Parliament. He described the coming together of civil society and government on the Lok Pal Bill issue as a step that augurs well for democracy, saying it signifies the mutual resolve to combat corruption.
"I am pleased that Anna Hazare has agreed to give up his fast," he said after his ministers worked out a deal with Hazare's emissaries last night to bring to end the protest at Jantar Mantar.
Shouts of 'Vande Mataram' and 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' rent the air as Hazare's followers and admirers gathered in hundreds, just a stone's throw from Parliament, celebrated the notification that was proudly displayed at the fast site.
Making a brief speech after he broke his fast, the veteran Gandhian said it was just the beginning of a long struggle ahead and he would not rest content with the Lok Pal Bill but also fight for reforms of the electoral system, including the 'right to recall' from gram panchayat level. The notification by the Ministry of Law and Justice said the Joint Drafting Committee to prepare a draft of the Lok Pal Bill will have five ministers from the government and five nominees of Hazare, including himself.
The five ministers are Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Chairperson, Home Minister P Chidamabaram, Law Minister Veerappa Moily (Convenor), HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Water Resources Minister Salman Khurshid.
The civil society will be represented by Hazare, former Supreme Court judge N Santosh Hegde, former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan (Co-Chairperson), lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.
The notification said the Joint Drafting Committee will commence work forthwith evolving its own procedure to prepare the proposed legislation. The committee shall complete its work latest by June 30, it said.Kejriwal told reporters that by Monday it would be known as to when the committee would hold its first meeting.
Hazare said, "Our fight against corruption does not end here. We will continue the fight. This is only the beginning. If the government does not pass Lok Pal Bill, I will come back to fight again."
He set August 15 as the deadline for passage of the proposed bill. "If the government does not get the legislation passed, I will hold the national flag and join you people here for another agitation.
"There are more struggles ahead -- getting the bill passed by the Cabinet and by Lok Sabha," he said. The Gandhian activist maintained that his next fight would be for a right to recall public servants like Sarpanch, corporator and so on if they failed in their duty. He also sent a message to the Election Commission asking it to change the present Electronic Voting Machines as they were "faulty".
He batted for a "none of the above" provision in the ballot or EVMs and for provisions to check use of money power in elections."This will set their (candidates using money power) mind right," Hazare said.
He insisted that this agitation had given him great strength and urged that "people with a clean image" should join the movement.Hazare told the gathering, which had been swelling by the day ever since he began the fast on April five, that with the formation of the drafting committee their responsibilities have increased.
"I am ending the fast because the government has accepted our demands. What is of utmost importance is that in the last few days, people have shown to the world that we are one on an issue which relates to the country. People stood united here, irrespective of caste, religion and community," Hazare said.
Hazare said Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had through their sacrifice thrown out the British and "now this people's revolution has disturbed the peace of the present-day rulers".
Hailing the role of the media in publicising the protest world over, he said this has proved what the fourth estate of democracy can achieve.Hazare also said the way the "youth power" has come out to support the movement has offered a "new ray of hope for the future". He thanked various civil society organisations and individuals for their support to the camapaign against corruption.
"We have to be cautious about wrong people getting into similar committees at the state level. We will keep an eye to prevent this," he said.The end to the protest, which evoked a nationwide support cutting across the society, was in sight last night after the government wilted under a sustained anti-corruption campaign and agreed to issue a government order to set up a 10-member joint committee for drafting a strong Lokpal Bill. The deal came after three rounds of negotiations between Hazare's emissaries and union minister Kapil Sibal.
Protestors and supporters of the campaign erupted into cries of 'Vande Mataram', 'Bharat Mata ki Jai', 'Inquilab Zindabad' as Hazare announced that he was ending his fast as the government has agreed to their demands. PTI