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Anna Hazare to end fast tomorrow

delhi Updated: Aug 27, 2011 21:54 IST

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After 12 days that had India on the edge, Anna Hazare was poised to end his fast tomorrow morning, capping a day of highs and lows that saw a historic Parliament debate a possible anti-corruption legislation that ended with the broad acceptance of key demands of the social reformer.

The eight-hour debate, called on a weekend, saw parliamentarians pack both houses to dissect an issue that has held the nation in thrall since Aug 16, when 74-year-old Hazare began his fast for a strong bill to have a Lokpal institution to tackle pervasive corruption, prompting tens of thousands of people across the country take to the streets and bringing the government virtually to its knees.

"Parliament has spoken. It is the will of the people," a smiling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while coming out of the house after the debate that ended at 8 p.m.

As the news reached Ramlila Maidan, where Hazare was on his fast in the presence of tens of thousands of people, thanksgiving prayers were conducted for the successful conduct of a movement that has seen few parallels in 64 years of India's history as an independent nation.

"We have won only half the battle," said Hazare standing before wildly cheering crowds and flanked by his key aides and union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, former Maharashtra chief minister who has been an interlocutor.

Looking none the worse for his ordeal, Hazare paid tribute to the common people for making the government bend to its demands and said he would break his fast at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Hazare, 74, had said he would end his fast only when the resolution accommodated the three key issues - having Lokayuktas in every state, citizen's charters for government departments and inclusion of lower bureaucracy in the Lokpal's ambit.

Oscillating between hope and despair, the fluid situation seemed headed towards some solution when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee expressed in the Lok Sabha "a broad sense of the house" that includes an in-principle acceptance of the three demands by Hazare.

There was neither any resolution nor a voice vote that was expected at the end of the debate, just desk-thumping by members drawn from all parties. The scenes were replayed in the Rajya Sabha a short while later.

The government and the opposition showed rare unanimity of views on the parliament's prerogative to make laws during the special debate on the Lokpal issue in both houses, with both sides agreeing on the need for a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) and eradicating corruption.

A senior BJP leader told reporters that there was no opposition and the Lok Sabha was in complete unanimity that these issues need to be looked into "there was no need for voting", he said.

Amid the thumping of desks from MPs, Mukherjee made it clear that the outcome of the proceedings would be submitted to the parliamentary standing committee examining the Lokpal bill. The standing committee would bring a revised legislation before the house, he said.

"Our democracy is powerful enough, strong enough and flexible enough to accommodate different viewpoints," he said.

Just a while earlier, it had seemed that this day too would end without any concrete solution. Hazare's aides had only a few hours earlier accusing the Manmohan Singh governmment of reneging on its pledge to move a resolution on the Lokpal bill in parliament.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid had held talks with activists Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, who said after the meeting that the government had refused to move a resolution over the three key demands.

Mukherjee, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh were involved in the last ditch effort to break the logjam.

While the confusion had continued, thousands still packed into the sprawling Ramlila ground. Filmstar Aamir Khan made an appearance, exhorting parliament to pass the legislation but also requesting Hazare to end his fast.

Sushma Swaraj said in the Lok Sabha that the anti-graft campaign had brought the issue of Lokpal to the people and the massive support it garnered indicated that people's emotions had galvanised against the "innumerable scams" and people were "fed up" of increasing corruption.