Saying that he salutes Anna Hazare, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Thursday made a passionate appeal to the 74-year-old crusader to
end his 10-day fast for an effective anti-corruption law, a
campaign that has generated nationwide support.
"I respect his idealism, I respect him as an individual... I
applaud him, I salute him," Manmohan Singh said in the Lok Sabha
as former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde warned of chaos if
anything happened to Hazare.
He urged the house to join him in the appeal. He got the immediate
backing of opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader
Sushma Swaraj and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.
In a desperate bid to end the Lokpal logjam, Manmohan Singh
deviated from parliamentary convention by suggesting that the
house could debate the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Team Anna along
with other similar bills.
He said this would satisfy the condition of Hazare that parliament
should take up his Jan Lokpal Bill.
Hazare "has made his point. It has been registered with us. I
respect his idealism. I respect him as an individual", he said in
a statement heard in silence by the packed house.
"He (Hazare) has become the embodiment of our people's disgust and
concern about tackling corruption.
"His life is much too precious and therefore I would urge Hazare
to end his fast."
Towards the end of his speech, in which he also denied accusations
that he had connived at corruption, Manmohan Singh underlined that
Hazare's life was "much too precious".
"We would like him to live a long life and a happy life in the
service of our people," he said, paying a personal tribute to one
who had been attacked by his own Congress colleagues.
There was no immediate reaction from Hazare, whose protest has
drawn tens of thousands at the Ramlila ground, or his colleagues.
Doctors have said that Hazare's health is slipping but the
activist has adamantly refused to be taken to hospital or be
administered saline. Since Aug 16, he has only sipped water.
The statement from Manmohan Singh, prime minister since 2004,
seemed to indicate that his government and the Congress party were
aware of the huge political dent they have suffered on account of
the Hazare fast.
Responding to opposition allegations that he had connived with
graft, the prime minister admitted that while he may have made
mistakes, it was wrong to say he was the fountainhead of
"I may have made mistakes. Who is above making mistakes? To err is
human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving at
corruption is a charge I firmly repudiate.
"There is anger in the country. There is anger about the misuse of
public offices," he said.
"Therefore, both at the centre and the states, it is our
obligation to clean up the system of governance... I commit our
government to doing precisely that."
He called for "a very strong bill" to battle corruption.
And so, he called upon the house to appeal to Hazare that "he has
made his point, it has been registered with us".
With Hazare determined not to end his fast till the Jan Lokpal
Bill drafted by him and his colleagues was not placed in
parliament, Manmohan Singh suggested that it could be discussed by
the house along with other similar bills including the
government's Lokpal bill.
Such a debate would help determine the weak and strong points of
various bills so that we "have the best possible bill to deal with
the problem of corruption".
Such a move, he added, would respect parliamentary supremacy and
at the same time meet Hazare's demand.