New Delhi, Aug. 19: Anna Hazare and his team strove to queer the pitch further for the Centre today, saying the fast at Ramlila Maidan could stretch beyond the permitted 15 days and could continue till death.
Team member Kiran Bedi appeared to sound a fresh battle cry, saying the group wasnt just demanding the enactment of its Jan Lokpal bill but wanted parivartan (systemic change).
She did not explain what she meant by the term but it was clear that the activists were hardening their stand after appearing to concede several points yesterday. (See chart)
A fit-looking Hazare, who had taken his police escorts by surprise by breaking into a sprint to beat a sudden shower, indicated his fast could be a marathon.
We will not leave this ground till the Jan Lokpal bill is brought, he declared at the Ramlila Maidan. You can sever my head but you cannot make me bow.
Yesterday, he and his associates had given the police a written undertaking saying they would be liable for prosecution if any of the protest conditions were violated.
The group also laid down a clear timetable for the government: Hazare said he would lay down his life fasting if the government did not pass the Jan Lokpal bill by the end of this month.
Yesterday, Bedi had said it would not be a fast to death, and group members had restricted themselves to demanding their version of the bill be placed in Parliament.
At present, the Lokpal bill is with a House standing committee. The government is using the parliamentary standing committee as a shield, Arvind Kejriwal said.
Minutes earlier, Prashant Bhushan had appeared a little conciliatory, saying the group was open to discussion with the government and had an open mind but will not compromise on corruption.
Yesterday, the group members had hinted they might not insist on the higher judiciary being included in the Lokpals ambit if the government tabled a good judicial accountability bill.
Today, Kejriwal alleged the Centre was misleading people by claiming that the higher judiciary would be brought under the judicial accountability bill.
We will intensify our jail bharo agitation if the government fails to pass the Jan Lokpal bill by August 30, he said.
Hazare had left Tihar jail, where he spent three nights, this morning and climbed into an improvised truck. From Mayapuri in west Delhi, he drove to Rajghat to pay his respects to Mahatma Gandhi before reaching the fast venue.
He made brief speeches at Tihar, where a small podium was erected before one of the prison gates, and at the Ramlila Maidan, saying a second freedom struggle had begun to liberate India from corruption.
He attacked the establishment, saying: These traitors have looted the country. We will not tolerate the government. We cannot forgo our freedom at any cost.
He added: I have lost 3kg of weight in four days but I have not lost the enthusiasm. I am deriving energy from you (supporters) as you are spreading the movement across the country.
He said peoples struggles had taken a violent turn in many countries but his campaign had not.
Our protest is non-violent and the whole world will draw inspiration from it. We will have to think how to ensure justice to the poor of the country.
He said the youth were his main strength. The youth of the country is my strength and they have just woken up.
Many people, including an assistant commissioner of police (ACP), lost their footwear at Rajghat during Hazares stopover.
Visitors to the Mahatmas tomb have to take off their shoes and slippers before stepping on the lawns. As soon as Hazare left Rajghat for India Gate, the crowd rushed to collect their footwear only to find that many of these had disappeared.
The ACP, a constable and a head constable were among those who had to leave the place barefooted.
The guards deputed to keep an eye on the shoes struggled to explain their lapse. What could I do? There was a deluge of people.... I was helpless, a guard said.