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Hazare springs new deadline

Mumbai, Dec. 18: Anna Hazare broke his nine-day fast today soon after the Lokpal bill was passed, praising almost everyone who had backed his quest but not former fellow traveller Arvind Kejriwal who has dubbed the proposed law a “jokepal”.

Sipping coconut water offered by schoolchildren, a frail-looking but cheerful Hazare expressed hope the legislation would be signed into law within two months, before the general elections are announced, and spoke of “watchdog” panels to oversee how it was enforced.

“The bill should be made into a law within one or two months, before the (poll) code of conduct comes into effect,” Hazare said from his protest site at hometown Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra.

The septuagenarian said “watchdog” committees would be set up at the state and district levels — comprising retired judges, former police officers and prominent citizens — to monitor the law’s implementation.

After that, it was time for thanksgiving. “I thank all members of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha with folded hands. For the first time in 66 years, a law is set to be made that would put brakes on corruption,” he said, adding the law will not eliminate corruption but “certainly curb it by 40-50 per cent”.

This appeared an allusion to Kejriwal’s recent assertion, after his dream debut in the Delhi polls, that the Lokpal bill was a “jokepal” as it would be toothless.

Hazare thanked the Rajya Sabha’s select committee for improving a “weak” bill. “The improvements made by the select committee are in conformity with the aspirations of the people.” He expressed gratitude to Rahul Gandhi and BJP leaders for “taking the lead” in “awakening” other parties.

No mention was made of Kejriwal, with whom Hazare had launched the agitation with his 2011 fast at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, even though the Gandhian took care to list everyone including his doctors and the “pandalwala” in his current protest.

But some saw a swipe at Kejriwal when Hazare admonished a group of people standing in front of TV cameras near his protest venue today.

“The country or society does not benefit from people who stand before cameras. If I had chosen to stand in front of the cameras, I would not have reached where I have,” Hazare said. The comment was seen as a dig at Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporters perceived as media-savvy.

Kiran Bedi, the former IPS officer present by Anna’s side today and part of the 2011 protest, said the Lokpal would function like a “Supreme Court” in corruption cases. “The CBI would no longer be a caged parrot but a free bird,” she said. The allusion was to the apex court’s observations, in the coal blocks probe, that the agency was a “caged parrot”.