The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anna & antagonist in tit-for-tat fasts

Mumbai, Aug. 9: As anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare began a fast unto death today, one of the ministers against whom he has levelled corruption charges did likewise.

The noted social worker and Gandhian began an indefinite fast at the August Kranti maidan here today, saying few in Mumbai will forget his agitation.

Just a few paces away from the social worker’s pandal, Hazare’s bete noir, food and civil supplies minister Sureshdada Jain, began his own indefinite hunger strike.

“I don’t care if Anna goes on his fast, I will end mine only after the government announces an inquiry into his activities as I feel he is running a racket in the name of social work. Also, the truth has to come out as my reputation has been seriously tarnished,’’ Jain, a senior minister and an influential member of the Nationalist Congress Party, said.

Hazare, 67, and Jain have faced off in court as well, with each slapping a defamation case against the other.

The anti-corruption crusader said his fast was not a stunt. “I have very serious demands and the people are with me,’’ he said as hundreds of his supporters egged him on with chants of “Anna, tum aage badho, hum tumhare saath hain (We are with you in your fight, Anna)’’.

Hazare wants the Maharashtra Right to Information Bill, 2002, to be implemented immediately. He has also demanded absolute powers for gram sabhas as envisaged in the 73rd amendment to the Constitution and total transparency in police transfers.

But one of his major demands is for action against Nationalist Party ministers — Jain, Vijay Kumar Gavit, Padmasinh Patil and Nawab Malik — whom he has accused of “grave corruption”.

Shaken by Hazare’s demands, Sushil Kumar Shinde has hurried to make amends. The chief minister appealed to the crusader to give up his fast and said he would set up a commission headed by a retired judge to probe charges against Jain as well as Hazare. But the activist said he would accept only a CBI probe and would rather “die than compromise’’.

“I have lost all faith in this government,’’ Hazare said. “Independence has meant nothing for the downtrodden. We have a chief minister who says the country needs people like me but also supports corrupt ministers.’’

The crusader gave detailed instructions to his followers about rituals to be carried out if he dies. “In case I die during this agitation, my body should not be cremated. It should be kept on the steps of Yadav baba’s temple in Ralegan Siddhi. People will touch my body while entering the temple and that will be my way of thanking them for their support. The government is scared of my agitation and wants me to call it off. But I will not. I certainly will not,’’ Hazare, who was surrounded by about 600 friends and admirers, said.

Shinde pleaded helplessness. “I have appealed to Hazare numerous times to abort his plan and have done everything in my control to allay his doubts, but he seems not to have faith in my government,’’ he added.

Hazare has said he will present evidence of corruption against the ministers in the next two days. “It will be either this or that,’’ Hazare said, even as Jain made a similar pledge.

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