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Anna issues ultimatum to Congress, battlelines drawn

No bill, no support. Drawing the battlelines, social crusader Anna Hazare Tuesday said he would resume his movement for the Jan Lokpal bill with the Oct 13 by-election in Hisar in Harayan where he would campaign against the Congress. He also hit out at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for being "remote controlled".

The Congress was quick to react. Law Minister Salman Khurshid said in New Delhi that citizens were free to vote for anybody. And Abhishek Singhvi, who heads the parliamentary standing committee looking into the Jan Lokpal bill and other versions of the Lokpal bill, said the panel was not in a confrontationist mood.

Taking on the Congress, Hazare said at a press conference in his village in Ralegan Siddhi, in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district, that his campaign for a strong anti-graft Jan Lokpal (ombudsman) bill would continue after Dussehra. And if the Congress blocked the law, he would ask people not to vote for it.

"Depending on my schedule, I shall go to Hisar and hold a couple of public meetings there. If not I shall send a video message to the people of Hisar explaining how the Congress has blocked the Jan Lokpal (ombudsman) bill and urge them not to vote for the party," Hazare declared.

He said civil society activists had written to all the major candidates contesting the Hisar by-poll asking them whether or not they supported the Jan Lokpal bill, Team Anna's version of the anti-graft bill.

"While a majority of them have already replied in the affirmative, there is no response from the Congress. If the Congress does not clarify its stand in the next couple of days, then after Dussehra (Oct 6), I plan to go to Hisar," Hazare said.

The agitation would then be taken to Uttar Pradesh and to Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur, where assembly elections are due next year, to force the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to "live up to its promise" of passing Team Anna's version of the Lokpal bill.

"If, as the UPA has assured, the bill is not passed during the ensuing winter session of parliament, we shall name the Congress and urge people not to vote for it," Hazare asserted, virtually giving an ultimatum to the government.

He also announced that he would sit on a three-day hunger strike in Lucknow -- three days before polling begins in Uttar Pradesh -- to create awareness on the bill and the "attempts by the Congress to scuttle it".

Hazare said if the Jan Lokpal bill is passed, then they would not hold any agitation. Instead, they would appeal to the people to check the antecedents of the candidates and vote for the good ones.

Hazare, whose 12-day fast in August for a strong anti-corruption bill galvanised thousands across India, also hit out at the prime minister. He remarked sarcastically that Manmohan Singh was surrounded by "so many remote controls" that his good intentions would not be much use to the country.

As Hazare stepped up the ante, the government reacted equally vehemently.

"It is their decision. Every citizen is free to vote for anybody. Congress will only do its work, perform its duties and Congress will then go back to people when the duty is performed," Khurshid said.

Parliamentary standing committee chairman Singhvi added: "A parliamentary process is underway. The committee is trying its best to deal with substantive and real issues. We are not in any manner in an argumentative or confrontationist mode."

Former law minister Shanti Bhushan, a key member of Team Anna, was of the view that the Congress would emerge with a single party majority in the 2014 elections if it accepted and enacted the hotly contested Jan Lokpal bill.

"If they don't do it, then people are entitled to draw the inference that they are not serious and the reason behind that only can be that if a strong Lokpal comes into existence probably some of them who are involved in corruption might find themselves in jail."

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