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Half a victory

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Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Indian politician, spea...

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VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN  IN THE FRONTLINE

Team Anna wins the first round, but the way ahead in the fight against corruption is full of uncertainties.

“A BATTLE has been won in the campaign for cleansing public life through the rallying of vast sections of people across the country. But a purposive piece of legislation has finally to be passed by Parliament even to rate this victory as truly meaningful. Indeed, the state of peace that has descended after the tumult is pregnant with uncertainties. Uncertainties of such dimensions that no one has a clue as to what this will ultimately deliver.” These words spoken by a key player in the negotiations between Team Anna and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government during the tumultuous 12-day fast undertaken by Anna Hazare, which rocked the national capital and most other parts of the country, sum up the mood prevailing among individuals and groups that would play a role in the drafting and passage of a new Lokpal Bill. The government, the big and small opposition parties with representation in Parliament, Team Anna and various other institutions and bodies that have come up with suggestions on the proposed Bill, such as the Aruna Roy-led National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and the Udit Raj-led Justice Party, all share these uncertainties and the lack of clarity about the future.

At the moment, of course, the prime mover is the Standing Committee of Parliament, chaired by Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi. The committee is expected to take up and initiate negotiations on the various proposals from different sides sometime in September itself. Central to these negotiations are the three points on which Parliament expressed its sense-of-the-House agreement in response to Team Anna’s demands. The sense-of-the-House resolution stated that the issues of “Citizens’ Charter, Lower Bureaucracy also to be under the Lokpal through appropriate mechanism, and establishment of Lokayuktas in the States” would be taken up by the Standing Committee. This process itself has historic dimensions because it is for the first time that the members of the Standing Committee will be discussing the provisions of an already introduced government Bill in response to a sense-of-the-House resolution suggesting incorporation of new provisions.

The mainstream political parties and Team Anna expect this process of the Standing Committee to be completed before the winter session of Parliament. On their part, both Union Finance Minister Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, who emerged as the most important player on the government side during the latter stages of the anti-corruption agitation, and Anna Hazare himself have come up with public postures that have signified a sense of caution and accommodation, which in turn is considered conducive to the smooth conduct of deliberations. In repeated comments to the media after Anna Hazare concluded his fast on August 28, Mukherjee made it clear that the government had bowed before people’s power and its genuine representative leader. Anna Hazare responded by agreeing that there was a lot more to be done peacefully to take the negotiations to the level of fruition. Asserting that “this is only half a victory”, he said he was confident that Members of Parliament would not go back on their word to provide “an effective and strong Lokpal”.

While this sense of accommodation and optimism bodes well for deliberations in the future, large sections of public opinion still harbour apprehensions as to how things will unfold. Speaking to the media immediately after Anna Hazare ended his fast, Infosys founder V. Narayana Murthy hailed the ‘in principle’ agreement of Parliament to the demands put forward by Team Anna but added that it was only the first step. “We have to go through the process of implementation and take it to success. And that is the toughest part. For implementation is the Devil.”

According to Professor Nil Rattan of the Patna-based A.N. Sinha Institute of Political Studies, the apprehensions about implementation have arisen essentially on account of the very track record of the players involved in the process. “Both sides have shown intransigence at different times. While the government has bumbled about from one mistake to another for long spells while addressing the issue, Team Anna had initially taken the obstinate position that nothing short of its version, the Jan Lokpal Bill, would do. The present atmosphere for deliberations could be arrived at only because the government rectified some of its mistakes and Team Anna was ready to come down on some of its demands like bringing the higher judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal. What is the guarantee that this will stand? Who knows whether sections of the government will embark on some adventurist path again,” Nil Rattan told Frontline.

Indeed, the UPA’s track record in handling the early days of Anna Hazare’s August agitation is pathetic. Almost every section of the government, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, kept on making mistakes. Interventions by Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal made matters worse. Finally, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi contributed his mite to the rank confusion in the ruling establishment. These mistakes were in many ways directly proportional to the rising popularity of Anna Hazare.

Undoubtedly, the biggest mistake was the imprisonment of Anna Hazare on August 16, that too in Tihar jail, where people like Suresh Kalmadi and A. Raja, who were arrested on charges of corruption, are incarcerated. Subsequently, an official spokesperson of the Congress classified Anna Hazare as a “top to bottom” corrupt person.

Interestingly, the decision to take Anna Hazare to Tihar jail was made in an apparent effort to keep him away from the crowds. The political bosses and the administrative-bureaucratic leadership, especially of the Home Ministry, had reportedly considered different options, such as placing him in a government or private guest house or moving him out to Ralegan Siddhi (his hometown in Maharashtra), but finally decided against all these, fearing that his supporters would gather in front of the guest house or at Ralegan Siddhi. Informed sources said that they finally decided to shift him to Tihar because it was thought that the jail would not be accessible to Hazare’s supporters. But what happened was the exact opposite. Crowds gathered at Tihar in big numbers, forcing the government to order his release.

In the days following his release, and during the fast undertaken by him at the Ramlila Grounds, Anna Hazare was perceived as the symbol of all that is positive in society and in many ways the one-stop solution for all social problems. Various organisations, such as sections of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar and non-governmental organisations of different hues and patterns of funding, pitched in for crowd mobilisation. Cumulatively, the impact of genuinely inspired participation and motivated organisational mobilisation resulted in massive crowds at the maidan.

Meanwhile, the government made another faulty move: it stated that Parliament cannot give up its supremacy. This when it had undermined Parliament in April by calling Team Anna to draft the Lokpal Bill and keeping the opposition parties out of the drafting committee. While this move was made by the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi made a facile attempt to score some brownie points through an intervention in Parliament highlighting the same supremacy-of-Parliament position.

Ultimately, it required the intervention of some youth power from the government side itself to untangle the mess that senior politicians such as Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and Sibal had created. It was through the good offices of a young Delhi MP, Sandeep Diskshit, that the government built channels of communication with Team Anna and managed to bring about a solution. To start with, Dikshit’s intervention was followed by an appeal from Manmohan Singh to Anna Hazare to withdraw the fast. He made this appeal even while crediting Anna Hazare with valid slogans representing the people’s aspirations.

However, in the euphoria created by this collection of crowds day after day, shrill voices questioning the very legitimacy of political processes and leaderships were heard from the Ramlila podium – from Team Anna leaders including Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, and supporters such as the actor Om Puri. The campaign was such that it sought to raise visions of an apolitical leadership replacing politics in the country. Voices like those of the social activist Swami Agnivesh, which emphasised the need to accord validity to political leaderships and elected representatives, were fiercely criticised by the volunteers of Team Anna and by sections of the crowd. Agnivesh’s comment that Hazare ought to have responded positively to Manmohan Singh’s appeal was targeted for special vitriolic treatment by many of Team Anna’s supporters.

Despite this, the government persisted with its efforts at negotiation. It was in this process that Pranab Mukherjee’s role came to the fore, even though Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal continued to argue that a tough line would ultimately compel Team Anna to compromise. This tussle on strategy reflected in a different manner within Team Anna too. Though voices like those of Swami Agnivesh had been sidelined, there also developed an impression that Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi were pushing things to the brink. A group within Team Anna, including senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, took the lead in meeting a number of political leaders, particularly in the opposition BJP and the Left. These initiatives were supplemented by the Mukherjee-led negotiations.

Gradually, sections of Team Anna that had raised a rant against the political class as a whole had to listen to the less aggressive sections. And, it was this that finally led to the discussion of Anna’s demands in Parliament and the final passage of the resolution.

Notably, when Anna Hazare’s fast was withdrawn on August 28 following the passage of the resolution, Kejriwal made it a point to underline the fact that at no point of time had Team Anna sought to denigrate the entire political class as corrupt. While this was sought to be presented as a clarification, many observers perceived the effect of a corrective reverse pressure in this statement.

The passage of the resolution in Parliament and the acknowledgement of Anna’s agitation methods by parliamentarians have evoked high praise, especially from sections of the media, some of whom have described the agitation as the most phenomenal people’s movement to have happened in the history of independent India. In fact, some commentators have even gone to the extent of suggesting that there could be a classification of national politics as pre-Anna and post-Anna phases.

While it is true that the agitation and the fast touched an emotive chord in large sections of the people, including the middle class which has never participated actively in political initiatives, the fact remains that many other movements, ranging from the struggle for land reforms to the empowerment of Dalits, have had more lasting historical impact on Indian society.

Professor Sudhir Panwar, an Uttar Pradesh-based social activist associated with the Kisan Jagriti Manch, who supported the Anna Hazare agitation as a significant effort to initiate a new democratic discourse in the country’s political system, also pointed out that the increased participation of the middle class had helped get enhanced media attention to the movement compared with other grass-roots initiatives such as those of farmers and agricultural workers.

“The fact is the issue of corruption, especially corruption by the political class, is so pervasive and the fight against it has such widespread resonance that even those who have never thought of the country and its people in a larger sense joined in,” he said.

Panwar pointed out that the middle class, which had assiduously kept away from politics and refused to respond to phenomenal political developments such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots of 2002, was triggered into action on political and other forms of corruption also because of the global economic crisis and its impact on day-to-day life.

Panwar emphasised that the leaders of Team Anna should use this opportunity to broadbase the movement with a larger understanding of other social issues and an earnest incorporation of other social movements. “Only then will this have a lasting impact,” he stated.

Naturally, this would involve adopting a more open approach to issues such as the demands of Dalits and backward classes in relation to the Lokpal and looking at broader issues such as the impact of neoliberal policies. Team Anna has announced its resolve to continue struggles in new areas such as electoral reforms, which will include the right to recall and the right to reject legislators. It has also stated that it will strive for decentralisation of power through the greater empowerment of gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas.

A one-line overview of the national political situation in the context of the agitation and the related developments was provided by Pranab Mukherjee when he said, “We are at a crossroads.” It was with this phrase that Mukherjee began his speech marking the beginning of the August 27 debate in Parliament on the Lokpal Bill.

Clearly, as the statement implies, it is time to move with caution to enhance the democratic content of the nation and its institutions and systems. It is a message that applies equally to the largely discredited and beleaguered political class as also to the new civil society players who have had a modicum of success in initiating a corrective process.

And exactly because of this success, Team Anna needs to be extra cautious in what it preaches and practises. For, the hallucination among some of its leaders that India is Anna and Anna is India militates against the very concept of democratic discourse.

Ministers, MPs face ‘aam aadmi’ protest

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People protesting for Jan-Lokpal Bill supporting Anna Hazare

Top ministers, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and some MPs on Monday faced protests on the issue of the Lokpal Bill after people gathered in front of their houses here following a call by Anna Hazare.

People protested in front of the residences of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, Ms. Dikshit and some MPs.

The first to face the ire of people was Mr. Sibal. Around 40 protesters staged a protest outside his Teen Murti residence seeking his support for the Jan Lokpal Bill.

The protests came following Mr. Hazare’s call to stage demonstrations outside the residences of ministers and MPs to ask them their stand on the Lokpal bill.

“We have come here to request Sibal to support the Jan Lokpal Bill. This is a good bill and everybody should support it,” a protester outside Sibal’s Teen Murti residence said.

On Sunday evening also several people had gathered outside the residence of Mr. Sibal and shouted slogans against him. They left before the police could come to the spot.

People also gathered outside the Talkatora residence of Mr. Mukherjee, who was member of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill along with Mr. Sibal, and shouted slogans against the government.

Police was deployed outside their residences.

Protesters also staged demonstrations outside Dikshit’s Motilal Nehru Road residence. They shouted slogans against the Chief Minister and also mentioned the CAG report on Commonwealth Games.

A protest was also held outside BJP MP Ashok Argal’s residence.

COURTESY: THE HINDU

Defiant Anna jailed, freed, refuses to leave Tihar

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Gandhian Anna Hazare was jailed here Tuesday morning ahead of his fast for an effective anti-corruption law, sparking protests that drew tens of thousands across India. Stunned by the People Power, authorities did a U-turn within 12 hours and declared him free but the fasting soldier-turned-activist refused to walk out of the jail until he was allowed to hold his planned fast without any fetters.

Just six hours after he was driven to the Tihar Jail after 3 p.m. after being sentenced to a week’s judicial custody, an unprecedented outburst of spontaneous public anger led Delhi Police to release him. But Hazare, 74, declined to move until his demands were met.

A desperate administration pressed him to hold a conditional fast for three days at the J.P. Park — the planned venue in the heart of the city — or leave Delhi. But the man refused, setting the stage for a lingering showdown between the government and the civil society he leads.

Hazare confidante Kiran Bedi – a former police officer who was detained but released within hours – said he was determined to pursue his hunger strike at the J.P. Park — but minus any condition. Hazare began his fast Tuesday morning.

She said he would not leave Tihar Jail until this demand was met. Also fasting with Hazare were his key confidants.

The day-long drama effectively left the government floundering, with Congress leaders struggling to defend their earlier hardline stand against a Gandhian who has become an icon in India’s war on corruption.

In the evening, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who earlier convened a meeting of senior ministers to discuss the tense situation — and the likely political fallout.

“We can apologize” for arresting Hazare, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chaudhry said late in the evening, as protests in support of the man raged, mainly in Delhi and Mumbai where thousands poured out of their homes with Indian flags, cloth banners and posters. The rains in Delhi could not dampen people’s mood.

As night broke, crowds in the capital only swelled, mainly outside Tihar Jail and the Chhatrasal sports stadium in another corner of the city where hundreds had been detained for siding with Hazare.

Tihar Jail spokesman Sunil Gupta said shortly before 9 p.m. that Hazare had been let off from his cell but he was in the prison office, talking to officials and refusing to leave.

Eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee said the government had tripped badly. “What is happening in the government?” Sorabjee asked on TimesNow television. “This is a gigantic folly, a gigantic miscalculation.”

The arrests of Hazare and his aides crippled parliament as an otherwise divided opposition closed ranks. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist called for nationwide protests Wednesday.

“The reaction is tremendous all over India,” said former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde in Bangalore, one of scores of cities that saw numerous small and big demonstrations in support of Hazare.

It all began shortly after 7 a.m. when policemen in civilian clothes swooped on Hazare and trusted activist Arvind Kejriwal as they stepped out of a middle class apartment in east Delhi.

They were to begin their hunger strike, in violation of police orders, for a strong Lokpal Bill in place of a government-sponsored one that excludes the prime minister, the judiciary and a mass of junior government officials from its purview.

As hundreds blocked a main road, the police were stuck with Hazare and Kejriwal. Eventually he was taken to the police officers’ mess in another part of the city, then to another office and finally sent to prison when he refused to sign a bail bond.

Before being detained, Hazare — aware that he could be arrested — said in a recorded video message: “Don’t let my arrest stop this movement. This is the nation’s second struggle for freedom.”

The message had an electrifying effect.

In towns and cities across India, spontaneous protests erupted. Tens of thousands took to the streets shouting slogans against the government and hailing the Gandhian.

The biggest shows of solidarity were reported from Delhi and Mumbai.

Apart from major cities such as Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Ahmedabad, numerous big and small protests took place in Udaipur, Jammu, Selam, Bhopal, Surat, Rajkot, Patna, Guwahati, Raipur, Shimla, Mandi, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Bhiwani — and many more.

The people who took to the streets were dominantly from the middle class — sick and tired of India’s endemic corruption. There were men and women, from vocal teenagers to spirited men even in their 80s.

There was no violence anywhere in the country.

Once Hazare was taken to Tihar Jail, large numbers offered themselves for arrest in Delhi. The number swelled to around 1,400, by official admission. After a while police refused to arrest any more saying that the makeshift prison — Chhatrasal stadium — was overflowing.

Activists insisted that up to 5,000 had been detained.

Senior ministers justified the arrest but sounded defensive. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal even suggested that Hazare could again talk to the government over the proposed Lokpal Bill.

Ministers denied that Delhi Police acted under political pressure.

Celebrities too stepped in to verbalise their distress. Lyricist Javed Akhtar said: “I have had certain reservations about Anna.

Written by THE LAWFILE

August 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Congress hits back, calls Anna Hazare corrupt

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Social activist Anna Hazare and the government appear to be headed for a showdown with the anti-corruption crusader on Sunday announcing that he would continue his indefinite fast until his name was cleared of corruption charges levelled against him or an FIR was lodged against him. This would be even if the government accepted all suggestions made by him on the Lokpal Bill, now before the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The announcement came hours after the government described his move to sit on a dharna as “undemocratic and an affront to Parliament” and the Congress accused him of indulging in corrupt practices and maladministration as concluded in the Justice (retd.) P.B. Sawant Commission report in 2005. The Commission was set up to probe allegations of corruption against four Ministers of Maharashtra and Mr. Hazare got his name included for scrutiny after one of the Ministers made allegations against him.

Addressing a news conference here, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said while the individuals had a right to protest, the choice of time and place could be the prerogative of authorities keeping in mind the public order. He said fundamental rights came with duties. As the Lok Pal Bill was now with Parliament, there was not much the government could do about it now.

However, Mr. Hazare said he would go ahead with his hunger strike on Tuesday at the Jayaprakash Narayan Park in Delhi, but said it would be peaceful. He appealed to his followers to ensure that there was no violence or damage to public property. “If there is police action, court arrest peacefully and be prepared for lathis and bullets. It is a long-drawn struggle.”

Unhappy over the tone and tenor of Mr. Hazare’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday, the government and the Congress took on the anti-corruption crusader and said “there was nothing more undemocratic than the stand taken by him.”

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said it was not only an insult to the Prime Minister but also to the national flag. Mr. Hazare had, in his letter, used harsh words against Dr. Singh while seeking his intervention in the allotment of place to hold the dharna. Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said not even the Opposition had pointed a finger at the Prime Minister’s honesty and integrity. The government and the Congress questioned the source of “A company’s” funding and suspected “foreign hand” in the funding. Responding sharply to the charge, RTI activist and Mr. Hazare’s aide, Arvind Kejriwal, said the names of donors were available on the website. He challenged the Congress to put up the names of its donors on the website within 24 hours.

Congress nervous over Hazare’s fast: Team Anna

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Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare on Sunday faced fresh attack with Congress saying he should first clarify “serious” findings against him of a Commission that probed graft charges while Government said his move was “undemocratic” and “unacceptable“.

Hitting out at the Gandhian who has planned to go on an indefinite fast in Delhi from Tuesday, Government also said the right to protest does not mean right to protest at the place of your choice.

The Government rejected the contention by the social activist that it was crushing his Constitutional rights by not allowing his protest at a desired venue and said the demand itself was unconstitutional and the protest at this time was an “affront” to Parliament.

“The right to protest does not mean right to protest at your choice. There is no right to protest at place of your choice and convenience,” Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said.

Addressing a news conference in Delhi,Mr. Sibal and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni slammed Mr. Hazare for his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday, saying the language used in the letter is not Gandhian from any point of view.

Claiming that the “moral core” of Mr. Hazare has been “ripped apart” by the Justice P B Sawant Commission, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said, “The fast from August 16 has nothing to do with either the issue of corruption or the Lokpal bill.”

The Commission had probed corruption charges levelled by Hazare in 2003 against four ministers in the then Maharashtra government.

“The fast from August 16 has nothing to do with either the issue of corruption or the Lokpal bill. If that was the case Hazare would have first clarified the grave charges.

What is his clarification about the serious findings…The nation wants to know,” Tewari said, adding, “I think Hazare and his associates will need to answer conclusions of Sawant Commission.”

“Challenging Parliament”

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the social activist was challenging the constitutional authority of Parliament and asserted there is no third authority to make law.

He trained his guns on Mr. Hazare saying nobody can compel that it has to draft the law as per his desire.

“It is for Parliament to decide. What Anna Hazare is doing, he is challenging the constitutional authority of Parliament, which is not acceptable,” Mukherjee told reporters in Kolkata.

“So far the Constitution is concerned, it is not given to any individual. So far the laws made under List I of the Constitution, Parliament and Parliament alone is the competent authority to make law. So far the List II and concurrent list of the Constitution are concerned, it is the state assembly who are to make the law, there is no third authority to make law,” he said.

Asking if Anna can give a “guarantee” in writing that one instrument like Lokpal will end corruption, Soni said,” “people are being misled that corruption is out as soon as Lokpal is in.”

Reacting to Mr. Hazare’s allegation that the government was putting impediments in his proposed fast, Mr. Sibal said, “the right to protest does not mean right to protest at a place of your choince. There is no right to protest at place of your choice and convenience.”

He also cited judgements of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High court to support his stand.

“The protest is thoroughly unconstitutional…It is an affront to Parliament” he said questioning the purpose of the fast and alleging that there are some “other powers” behind all this and it has a different purpose.

Accusing Mr. Hazare of attempting to bring instability in the country, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari was also critical of Mr. Hazare for the tone and tenor of his letter to the Prime Minister and accused him of crossing all limits of decency and decorum.

Anna Hazare vs Govt: Who will win round II?

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Anna Hazare - Delhi

Image by vm2827 via Flickr

A sprawling park at the heart of New Delhi! The choice of venue handed out to Anna Hazare for his second hunger strike from August 16 is puzzling. Not some obscure corner as Team Anna had feared that a government still smarting from his Fast No. I at Jantar Mantar would offer.

Rather, the Delhi police, administered by the Union home ministry, chose a place that is not only a stroll away from media offices, but also has an ample parking lot for OB vans to telecast live the event.

As if that were not enough, Anna & Co will begin its “second freedom struggle” at a venue named after Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan, who led the only successful movement against a Union government, riding on a wave of anti-Emergency sentiment. Does the government’s decision smack of poor political imagination or is it a show of bravura?

For its part, the government appears to be game for a showdown, unlike in April when it was caught napping at Jantar Mantar. It may have also learned from its other bitter experience, the crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s similar show in June.

“It is the responsibility of parliament to legislate. People are entitled to protest but can’t foist their legislative proposals on parliament. Any such attempt challenges parliamentary process,” HRD minister Kapil Sibal told ET on Sunday.

On Saturday, the Delhi police laid down 22 conditions, including limiting the fast to not more than three days, and a crowd of not more than 5,000 etc. Team Anna refused to sign on the dotted line and was engaging the government in a mind game till late Saturday.

However, the government has other plans up its sleeve. “Listen to the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address,” said a Congress leader, indicating that Manmohan Singh could roll out big-box initiatives on Monday.

Team Anna too knows the political scene is vastly different from April’s. Anna’s carefully crafted message, “We are not against parliament, but against the Central government“, signals that he and his team have realised the folly of taking on the entire political class.

Team Anna also faces the uphill task of retaining national attention. The second show lacks the freshness or curiosity the first evoked. The government has introduced the Lok Pal Bill in parliament and has referred it to a House committee. And the government, under pressure to show its anti-corruption moorings, is also fast-tracking Bills such as judicial accountability and whistleblower laws.

With the government certain to play hardball, the real issue before Team Anna is how to sustain the agitation. “A lot depends on how long Anna can fast,” said Swami Agnivesh. The Congress is already asking why none of Anna’s lieutenants are fasting along with him. “We all have to oversee preparations,” reasons Anna’s confidant Arvind Kejriwal.

Still, activists are discomfited by the government’s move to bring all NGOs under the Lok Pal scanner. “While the Bill has excluded all government staff below Class-1 officers under the Lok Pal’s ambit, it has included all NGOs. That provision can be misused. We say bring only the substantially funded NGOs,” says Kiran Bedi, a key member of Team Anna. Adds Prasanth Bhushan: “Anna’s fast will be an attempt to arouse the nation’s moral consciousness.”

Anna Hazare’s August 16 agitation unjustified: Govt

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Government today said that Anna Hazare‘s plan to go on fast from August 16 on Lokpal issue is “unjustified” at this stage, when it is moving forward on the passage of the bill.

“At this stage an extra Parliamentary protest seems unjustified,” Home Minister P Chidambaram said when asked how the government views Hazare’s proposed agitation at a time when the draft bill for Lokpal is being deliberated before the Standing Committee.

Noting that “everybody has a right to protest and the context and circumstances will decide whether the protest was right or not”, Chidamabram said Hazare team’s earlier fast, when the Lokpal bill was not in place, was perhaps right but not now when a bill has already been introduced in Parliament and the government has “moved forward” on it.

Addressing a press briefing of the Group of Ministers on Media, the Union minister said that the government’s draft Lokpal bill will receive many suggestions in the Standing Committee as well as in Parliament from the opposition parties and some of these may also be accommodated.

To another question on whether the government can intervene in case Hazare’s health is affected, the home minister said, “Certainly, if anyone’s life is in danger, the government has not only a duty but a right to intervene.”

He was, however quick to add that the statement was not in context of Hazare but a general one.

To queries about the delay in permission to Hazare to hold fast and how the government intends to tackle the stir, the home minister said that the matter rests with Delhi police commissioner and the government was “not tackling or pushing any one”.

“I think we are jumping the gun. He wants to have a protest fast and has applied for permission before the Delhi Police. The application is under process. Police commissioner has to decide. See what he decides,” he said.

Asked about Team Anna’s claims of 90 per cent support in Rahul Gandhi‘s constituency Amethi for Jan Lokpal Bill, the home minister said that he can only repeat what Union Minister Kapil Sibal had earlier said that “we are surprised it is not 100 per cent”.

The home minister said people of the country are “reasonably satisfied” with the government moving forward on the Lokpal Bill.

Asked whether the ministers can claim to have gauged the mood of the voters in their constituencies on the Lokpal issue especially in the backdrop of Team Anna’s surveys in Amethi and Chandani Chowk showing people’s support for Jan Lokpal Bill, Chidambaram said that there are no such methods before MPs to conduct any referendum.

There is also no legal mechanism for it but the interactions with party workers and voters give an indication that people are satisfied with the government’s initiative on the issue, he said.