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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.

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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.”