Posts Tagged ‘Prashant Bhushan

It is a long journey ahead: Kejriwal

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‘We want to pressure the government and assert our rights as citizens.’

Arvind Kejriwal received the Magsaysay award in the Emergent leadership category in 2006. A mere five years later, he has far surpassed that milestone, winning acclaim and notice for the way he conceived and crafted Anna Hazare‘s anti-corruption movement. He talks to Vidya Subrahmaniamabout the Jan Lokpal campaign, what it accomplished and why it often became controversial.

The scale and spread of the Anna movement have baffled many. How did this happen?

A movement cannot be created out of nothing. In this case, anger against corruption was at the point of eruption. Then two things happened. One, instead of merely echoing the anger, the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB) offered a solution. Second, Anna emerged as a credible leader at a time of huge leadership crisis in politics. See, people did not understand the details of the JBL. They simply saw it as a “dawai” [medicine] for corruption. It is the combination of a solution and a figure like Anna — who lived in a temple with no assets — that clicked.

When we conducted referendums on the JLB, we used to try and explain its contents to people. But they said they did not want to understand the details. They just wanted to put a mohar [stamp] on Anna.

How did you communicate your message to such a large number of people?

Technology played a key role in this. When in January this year, India Against Corruption (IAC) member Shivendra suggested to us that we use Facebook to publicise our rallies, I dismissed it saying Facebook has a limited, urban following. But Shivendra went ahead. We had planned a single rally on January 30 at the Ramlila Maidan. But because we connected on Facebook, we were able to conduct simultaneous rallies in 64 cities. SMS texting also played a critical role. Our SMS communication was designed very intelligently. A company in Mumbai suggested we ask for missed calls as a mark of solidarity. Missed calls cost nothing. In March, we sent out two crore SMS messages and got 50,000 missed calls. Then we targeted the 50,000 callers, asking if they would like to enrol as volunteers for IAC. Initially 13 people responded. We sent two more rounds of messages to the 50,000 callers. And in just one week, the number of volunteers swelled to 800.

Surely television played a disproportionate role in projecting the movement.

TV certainly helped, both when Anna sat on a fast at Jantar Mantar and then at Ramlila Maidan. But the media cannot create a moment. They can at best magnify it. The crowds at Ramlila and the crowds that followed him when he left for Medanta hospital were not manufactured.

There have been reports of dissensions within the Anna camp. Also that the deadlock was broken only because Congress/government negotiators spoke directly to Anna.

Anna appointed Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan and me to negotiate with the government. One day I was very tired and Kiran was also not around. So, Medha and Prashant went for the meeting. The next thing we hear [from the media] is that Kiran and I have been sidelined, that we are hardliners, and we are deliberately preventing Anna from breaking his fast. This was disinformation by the government.

You started with the maximalist position of “Jan Lokpal Bill by August 30 and any amendments only with Anna’s permission.” From that to accepting a “sense-of-the-house” resolution that was not voted upon — wasn’t it a climbdown?

When we started on August 16, there was such an overwhelming response that we thought the government would agree to our demands. People wanted the JLB. After a few days we realised that there was a serious leadership crisis in the government — negotiators were constantly backing off. In the last three days of the fast, it happened four times. The Prime Minister made a conciliatory statement, Rahul Gandhi went off on a tangent. Salman Khurshid, Medha and Prashant sat together and drafted a resolution. Next day [August 27], at 1.30 p.m., Salman said no resolution. It became clear to us that what we wanted — Parliament voting on a resolution containing Anna’s three demands — was not going to happen. Therefore we had to change our strategy.

Are you satisfied with the resolution that was adopted? It is not categorical and leaves escape clauses.

We are satisfied because it contains Anna’s three demands. It will not be easy for the Standing Committee to renege on Parliament’s commitment. We will be keenly watching the Committee’s proceedings and the MPs also ought to know that they are on watch. I know, of course, that it is a long journey ahead.

Kiran Bedi told a TV channel that at one point when all seemed lost, a miracle happened: L.K. Advani called her and gave her his word that a solution will be reached by the following evening [August 27]. She also said that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which until then was ambiguous on the JLB, changed its stand and offered full support to Anna.

We met the leaders of the main political parties thrice and as part of this we also met Mr. Advani. However, we have been clear that no BJP leader or leader of any communal organisation will share the stage with us. This is the decision of our core committee. As for Kiran talking about Mr. Advani, please put that question to her.

So are you an apolitical movement?

No, we are political but we are concerned with people’s politics. The movement will always remain outside of political parties and outside of electoral politics.

You will not float a political party?

No, never. We don’t need to get into the system to fight it. We want to pressure the government and assert our rights as citizens. Everyone who has a dream need not get into politics.

Doubts have been raised about the credentials of those who have donated money to IAC. Sometime ago, a citizens’ group from Hyderabad wrote to you saying it was shocked to see some very discredited names in your list of donors.

A number of people have contributed money to the Anna movement. There is complete transparency from our side. Our receipts and expenditure are transparent. But we have no mechanism to go into the antecedents of our donors. And donations are streaming in, making it impossible to keep track. If there is a glaring case, we will certainly investigate it. I know, for instance, that there has been talk of the Jindal group. But those who donated to IAC are from Sitaram Jindal, not the Jindal mining group.

Your entire fight is about transparency and accountability. One of your NGOs, Public Cause Research Foundation, received donations on behalf of IAC and issued receipts in its name. But until August 29, there was no mention of Anna or the donations on the PCRF website.

That is an oversight. We will immediately update the website and provide a link to IAC.

Another of your NGOs, Kabir, received grants from the Ford Foundation (FF). According to the FF, Kabir received $172,000 in 2005 and $197,000 in 2008. The FF also sanctioned an “in-principle” grant of $200,000 for 2011, which you have not accepted so far. Why does Kabir not mention the FF and these specific details on its website?

We did not give the specific details because we also got some other NRI contributions and these were clubbed together. I will make sure that the website gives the break-up.

Fears have been expressed about the form of mobilisation we saw over the last four months. There was anger and impatience and, some would say, coercion in your methods. During the Ram Rath yatra, too, the BJP said people were angry because the mandir had not been built for 40 years. Aren’t you setting a worrying precedent?

The two situations are not comparable. One was communal and divisive and went against the grain of the Constitution. We are not asking for anything illegal. Our demands resonate with the people and our movement has been unifying, non-violent and entirely within rights given by the Constitution. What is wrong if people demand a strong law against corruption? What is wrong if they ask for the Jan Lokpal Bill?

Why did you ask for Parliamentary due process to be suspended? You didn’t want the JLB to go to the Standing Committee.

The JLB was drafted after wide consultations; it underwent many revisions based on feedback. Where is this kind of discussion in the drafting of anysarkari Bill? The purpose of the Standing Committee is to take multiple views on board. But not all Bills reach the Standing Committee, and in 90 per cent of the cases, the government does not accept the Committee’s recommendations. So why the fuss only for JLB which has been widely discussed and debated?



Jan Lokpal Bill: Need serious consideration on Anna’s three conditions, says Pranab

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Pranab Mukherjee, Indian politician, current F...

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Observing that the nation was at “cross-roads” in view of Anna Hazare’s campaign, government today asked Parliament to consider the Gandhian‘s three key demands on Lokpal Bill within Constitutional framework and by preserving Parliament’s supremacy.

Making identical statements in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to form the basis for a debate, Finance MinisterPranab Mukherjee said the issues raised by Hazare are “important” and “genuine” which “deserve our serious consideration”.

As Hazare’s fast entered 12th day, Mukherjee said the situation was “moving out of hand” and “crisis” had been created as he asked lawmakers to “seize the moment and demonstrate the commitment” in dealing with corruption which is “gnawing at the vitals of our polity”.

He said Parliament needed to discuss (i) whether the jurisdiction of the Lokpal should cover all employees of the Central government, (ii) whether it will be applicable through the institution of the Lok Ayukt in all states, and (iii) whether the Lokpal should have the power to punish all those who violate the ‘grievance redressal mechanism’ to be put in place.

These are the aspects that Hazare and his team are demanding to be included in the Lokpal Bill.

“In case a consensus emerges at the end of the discussions, the Standing Committee will, in the course of their deliberations, take into account their practicability, implementability and constitutionality.

“For, everything that we do, must be consistent with the principles enshrined within our Constitutional framework,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee wanted Lok Sabha to consider whether Lokpal should have power to punish those who violate ‘grievance redressal mechanism’.

“The standing committee can take up their practicality, constitutionality and implementability,” Mukherjee said.

In the Rajya Sabha, Pranab said that the issues on which Hazare is agitating are genuine. Mukherjee said situation created by Hazare’s agitation is “moving out of hand” and crisis has been created.

Team Anna and the government held another round of talks here today to end the deadlock over the Lokpal Bill prior to the debate on the issue in Parliament.

Team Anna members Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar met Law Minister Salman Khurshid here and discussed issues which the government could take up in Parliament during the debate.

“Only thing that has been discussed is what will come up before Parliament…we have already give Anna’s letter to him,” Patkar told reporters after the meeting.

Noting that dialogue between both sides was on, she said Hazare and his team have not gone back on their three key demands — all civil servants should be brought under Lokpal, a Citizen Charter should be displayed at all government offices and all states should have Lokayuktas.

“We are still on the same three points, which really matters. The government is responding. Now it is not only the government, it is also the opposition parties. All are positive about the process,” she said.

She said every MP is concerned about Anna’s health. The agitation will continue as has been made clear by Anna. There is no question of ending the protest, she added.

Fasting Anna Hazare today broke his silence of nearly 38 hours and addressed his supporters declaring that he will continue his protest till his last breath for a strong anti-corruption law.

Amid mounting worries over the 74-year-old Gandhian’s health, Hazare said he could fast for another “three-four days” and “nothing will happen to him”.

Hazare, who did not address his supporters since 8 pm on August 25, emerged on the dais at around 10 am to a loud cheer from supporters who raised slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.

“I am not doing this for my personal gain. If it was so, I would not have lasted five days. Till Jan Lokpal Bill is passed, my protest will continue,” the Gandhian told his supporters at Ramlila Maidan where he is sitting on a fast.

He said he was getting energy from those who are coming out in support of the cause and this energy will help him sustain for three-four more days. “Till Jan Lokpal Bill is passed, I won’t die,” he said in his speech that lasted for five minutes.

Hazare said he was surprised at the manner in which the country has responded to his call while referring to a person who was sporting a tattoo on his shoulder that stated that he was the supporter of the Gandhian.

“I am surprised that a ‘fakir’ is getting this support. It is not me who is doing all this. God has pointed fingers at me. He has chosen me to do the work. It is he who is doing all this. I am praised for what I am doing. A ‘fakir’ should not be praised so much,” he said.


Anna Hazare fast: Lokpal debate in House unlikely today over procedural delays

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IIT-Delhi faculty and students show support for Anna Hazare

A debate scheduled in Lok Sabha on various versions of theLokpal Bill, including that of fasting anti-corruption activistAnna Hazare, was unlikely on Friday because of procedural delays. Soon after the debate began, the House was adjourned till 3.30 pm following uproarious scenes by the Opposition.

Parliamentary Affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the debate may now be held on Saturday. He expressed displeasure over the functioning of the House.

‘Anna ready to break fast’
The developments came as Hazare’s fast entered its 11th day at the Ramlila Maidan. Hazare’s associate Kiran Bedi said the Gandhian activist would end his hunger strike once Parliament passed a resolution that met his demands. These are: the inclusion of lower bureaucracy under Lokpal, a citizens’ charter and the setting up of state Lokayuktas.

“Today is a key moment for India’s future. The resolution by MPs will be victory for every Indian,” Bedi said.

Prashant Bhushan, another Hazare associate, said: “A mere discussion will not do. Parliament will have to pass a resolution indicating that the Lokpal Bill covers the three issues raised by Anna.”

Hazare’s team demanded that Parliament, if need be, hold the debate on Saturday too, saying Hazare’s health was precarious and corruption was a critical issue.

Rahul suggests Lokpal on lines of EC

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi in Lok Sabha.

Hazare’s ongoing fast was lauded by Rahul in his Zero Hour speech in Lok Sabha, but he emphasised that the fight against corruption had to move beyond setting up an effective Lokpal.

“We can’t wish away corruption. It will require a comprehensive programme of action. There is a perception that enactment of single Bill will eradicate corruption. I have serious doubts about that,” Rahul said.

“The Lokpal law is just one element in the fight against corruption. Laws are also required on government funding of elections, land issues and mining,” he said, reminding MPs that they had the responsibility of allowing Parliament to function so that such laws could be enacted.

“Why not make the Lokpal a constitutional body like the Election Commission?” asked Rahul, all the while being backed by Congress MPs.

“Democractic processes cannot be undermined. Underming Parliament’s supremacy is dangerous for democracy,” he cautioned. “Let us commit ourselves to truth and probity in life. We owe it to the people of India.”

BJP MPs interrupt Rahul speech
Rahul’s statement sparked off an uproar in the House, with BJP MPs rising from their seats and shouting slogans. His speech was interrupted several times. BJP leader Ananth Kumar later stepped up the attack on the Congress by asking if Rahul or the prime minister was running the government.

Earlier in the day, Rahul met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, apparently to discuss the Lokpal Bill.

MPs seek debate under Rule 193

Doctors examine Anna Hazare
Doctors examine Anna Hazare at the Ramlila Maidan.

As the Lok Sabha session began on Friday, Congress MPs Jagdambika Pal, Anu Tandon and Sanjay Nirupam gave a notice to Speaker Meira Kumar, seeking a debate on the Jan Lokpal Bill under Rule 193.

This was after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal expressed doubts whether a debate could take place on Friday as there was no notice for it.

The government had on Thursday agreed to a debate on three versions of the Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha, giving rise to hopes of a resolution of the ongoing crisis.

Hazare’s team has demanded a Parliament debate under Rule 184, which allows voting.

Team Anna’s draft resolution for Parliment

Supporters of Anna Hazare
Supporters of Hazare in New Delhi.

Hazare’s team has proposed a resolution for Parliament. It reads as:
1) A Lokpal Bill shall be passed by Parliament in the ongoing session, which will set up an independent Lokpal institution at the Centre and an independent Lokayukta institution on the same model in each state.
2) The House further resolves that Lokpal shall have jurisdiction over all public servants at the Centre and the Lokayukta shall have jurisdiction over all public servants in respective states.
3) Such law would require that all government departments make Citizens’ Charters to give information about which public-dealing work being done in how much time and by which officer. Violation of the Citizens’ Charter shall be penalised by Lokpal or Lokayukta.

Anna writes to PM
Hazare also wrote a letter to the prime minister, which was taken to him by Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The highlights of the letter are:
– I am not sitting on a fast for serving my selfish purpose. I am just a common man and I want to help the poor people of this country. I have no partaking in power politics.
– Our movement is not against any person or any party. We want to fight and remove corruption. During this movement, if anything said by any of the team members has hurt your sentiments, then I apologise on their behalf.
– The common man is getting affected on a day-to-day basis due to corruption.
– (Mentioning the three demands on Lokpal Bill) If these can be accepted by Parliament, I will end my fast. Else I will keep sitting at Ramlila Maidan.

Govt wants assurance from Anna

Supporters of Anna Hazare
Supporters of Anna Hazare shout slogans outside the PM’s residence.

The government has sought a concrete assurance from Hazare that he will break the fast after Parliament takes up his Jan Lokpal Bill.

Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit, one of the negotiators for the government, said Hazare should keep the sanctity of his fast and stick to his words.

“This hunger strike has been an ideal for all. Anna is kind-hearted, I appeal to him to break his fast. He had said he will end his fast as the discussion begins. Since everybody is ready for the discussion, he should end the fast,” he said.

Ministers continue with meetings
Law Minister Salman Khurshid met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to discuss a way out of the deadlock. “We want a collaborative, cooperative resolution in the House. The whole House must be party to it,” Khurshid said.

Team Anna meets Left leaders
A day after meeting the BJP top brass, Hazare’s team met CPI(M) leaders on Friday.

“We are going back to all political parties to ask which provisions of the Lokpal need more clarification,” said Bedi.

After meeting CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat, Bhushan said, “I have given clarifications that the CPI(M) sought. The party has indicated that they by and large support the Jan Lokpal Bill.”


Anna Hazare rides wrath yatra, ups ante on Jan Lokpal Bill

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Emboldened by the swelling crowds at Ramlila Maidan, Gandhian anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare upped the ante within hours of emerging from Tihar Jail on Friday. He set a three-week deadline for Parliament to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, pending which he wouldn’t budge from the ground. This was not only contrary to his group’s commitment to vacate the protest site by August 31, but was also seen to be brushing aside parliamentary processes as no such deadline is set for standing committees to study draft legislations in detail.

The ultimatum marks a hardening of stand which could queer the pitch for negotiations and a settlement to the dramatic face-off. While Team Anna has insisted on the Lokpal Bill being passed in the monsoon session ending September 8, it had refrained from setting a deadline for the passage of their version of the bill, maintaining that they respected Parliament and would abide by its decision.

Anna also gave a call for a jail-bharo campaign if the deadline was not met. Although his associate Prashant Bhushan said they were open to negotiations with the government, the ultimatum narrows the scope of a settlement. Taken by surprise by the groundswell of support for Anna, government leaders seemed inclined to wait out Anna’s protest, reckoning that it would be difficult for his team to sustain this level of popular support.

Addressing the media at Ramlila Maidan, the 74-year-old Anna said: “I have made the decision of my life. It is up to the government to pass the (Jan Lokpal) bill. If it is not passed in this session, I will continue my fast till my last breath.” The pledge drew huge applause from his growing band of supporters. His aide Arvind Kejriwal brazenly declared the group’s lack of faith in parliamentary democracy. “Parliament is not supreme, the public is,” he said. “It’s our right to raise our voice against corruption and the elected representatives must hear it.”

Asked if the three-week deadline was not impractical, Anna shot back that it was the government’s headache. “They have the majority in Parliament and it is up to them to see how they get the bill passed,” he said.

There is, however, a view that two private member’s bills – introduced by BJP’s Varun Feroze Gandhi in Lok Sabha and independent member Rajiv Chandrashekhar in Rajya Sabha — can offer a way out.

Varun plans to move the Jan Lokpal Bill as his bill, while Chandrashekhar’s bill has incorporated features of civil society’s version of the legislation.

Since the grouse of the civil society is that Parliament won’t get to debate the merits of their bill, the two private members’ bills can give the two Houses an opportunity to assess the merits of the two rival pieces of legislation, potentially clearing the way for a resolution.

However, procedures and conventions may come in the way. A private member’s bill can be introduced in the House only after a month’s notice. While Varun Gandhi hasn’t yet formally sought the Speaker’s permission to move the bill, Chandrashekhar submitted his bill in the first week of August. So, neither has a month’s time to be taken up for adoption in this session. Still, extraordinary situations often lead to “creative” solutions. Perhaps, with the House’s permission, the process may be fast-tracked.

Prashant Bhushan told the media: “We are not afraid of discussions. If somebody from the government wants to discuss, we have no problems. But we are not ready to compromise on corruption.”

Kejriwal added that nobody from the government has approached them so far for discussions.

Judiciary out of Lokpal? Team Anna softens stand

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Arvind Kejriwal

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The 40-hour standoff between Anna Hazare and the government ended on Thursday, with the Gandhian leader agreeing that his fast would not exceed 15 days. The Hazare group also clearly indicated that it is ready to drop its insistence over a key sticking point on inclusion of the higher judiciary within the ambit of the proposed Lokpal law.

Team Anna might consider dropping the contentious demand to bring the judiciary in the anti-corruption ombudsman’s jurisdiction if the government delivers on a strong judicial accountability bill. The inclusion of higher judiciary has been opposed by both the government and main opposition party BJP on the ground that it would affect the independence of the courts.

There is also a possibility that the Hazare group and the government might be able to find middle ground on another important demand relating to including the prime minister in the law’s jurisdiction.

If the government’s plans for a Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill meet the expectations of the activists, judicial probity need not be addressed by the Lokpal, said Anna’s associate Arvind Kejriwal. “If a strong judicial accountability bill is brought to Parliament, we are open to excluding this from the Lokpal,” he said.

Hazare’s associates sealed a deal with Delhi police early on Thursday morning and Kejriwal said Anna’s fast would not continue beyond 15 days. “It depends on how the government responds to the demands put before it,” he said. This was echoed by another key member of Team Anna, Kiran Bedi, who said the Gandhian would fast as long as his medical examiners, including Dr Naresh Trehan, felt he should.

Clauses of the undertaking that Team Anna has agreed to and which were part of the original terms include – no damage to public property; gathering will not exceed the limit of the ground; the crowd will not spill over to nearby roads; protesters will cooperate with traffic police; loud speaker use within the ambit of a Supreme Court order setting a 10 pm limit.

Team Anna, however, is insistent that the Lokpal must be able to probe the Prime Minister. “The PM has to be in the ambit of the Lokpal,” Kejriwal said. There is a possibility of this demand being conceded as unlike in the case of higher judiciary, BJP and Left parties differ with the government with the Opposition backing the activists.

Government sources felt the inclusion of the PM’s office with riders like excluding decisions relating to national security and foreign policy can be considered by the standing committee examining the Lokpal bill. It is a bargaining chip the government can use. At the Cabinet meeting that cleared the bill, four ministers supported Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s view that examination of an incumbent PM is better than an inquiry after he demits office.

Indications from both camps point to the likelihood of another round of negotiations or at least exchange of proposals with the government still opposed to Team Anna’s demand for a large bureaucratic structure and inclusion of lower-level officials in the law’s ambit. The government sees Lokpal as an institution to specifically combat corruption in high places.

Speaking to TOI, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the core committee of India against Corruption was meeting on Friday to discuss the demands. “The matter will be discussed in the core committee then.” Sources said while the group has been militant about its demands, it would soon decide on the inclusion of judiciary.

Team Anna’s statements gain significance as they come at a time when they have won a battle of wills with the Centre after a 40-hour standoff. The breakthrough came in the small hours on Thursday after Anna associates met Delhi Police commissioner B K Gupta, and reached an agreement.

The other clauses are arrangements for drinking water, medical aid, mobile toilets, proper lighting; no carrying of lathis or weapons; no provocative slogans or speeches; no inflammatory slogans within 200 meters of religious or worship places; care to be taken of public safety and no use of crackers.

Medical examination of Anna and those who will keep fast along with him will be conducted by government doctors thrice a day, while Team Anna promised to abide by the April 16, 2009, order of the Supreme Court which stipulated rules and regulations for public protests.

‘Bill designed to protect the corrupt and victimise protesters’

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Dr. Kiran Bedi @ SWIM Conference. SWIM - Succe...

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The gulf between the government and Team Anna widened on Thursday, with the civil society members burning copies of the Lokpal Bill, and Union Ministers P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and V. Narayansamy terming the act an “affront” to Parliament.

As the government tabled the Bill in the Lok Sabha, social activist Anna Hazare, in his native village of Ralegaon Sidhi in Maharashtra, and his team here burnt copies. They said the Bill was designed “to protect the corrupt and victimise, harass and punish those who raise their voice against corruption.” Some people later burnt the copies at Jantar Mantar here.

Asserting that he would go ahead with his fast here from August 16, Mr. Hazare said he felt cheated as the government had persuaded him to give up his agitation in April, promising a strong, effective and comprehensive Bill, but came up with a weak piece of legislation that served no purpose. (However, till Thursday, Mr. Hazare has not been given permission to go head with his protest at any venue in New Delhi.)

Leading the protest at Kaushambi in Ghaziabad, Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh said the government’s version of the Bill was “anti-poor and anti-aam aadmi,” as it did not deal with day-to-day corruption and contained “draconian provisions” against whistle-blowers.

“We challenge the authority of the democratically elected government of the day, which has started behaving in a unilateral and dictatorial manner,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

Claiming that the Bill was structurally flawed, he said that while excluding the office of Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and MPs, it did not cover the lower bureaucracy also and lacked a grievance redress mechanism to deal with everyday corruption that had taken root. “Parliament has been given a fait accompli Bill, which is structurally so weak that even the standing committee cannot make many changes.”

‘Sarkari Bill’

Mr. Bhushan said five of the nine members on the committee to appoint the Lokpal were “sarkari.” “Not only that, the removal of the Lokpal is totally in the hands of the government. As soon as the removal of the Lokpal is recommended, the government can issue orders of suspension, so how is the Lokpal independent?”

Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Bhushan were members of the joint drafting committee, which was to work out the draft of a Lokpal Bill. But that exercise failed as there was no meeting ground between the government and civil society members on crucial issues.

Fresh row brews as cops put curbs on Anna Hazare protest

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Anna Hazare - Delhi

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Government and Team Anna hurtled towards a confrontation on Friday whenDelhi Police issued orders to prevent activist Anna Hazare from sitting on an indefinite strike at Jantar Mantar.

The order came a day after the civil society group attacked the Lokpal Bill approved by the Union Cabinet, describing it as a cruel joke on the public and raising the prospect of a fresh anti-government mobilization by civil society activists.

The government bill excludes the office of the prime minister, judiciary, lower bureaucracy and conduct of MPs within Parliament from the anti-corruption legislation.

Wary of attracting the charge of being “authoritarian”, Delhi Police has stopped short of banning Hazare’s protest outright. Instead, it said Hazare can hold his protest at Jantar Mantar – the launch pad for his first agitation which forced the government to speed up the drafting of the Bill – only for a day and on the condition that the turnout does not exceed 2,000. The conditions were unacceptable to civil society activists who have conceived the fresh Anna fast as a tactic to get the government to accept its suggestions on the Bill. Police also said they would take action to enforce orders.

Although Delhi Police cited security concerns in the light of the ensuing monsoon session of Parliament and said the Gandhian could move his protest to Burari on the outskirts of the capital or to Ajmal Khan Park, the Hazare camp reacted with indignation to what it called the “undemocratic” move of the government. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the move was unconstitutional and in violation of people’s fundamental rights.

To add to the spat, a police order from Connaught Place sub-division on Thursday evening mentioned Jantar Mantar as one of the areas being put under prohibitory orders from July 30 to September 9 – the duration of the Parliament session. This implied that any kind of protest at the site would be deemed illegal. On Friday, however, the police clarified that Jantar Mantar was not among the areas where Section 144 of CrPC was being imposed and that it had been included in the list by mistake.

But the other restrictions on the protest mentioned earlier would apply. Team Anna is now weighing options on whether to launch “civil disobedience” and court arrest on August 16 or move the courts against the decision to restrict the protest at Jantar Mantar.

Political reaction was swift too. The BJP attacked the government for allegedly seeking to suppress dissent, but the Congress said the law permits the government to impose prohibitory orders.

Police’s objections to Hazare’s fast are the same as the grounds used to evict Baba Ramdev’s supporters from Ramlila Maidan in June this year. Team Anna was informed by the police that since the House would be in session and activists assembling in large numbers near Parliament could raise security concerns.

The police also ruled out Rajghat – where Hazare had protested against crackdown on Ramdev supporters – as a venue for the agitation, citing an assessment that Anna’s supporters may be mobilizing over 30,000 supporters. Sources said that by the standards of the police, this was an unusually generous estimation which suggested that grounds were being prepared for denial of permission.

The Hazare campaign has also been asked to take a no-objection certificate (NOC) from NDMC for the Jantar Mantar protest.

Although the police said this was not a final decision and the department was still in talks with Hazare’s team, they made it clear that it would not compromise on security because of the Parliament session. “We have neither denied nor given permission as of now. We have asked for some clarifications for which we are waiting for a reply,” said Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat.

Additional Commissioner of PoliceNew Delhi, K C Dwivedi told TOI, “We have not stopped Anna Hazare from protesting. We have suggested to the organizers that an indefinite strike is not possible at Jantar Mantar.”

Police officers claimed that during Parliament session, an average 25 groups come from various parts of the country to Jantar Mantar every day for protests and they won’t have space if thousands of Anna supporters are allowed. “It will create law and order problems. There are chances of stampede and massive traffic jams if such a large crowd is allowed for too many days,” said a senior officer.

Meanwhile, police commissioner B K Gupta met home minister P Chidambaram and is learnt to have briefed him about the preparedness to deal with the situation if Hazare insists on continuing with his agitation from August 16.

Hazare had sent his request to the Delhi Police 13 days ago after which the police sent him a letter with two queries – duration of his protest and expected gathering. After a meeting with Delhi Police on Friday, Neeraj (member of Hazare’s team) told TOI, “We told the police that there would be no fixed duration for the agitation and that we cannot stop people from coming to our campaign so we cannot give an exact number.”