The establishment flexed the administrative heft it could deploy to blunt the political fallout of Anna Hazare’s upcominghunger strike against corruption, when the Delhi Police denied his movement permission to stage the protest at Jantar Mantar, close to the Parliament in the heart of the Capital, where the movement began in April.
Dissatisfied with the draft of the Lokpal Bill approved by the Cabinet on Thursday, Hazare had announced that he would resume his indefinite hunger strike for a strong Lokpal Bill from August 16, a day after India’s Independence Day. Hazare created a political impasse for the government when he first sat on hunger strike in April and found wide resonance by channelising the growing frustration over corruption in public life.
The government moved swiftly to appoint a joint drafting committee for a Lokpal Bill but frequent and public disagreements ensued between the government side and the civil society side in the committee. The stage was set for the next round of standoff on Thursday when the Cabinet approved the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill and the Hazare side termed it a “cruel joke on the nation”.
The Delhi Police has informed Hazare’s associates that if they want to hold the protest at Jantar Mantar, it can be only for a day and feature less than 2,000 people. The agency has suggested that the protest be moved to an alternate venue, such as Burari grounds in North Delhi, where the Congress party held its national plenery session last December.
A Delhi Police spokesperson said no special provision was invoked to target the Hazare campaign and all they are doing is to enforce routine restrictions in force when the Parliament is in session. The monsoon session of Parliament is scheduled to begin from 1 August.
“Section 144 is in effect in the whole NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) area when Parliament is in session. Except for Jantar Mantar, where protests are allowed, but only for a day and for under 2,000 people,” said Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat. “If that is not the case, they can hold it outside the NDMC area, like the Burari grounds,” he added.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, a key figure in the Hazare movement, said the Delhi Police move amounted to violation of the fundamental right to expression and protest. Economic Times