The Manmohan Singh government and Anna Hazare-led civil society activists were on collision course Monday evening with both sides sticking to their respective positions – the government using city laws to checkmate him and Anna unrelenting in his resolve to fast unto death for a tough anti-graft law.
While the government adopted a “take-the-permission-of-policefor-the-protest” line and the police refused to allow Anna to sit on fast at the Capital’s JP Park, Team Anna made it clear that there was no going back on its plans. The activists have intensified their mobilisation efforts to take on the government on the streets of Delhi from Tuesday.
High drama unfolded at Rajghat on the eve of the proposed fast as Hazare arrived unannounced at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial to offer prayers. Crowds thronged the monument, giving a sense of the support Anna enjoys, and of what might be in store when he begins his agitation aday after Independence Day.
“The police have told us that we do not have permission to sit there as we have not accepted all the 22 conditions they have placed. We have not agreed to the restrictions on the number of people and the number of days, which are totally unconstitutional and draconian,” said lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
“We are likely to go there and if they stop us, we will sit peacefully wherever we are stopped. If they arrest us, so be it. We will approach a court to assert our right for peaceful demonstration if they stop us,” added Bhushan, a key figure in the Anna Hazare movement.
The confrontation saw the government shifting its strategy gears at least twice during the day. The day began with the prime minister maintaining from the Red Fort pulpit that there was no magic wand to tackle corruption and suggesting that the Anna agitation was an affront to Parliament.
But at a stock-taking session a few hours later at the Congress headquarters, attended by Rahul Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Ahmed Patel, there was consensus on tactful handling of the situation. Gandhi, sources said, was against employing over-the-top rhetoric against civil society activists as it could increase public anger against the government.
Any name-calling at this juncture – Manish Tewari had termed Anna “corrupt” and his backers a group of “Maoists, fascists and anarchists – could backfire among the people, who are outraged by the string of corruption scandals and reports that the government leadership rubber-stamped many dubious deals. ET