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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Anna Hazare sets Aug 15 deadline for Lokpal Bill

Civil rights activist Anna Hazare and his supporters today began a day-long hunger strike at Rajghat to protest the police crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s supporters during their agitation against corruption here on Saturday night.
After paying floral tributes at Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi, the Gandhian leader reached the protest site at around 10.20 am to a thunderous applause from around a thousand supporters who assembled there amid a large police presence.
Mr. Hazare chanted “Vande Mataram”, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Inqilab Zindabad”, prompting the crowd to echo him. Civil society activists like Shanti Bhushan, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal joined the protest.
Mr. Kejriwal said that except Justice Santosh Hegde, all civil society members of the Lokpal Bill drafting panel will join the fast, which has been organised to protest the midnight crackdown on Ramdev’s supporters that injured over 60 people.
With Delhi Police refusing permission for the day-long hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, Mr. Hazare had decided to shift the venue to Rajghat to avoid a confrontation.
Ms. Bedi told the gathering that this is the “second war of independence against corruption, extortion and bribery.”

“I called Anna ‘Gandhi’ yesterday. It made some people very angry but large number of the people very happy. Why we have to sit here today? We didn’t raise our voices against corruption earlier so we landed up here. We are not against politicians. We approached them, but they did not take up the struggle, so Anna had to take up the fight,” she said.
Earlier, before the protest started, Mr. Hazare said the government is trying to “scare” people off the protest. The organisers claimed action on Ramdev supporters has created a “fear psychosis” among the people.
Asked whether he will seek security for himself, Mr. Hazare said he will never do so and he is not afraid of death.
“Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev never asked for security. If they would have done, our country would not be free,” he said.
“The protest against injustice is not wrong. It leads to a successful democracy. If in such a situation you try to disrupt it, that’s not right,” he said.
Large presence of police personnel somewhat dented the enthusiasm of the protestors. Heavy barricading and police deployment prompted some of them to discuss conspiracy theories about the government plotting to thwart their plans.
Organisers claimed they got several calls from people asking whether police will take action. A senior police official said they have taken adequate security measures but did not “harass” anyone.
Outrage over Ramlila crackdown
People who came to Rajghat were outraged over the crackdown on the Baba Ramdev's congregation. “That action was shameful. One should protest. I have left my house and business to join this agitation. If you don’t have other means to raise your voice, the only option left is to hit the streets,” said B.S. Negi, a retired Assam Rifles personnel who came to Delhi on June 3 for the Baba Ramdev protest.
A number of supporters of Baba Ramdev joined in the protest, including Swami Santoshanand, who shared dais with the yoga guru at Ramlila on June 4.
Gandhi lookalikes, tricolour-waving youths and volunteers wearing Gandhi caps added colour to the agitation.
The protest will be accompanied by an all-religion prayer meeting and a debate on Lokpal Bill.
While Ms. Bedi did not mention the crackdown on Baba Ramdev supporters, Swami Agnivesh said the government should admit that they committed a mistake at Ramlila.
“That will not bring down their stature but enhance it,” he said. Criticising the decision not to give permission to hold the day-long fast at Jantar Mantar, he said it is everyone’s right to protest.
“There may be difference on issues, on leadership. But we have got the fundamental right to assemble peacefully everywhere after a long fight,” he said.
He said the organisers did not want confrontation and decided to go ahead with the protest at Rajghat. “Rajghat is more apt than Jantar Mantar. You have the Gandhi memorial here. It has more greenery and space,” he said.
Earlier in the morning, Mr. Kejriwal said, “It is an assertion of our fundamental rights to assemble peacefully and protest. We will do it and we are ready to face the consequences. In a democracy, it is extremely important that whenever there is injustice, people should protest,” he said.
He said everyone is angry about the “kind of atrocities” committed on Saturday night on the supporters of Baba Ramdev. “It was almost an assault on democracy.” 
Beginning his day-long hunger strike at Rajghat to protest against corruption and the recent police brutality, the 73-year-old-Gandhi devotee Anna Hazare said that if the Lokpal Bill was not passed, he would fast unto death at Jantar Mantar from August 16.

Anna described his movement as the second battle of independence but underlined Gandhi's non-violent path. He said his Wednesday fast was to condemn the police action on Ramdev's supporters at Ramlila ground. Anna likened the police brutality to the British repression of Indians in Jalianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. He advised his supporters to refrain from violence. "The government is very powerful, if we indulge in violence, it will give the government an excuse to quash the movement," he warned.

The Gandhian reiterated, "The government has forgotten that people are the masters and not the government. They need to understand that we are one, not different."

Anna is holding his symbolic one-day fast at Rajghat, the site where Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, was cremated. Thousands of Anna supporters came out to join his fast despite severe heat and made their way through heavy police presence at the venue. Nationalistic songs in catchy beats were sung and cheered at passionately by Anna supporters. Baba Ramdev's Bharat Swabhiman Trust activists were also seen among the massive crowd. Lots of people have been stopped ahead of barricades because of the heavy turnout.

Earlier, the veteran lawyer and civil society member of the drafting committee on Lokpal bill, Shanti Bhushan described Anna Hazare the modern day Gandhi. At this the crowed cheered loudly.

Taking a dig at the Congress led UPA govenment Bhushan said, "The (UPA) ministers don't know constitution. They think of themselves as viceroys of the British era. The right of the police to invoke section 144 was misused for Jantar Mantar to justify the unjust action at Ramlila." Bhushan reiterated that the movement against corruption was not about the lokpal bill but about fundamental rights.

The social activist and leader of the 'Indian Against Corruption' movement Arvind Kejriwal said that if his agitation became communal, he would be the first person to leave it. Kejriwal was referring to the government accusation that the anti-corruption movement was a communal Hindu right wing sponsored movement.

In an offensive against the government, he said, "The ministers have been elected but why are they acting so arrogantly and threatening us?" He challenged the UPA ministers to declare their assets and the political parties to declare their sources of funding. "The government asked us to declare our assets and we did it in 24 hours. We showed where we got and spent money, how much was spent on Ramlila fast. Now we demand the ministers and the political parties to do it too. Let the Congress, the BJP and all other parties give details of the expenses on their rallies for the last five years."

When Kejriwal mentioned the union minister Kapil Sibal's name, the audience booed and yelled 'shame, shame, Kapil Sibal hai, hai, Kapil Sibal murdabad.' The booing went on for at least five minutes. Incidentally, Rajghat falls under the Lok Sabha constituency from where Kapil Sibal has been elected.

Cries of 'shame, shame' became louder when Kejriwal mentioned that the government had refused to bring the prime minister, ministers and horse trading within the ambit of lokpal.

Kejriwal announced that the next agitation would be on electoral reforms and right to justice. He received huge applause. 
PTI and The Times of India

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