Anna Hazare sets deadline for Centre
Taking on the government, civil rights activist Anna Hazare on Wednesday went on a day-long fast at Rajghat, declaring that his agitation against corruption was the "second freedom struggle". He threatened to hold another hunger strike from August 16 if the Lokpal Bill is not passed by then.
He accused the government of putting "hurdles" in the drafting of Lokpal Bill and trying to defame civil society members of the joint panel, such as Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal through a "discreet" campaign.
Hazare, joined by his associates and a few thousand supporters, went on the hunger strike to protest the police crackdown on Baba Ramdev's supporters during their agitation against corruption on Saturday night, which he termed as a "blot on humanity" and an attempt to "stifle democracy".
After paying floral tributes at Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi, he reached the protest site at nearly 10.20 am to a rousing welcome from supporters who assembled there amid heavy police presence.
"Mahatma Gandhi fought for our freedom but we are yet to achieve real independence. The second struggle of independence has started. We are ready to sacrifice our lives but we will not buckle under pressure," Hazare said.
Image: A supporter of social activist Hazare holds a placard during a campaign against corruption
'Gram sabha is more powerful than Lok Sabha'
Mounting pressure on the government to quickly enact a law to curb corruption, he said he will launch an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar from August 16 if the Lokpal Bill is not passed by then.
Hazare's indefinite fast in April had evoked nationwide support, forcing the government to set up a joint committee of civil society members and ministers to draft the bill.
Hazare said the government was levelling allegations against civil society members to defame them.
"First they targeted Shanti and Prashant Bhushan through a CD and later took on Hegde. Now we hear that some officers are trying to find out about Arvind's assets. What is the need for doing so when he does not have anything? This is not good. If you want to ask something, ask directly. You are doing these discreet things," he said.
"I want to tell the government that you should wipe it out of your mind that you are the masters. You are not the masters, the people are. The gram sabha is more powerful than Lok Sabha or state assemblies," he said.
Image: Civil society members Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh
'That action was shameful'
Comparing the police action at Ramlila Maidan to Jallianwala Bagh "without the firing part", he said, "What is the difference between your democracy and British Raj?"
Hazare said he will not seek security for himself and he is not afraid of death.
"Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev never asked for security. If they had done so, our country would not be free," he said.
With the Delhi police refusing permission for the day-long hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, Hazare had decided to shift the venue to Rajghat to avoid a confrontation. People who came to Rajghat were outraged over the crackdown on Ramdev's followers.
"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 to join Ramdev's protest.
A Gandhi look-alike, tricolour-waving youths and volunteers wearing Gandhi caps added colour to the protest site where anti-corruption T-shirts worth Rs 150 recorded brisk sales.
Image: Ramdev's supporters scatter after police evicted them from Ramlila Maidan
'Is corruption not like cheating the country?'
Kejriwal said the crackdown at Ramlila Maidan showed that the government wants to give a message that they will continue indulging in corruption and those who will protest will be crushed. "They have torn and thrown out the Constitution," he said
Reacting to Kapil Sibal's remarks that civil society members called them "cheats and liars", he shot back, "If we have said so, what is wrong in it? Is corruption not like cheating the country? Why shouldn't we call them conspirators? This government is indulging in conspiracy as we have seen in the Shanti Bhushan CD episode," he said.
Shanti Bhushan, former law minister and Hazare's associate, said people in the government have forgotten the meaning of democracy and Constitution.
Bedi told the gathering that this is the "second war of independence against corruption, extortion and bribery."
"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.
An all-religion prayer meeting was also organised at the Rajghat. The protest site reverberated with patriotic songs and chants of Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata ki Jai and Inqilab Zindabad. Whenever Hazare raised slogans, the crowd followed him.
A number of Ramdev's supporters joined in the protest, including Swami Santoshanand, who shared the dais with the yoga guru at Ramlila Maidan on June 4.
Image: Baba Ramdev