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Anna's arrest sends UPA in a tizzy

Last updated on: August 17, 2011 00:01 IST

Anna's arrest sends UPA in a tizzy

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi

It was a day of high drama beginning with the arrest of Social Activist Anna Hazare on early Tuesday morning, when he was taken in preventive custody by the Delhi police. By late night, he was to be released from Tihar jail where he was lodged, after a magistrate ordered him to be in judicial custody for seven days when the same Delhi police moved an application. Renu Mittal reports. 

Sources say arrangements were being made to send him to Maharashtra and not allow him to enter New Delhi, as had happened in the case of yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

It is learnt that the order of Hazare's release has come at the behest of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, as he did not want the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to be seen to be anti-democratic, or as being dictatorial or fascist.

While Rahul met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram during the day, he met Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal in the evening.

Sources say that the Congress was taken by surprise at the two developments which took place which they felt were unnecessary, and which gave the advantage to Hazare and made it look like a Congress versus Hazare battle.

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Image: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi

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Who was directing 'Operation Hazare'?

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The first was Hazare's arrest, with senior leaders wanting to why he was simply not detained and then sent outside New Delhi as was the case with Ramdev, and the second was why he was sent to Tihar jail, that made him look like a common criminal.

Congress leaders are asking the question: Who was directing 'Operation Hazare' and if it was the combined team of the prime minister and the home minister, then at what level was the issue bungled?

On Tuesday morning, a cabinet committee on political affairs met to take stock of the 'Hazare situation'. Sources say that the CCPA focused on three issues.

The first was that it was a media war, with the electronic media playing a huge role in accelerating the battle between the government and Hazare.

The second was that the government had lost this level of the media war, as it could not effectively put across its point of view to the people through the media.

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Image: Hazare supporters at a protest rally

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Rahul was upset at the ani-Hazare campaign

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The third was that it was a proxy political battle where the opposition parties particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh jumped onto the Hazare bandwagon, with the 'express intention of weakening the government'.

Among those present at the CCPA were Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Mukherjee, Defence Minister A K Antony, Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Sibal and Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid.

Rahul has been active in the Hazare crisis since his return from the United States two days ago, where he was tending to his ailing mother who is being treated in New York.

On August 15, he had a long meeting with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at 24 Akbar Road after the flag hoisting ceremony, where he was reported to be upset at the personal campaign launched against Hazare by Congress spokesmen.

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Image: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh

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The PM should make a statement in both the houses: BJP

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The party has since dropped the charges based on the Justice Sawant report against Hazare, and instead, the Congress focused on the constitutional and legal aspects of the matter.

Along with Hazare, his associates such as Arvind Kejriwal were also arrested, but Kiran Bedi and the Bhushans were let off after being detained. A large number of supporters were also arrested and later released.

With the opposition taking on the government in Parliament over the Hazare's and his team's arrest and both houses being repeatedly adjourned with no business being transacted, divisions surfaced within the opposition ranks after the Left refused the BJP offer of a combined boycott of Parliament.

This led to the BJP dropping its strategy to boycott Parliament. They have now demanded that prime minister should make a statement in both the houses, and it is only after that, that the house would be allowed to run.

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Image: A Hazare supporter shouts anti-government slogans from a police vehicle after being detained
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
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Is the media to blame for the Hazare mess?

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While there is increased panic within the government over how to handle Hazare and the appropriate strategy to adopt to minimise the damage to the government, sources say that Rahul who met Mukherjee and Chidambaram, has advocated that the government to go easy on Hazare and his team, and that neither the party nor the government should launch a personal vilification campaign against him as it can prove to be counter-productive.

Through the day, various ministers including Chidambaram, Sibal, Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni and others spoke about the government's decision with Chidambaram, describing it as a painful duty.

While internally much of the blame is being put on the media, particularly the electronic media which has gone to town in showcasing Hazare and his fight against corruption, sources say that the bulk of the support has come from the RSS, which has put its might behind him to expose the United Progressive Alliance and the corruption within its ranks.

A senior minister said that while the government is looking at the role of the RSS and the funding which is coming to the movement through various sources, it is also investigating the linakages of other members, particularly Arvind Kejriwal.

He is alleged to have very close links with the Maoists, and is instrumental in handling a substantial part of the funding which comes for them. He is involved with the management of the funds which are routed to the Maoists, said a source in the government.

"The fact that this is a dangerous combination is a factor which the government has now woken up to," added the source.

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Image: RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal

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'It was necessary to ensure that Anna didn't begin his fast'

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Congress leaders say that it was necessary to ensure that Hazare and his team did not begin their fast, as it would have been difficult to dislodge them and it could have led to a huge law and order problem.

The government wanted to send the signal that law and order cannot be flouted or defied and that it is the Parliament and the legislators who make the laws, and not outsiders though they may be free to give their contribution to whatever laws are being made.

But again, the perception which has gone is that Hazare was being targetted because he was speaking against the government and exposing their corruption.

The fact that the prime minister has not been able to handle this huge political crisis before the government in the absence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi is a point which has definitely gone home in both the Congress and the government.

A senior leader said the prime minister should have orchestrated the entire operation under his supervision and not let it be handled so ham-handedly.

Image: Social activist Anna Hazare waves from a car after being detained by the police in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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