'It is a painful duty and we are performing it'
In a clear indication of a change in strategy in tackling Anna Hazare's protest over the Lokpal Bill, the government on Tuesday refrained from making any personal attack on the activist but justified his arrest, saying defiance of police order was not acceptable in democracy.
"This is not a pleasant task and none of us are happy trying to explain the circumstances under which certain events have taken place. It is a painful duty and we are performing it with the seriousness it deserves," Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters.
At the same time, he strongly defended Hazare's arrest, saying the action was taken by the Delhi police after it came to a conclusion that he and his supporters would commit a "cognisable offence" by defying prohibitory orders.
Image: A protest rally in support of Anna Hazare
'Hazare said he would defy orders'
Addressing the media along with Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Chidambaram said the government did make an effort to reach out to him on Monday but the meeting did not materialise.
"On Monday, there was an attempt to meet Hazare, but that was not possible. This morning, police officers met Hazare and drew his attention to his statements that he and his supporters would defy the orders and asked him what his intentions were," he said.
"Hazare said he was proceeding to Jaiprakash Narain Park to defy the orders. At that time, the police came to the conclusion that he and his supporters would commit a cognisable offence and there could be a likely breach of peace. They decided to take action under Sections 107 and 151 of the CrPC," he said.
Image: A protest rally in support of Anna Hazare
'We are on Anna's side and Anna is on our side'
The Union ministers, while disagreeing with Hazare's method for demanding the implementation of the Lokpal Bill, made it clear that they shared the activist's concern on corruption.
"We are on Anna's side and Anna is on our side (as far as fight against corruption is concerned)," Sibal said adding that the disagreement was over Team Anna's insistence on accepting only their version of the bill.
Chidambaram also admitted that there was "great deal of angst and anger" among the people on corruption and termed the Lokpal as "not a panacea but one of the answers" to deal with the menace.
The change in strategy comes in the wake of Rahul Gandhi's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, which was followed up with discussions with United Progressive Alliance troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram in Parliament on Tuesday.
Image: Home Minister P Chidambaram
Hazare is a 'reputed person'
In a marked difference from the earlier attack on Hazare by the party, Soni said the activist was a "reputed person" and the government trusted his word on the protest being peaceful.
She added that no one can guarantee that there cannot be any problem when such large number of people gather at a place, as people seated on a dais do not have control on each and every person participating in an agitation.
While making no personal attack on Hazare, Soni said he may have been "ill-advised" by his colleagues former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan "who understand the law".
Sibal also pointed out media reports that Bedi was accompanied by two Bharatiya Janata Party leaders when she was stopped by the police at Raj Ghat.
Image: HRD Minister Kapil Sibal
'The government has done everything possible'
Replying to a volley of questions, Sibal said, "The right to protest is a Constitutional right and no government can be against it".
Echoing similar views, Chidambaram said the United Progressive Alliance government was not against peaceful democratic protests.
"They are part of the Constitutional rights of the citizen. We acknowledge that right and respect that right. But that right must be exercised under certain reasonable conditions," he said.
Chidambaram also said that the government has no problem if Hazare wants his version of the Lokpal Bill, but added that other civil society activists like Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander and Nikhil Dey have also talked to the government on the issue.
He insisted that the only way a law can be made in this country is by making it in Parliament.
"But if laws are not to be made by Parliament but by some social activists in a maidan, however well meaning they are, outside Parliament, then it is beyond my comprehension," he said.
"The government has done everything possible to facilitate the making of that law. We are on record saying, we will make every endeavour to get that bill out of the Standing Committee as early as possible and pass it in Parliament as early as possible. We have done nothing to impede the progress of the Bill," Chidambaram said.
Sibal said that the chairman of a Parliamentary Standing Committee examining the Lokpal Bill had invited Team Anna for another round of discussions
Image: Anna Hazare after his detention
'This movement is very well thought out'
Soni said that the agitation was not spontaneous.
"This movement is very well thought out," she said, pointing to the fact that Hazare had got his message pre-recorded even before he was arrested.
Chidambaram termed as "careless" Bhushan's allegation that the Delhi police was a "puppet in the hands of the Centre".
"There would be different conditions for different venues, whether the restrictions are reasonable or not can be decided in a court of law," he said when asked why conditions were not imposed when other protests were held in the national capital in the past.
Noting that place, time and circumstances will decide what kind of restrictions have to be imposed, the home minister said that there was always a legal remedy if any condition is considered as unconstitutional.
Chidambaram said Team Anna's draft Jan Lokpal Bill was placed before the Cabinet when it considered the Lokpal Bill.
"Cabinet considered that Bill as well as the Bill proposed by the DoPT. After considering both bills, Cabinet suggested some changes and a Bill was approved. That Bill was presented in Parliament and has been sent to a Standing Committee," he said.
Chidambaram said that no Bill could be perfect but it could be amended if found defective.
Dismissing criticism about not granting Team Anna enough opportunity to discuss the issue, the home minister said, "We have been in constant communication with Team Anna."
"I have spent much more time on the Lokpal Bill than any other issue concerning my ministry," he added.
Image: Ambika Soni