Team Anna and Congress in a war of words
Two days before Anna Hazare sits on his second round of indefinite hunger strike on August 16 to press for his demand for total acceptance of Jan Lokpal Bill, an all-out war has broken out between the Congress, United Progressive Allince government and Team Hazare. Onkar Singh reports.
With the noted Gandhian pressing for being allowed to sit on fast at Jantar Mantar and refusing to accept the conditions imposed by the commissioner of police for sitting at J P Park, to dashing a letter to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene, and the latter refusing to oblige, a war of words between the Congress party and Anna Hazare has only intensified.
At a Group of Ministers press conference on Sunday, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said, ''There is nothing more undemocratic than what Anna is doing. The Lokpal Bill is the property of Parliament not that of the government. The question of dialogue between Anna and the government doesn't arise. Team Anna has to speak to the standing committee. If he complies, good. Otherwise, we will have to take action."
"Has any protest being allowed near Capitol Hill in USA or Westminister Abbey in UK?"Sibal asked.
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Image: Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal
The indefinite hunger strike may amount to suicide: Pranab
The Congress also accused Hazare of double standards. The party spoke of pending corruption charges against Hazare and asked him to clear his name first, before speaking of corruption.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, "We have given him (Anna) the venue, but he has not liked it. He is also talking about an indefinite strike but that may not be right as it may amount to suicide."
Image: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee
Let the police arrest us: Team Anna
The 74-year-old Gandhian wants to begin an indefinite hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, the capital's protest hotspot. But he was denied permission for this venue.
The Delhi police instead said he could hold his fast at Jai Prakash Narain Park. The permission, however, was conditional -- only 5,000 people would be allowed to gather --and they would have to vacate the venue by August 18.
Anna Hazare's team today hit out at Congress for levelling allegations against the Gandhian saying the charges only betrayed the party's "nervousness" in the face of his proposed fast and wondered whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was responsible only to his office and not to the country.
As Congress raised its pitch seeking to puncture Hazare's morality plank by telling him to first clarify the "serious findings" of Justice P B Sawant Commission against him and his trusts, his close associate Kiran Bedi said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari seems to be "under stress" to defend his party.
Claiming that the country is fortunate to have the likes of Hazare, she said the Gandhian is a recipient of some of the most prestigious national awards such as the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri and "the first basis of all these is integrity".
On the PM's late night letter to Hazare asking him to approach Delhi Police on the issue of his protest venue, activist Arvind Kejriwal said, "It seems that the prime minister is responsible for Prime Minister's Office and not for the country.
"If the Constitution is not followed, if fundamental rights are not allowed, if there is a problem, it seems he is hesitating to take responsibility," he alleged.
"It is very interesting that we gathered at Jantar Mantar on April 5 without any such clause. They never asked for any undertaking," he claimed.
Addressing a press conference after Delhi Police sent a letter to him containing 22 conditions, Hazare made it clear that he was ready for any eventuality in case government decides to crack down on his protest, saying he would not mind going to jail or being beaten up by police.
Image: Some members of Team Anna: (from right) Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh