Anna logjam has PM fuming, mass protests continue (Night Lead)

August 17th, 2011 - 11:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS) Tens of thousands rallied here and across India for a second day Wednesday as Gandhian activist Anna Hazare refused to leave Tihar Jail until he could fast for a strong anti-corruption law on his terms, even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused him of trying to trip parliamentary democracy.

Tens of thousands of men, women and youngsters swamped the lawn around India Gate monument and marched to the nearby Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the capital shouting anti-government slogans. India Against Corruption group put the crowd strength at around 1.5 lakh.

Hundreds remained in a stadium elsewhere in Delhi where they had been detained a day earlier. Slogan-shouting and flag-waving crowds also laid a virtual siege to the Tihar Jail, from where the 74-year-old Hazare has refused to leave despite official orders that he was no more a prisoner.

Similar vocal pro-Hazare demonstrations — the crowds ranging from a few hundred to around 25,000 in Hyderabad — gripped towns and cities all over the country in what was described as a veritable Anna storm.

As popular support for Hazare swelled, a beleaguered Delhi Police decided to lift all the restrictions they had earlier imposed on his hunger strike Tuesday. Hazare’s refusal to obey them had led to his arrest.

Hazare aide and former police officer Kiran Bedi said Wednesday evening that the main sticking point was the duration of his fast. Team Anna says the protest, including Hazare’s fast, will last for a month. Police said it could go on for a week and hinted they could extend it by two weeks.

According to Hazare’s associates, police have agreed to let the soldier-turned-activist hold his fast at the sprawling Ramlila ground and let any number of people to join him. Earlier, police had capped that number at 5,000, triggering a confrontation.

Hazare will also be allowed to use a sound system.

Before Delhi Police did a U-turn Wednesday, Manmohan Singh hit out at Hazare in parliament. But the opposition dumped his arguments and insisted that the Gandhian be released.

Speaking in parliament where an otherwise divided opposition has joined forces, Manmohan Singh said Hazare might have high ideals but his path was wrong.

The road Hazare “has chosen to impose his draft of a (Lokpal) bill upon parliament is totally misconceived and fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy”, he warned.

In his 1,800-word statement, he said: “Our government does not seek any confrontation. But when some sections deliberately challenge the authority of the government and parliament, it is the bounden duty of the government to maintain peace and tranquility.”

The statement triggered a heated debate.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj made a scathing attack on the government. “I reject your policy of curbing citizen rights,” she told the prime minister in the Lok Sabha.

Opposition MPs also asked why the government earlier chose to negotiate with the Anna-led civil society to frame a Lokpal Bill.

For a second consecutive day, street protests engulfed many cities and towns across India in support of Hazare — who has emerged as the face of India’s war on corruption — and his version of the Lokpal Bill.

Protests were reported from Chennai, Bangalore, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Guwahati, Ahmedabad as well as other places. In most places the young dominated the crowds.

While most demonstrators maintained they were not against any political party, many expressed disgust with Congress leaders including Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

Mumbai saw thousands take to the streets for a second day. They included students, lawyers, diamond merchants, mill workers, taxi and train drivers and even former soldiers.

Almost everyone said they wanted a corruption-free India.

In Delhi’s India Gate lawns, businessman Vinod Gupta told IANS: “We are here to protest against the injustice done to Anna Hazare. The common man and Hazare have been deceived by the Congress-led government.”

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