Government blinks, Anna on fast track (Intro Roundup)

August 18th, 2011 - 11:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) On the third day of anti-corruption protests sweeping across India, the government finally blinked Thursday and allowed the fasting Anna Hazare to hold his indefinite hunger strike at the spacious Ramlila ground here.

As tens of thousands of people continued to take to the streets in town after town in support of Hazare’s call for an effective anti-corruption legislation, the authorities gave in and said he could fast for 15 days.

Hazare wanted to fast indefinitely while the government wanted him to end his protest within three days. It then agreed to a seven-day fast and now, much later, to a fortnight-long hunger strike.

Hazare, the 74-year-old Gandhian activist who has become a rallying figure for a nation-wide anti-corruption mass movement, will spend Thursday night at the Tihar jail complex and will shift to Ramlila ground in the morning.

Hazare was arrested Tuesday morning and was released in the night under mounting public pressure but continued to stay in jail.

An elated Hazare who began his fast Tuesday soon after his detention, retorted that he would not give up till his version of the Lokpal Bill was passed by parliament.

“I will not stop fighting till I get the Lokpal Bill,” the former soldier said in a televised message, as thousands of cheering supporters massed at the Ramlila Ground at the edge of Old Delhi.

“My health is fine, don’t worry about me. I am not feeling tired. Tonight I will be here (in jail), and tomorrow I will meet you all.”

However, some members of Team Anna have indicated that a middle way could be found which could accommodate some of their key demands, if not all of them.

The government’s U-turn came after intense negotiations between Team Anna and Delhi Police for two days after Hazare refused to leave Tihar Jail despite being released within hours of his arrest.

Delhi Police had earlier put restrictions, including on the number of people who could take part in the Hazare fast that was originally to take place in a smaller park not far from Ramlila ground.

“I am very happy that ultimately good sense has prevailed on the government and it has agreed to permit Anna to fast for 15 days,” said one of his closest aides, former law minister Shanti Bhushan.

“That shows Anna was never unreasonable in his demands,” he added.

He said it “would be wise for the government to withdraw its bill from parliament and move a fresh (Hazare-backed)) bill after talking to Anna”.

Even as the Ramlila ground was being readied, Hazare supporters poured in, waving handwritten posters and Indian flags.

Many formed small and big groups, raised slogans praising the Gandhian and slamming the government.

“We have been here since last night waiting for our leader. The battle has begun for a corruption-free India, and we’ll fight till our last breath,” said Raman Jha, who had come from Bihar.

The crowds outside Tihar Jail, however, thinned by the evening.

Mass protests were reported from dozens of towns and cities, including Mumbai, where too thousands thronged Azad Maidan in the heart of the city.

Processions and demonstrations, most participants being students, were reported from Kolkata, Jammu, Jalgaon, Chennai, Banglaore, Guwahati, Pune, Panjim and Ranchi.

Indians also rallied in small groups abroad in Britain and the US.

The Congress party, which had taken an aggressive line against Hazare until Wednesday, fell quiet. The Congress has come under attack both from protestors and opposition parties.

Home Secretary R.K. Singh said Hazare had been permitted to hold his hunger strike till Sep 2.

Asked if Delhi Police had handled the matter well, he said it was not a question of victory or defeat for anyone.

Hazare, an anti-corruption crusader, fasted for five days here in April, forcing the government to set up a 10-member team that included him to frame a Lokpal Bill.

But Team Anna and the government parted ways soon following serious differences over the official-sponsored anti-corruption bill that excludes the prime minister, the judiciary and junior government officials.

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