Amid Anna storm, PM chides an adamant Hazare (Evening Lead)

August 17th, 2011 - 9:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS) Tens of thousands gathered in the heart of the national capital Wednesday in support of the jailed Anna Hazare even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under attack from the opposition, accused the anti-corruption crusader of trying to trip parliamentary democracy.

Huge crowds of men, women and even children, their number estimated at between 10,000 and 25,000, swamped the lawns around India Gate monument and then marched to the Jantar Mantar observatory about three kilometers away shouting pro-Hazare and anti-government slogans.

Large crowds also laid a virtual siege to the Tihar Jail, from which Hazare has refused to leave despite official orders until he is allowed to hold his planned fast for a strong Lokpal Bill without conditions.

Similar large gatherings — their strength ranging from a few hundred to thousands — were reported from many towns and cities across India in what was described by his supporters as an Anna wave.

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

Hazare aide and former police officer Kiran Bedi said Wednesday evening that the only sticking point was the duration of his fast. While police want it to end within a week, Team Anna says that it will last a month.

According to Hazare associates, police have decided to lift the cap on crowds and parking strength. He will also be allowed to use a sound system.

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