New Delhi: The government and team Anna headed for a showdown on Saturday, with team Anna outrightly rejecting the “conditional permission” granted by Delhi police to hold their proposed fast from August 16 to press for a stronger Lokpal Bill.
In the permission letter handed over to Team Anna, the Delhi police have set as many as 22 conditions for the fast. “The fast can be held from 8.00 am, August 16 to 6.00 pm, August 18. Not more than 5,000 people can gather at the demonstration site. Not more than 50 four-wheelers and two-wheelers each would be allowed at the site of the fast,” it said.
Reacting strongly to the “conditional permission” for the fast, team Anna accused the government of compromising with the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens.
“Our constitutions have guaranteed the citizens free speech. But, our freedom is being taken away on the eve of 65th Independence Day”, Hazare said.
“Attempts are being made to bring autocracy in democracy”, he added. Hazare along with the other civil society members are addressed a press conference in the capital.
Hazare also sought the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to "show courage" and protect his fundamental rights.
In a strongly-worded letter to Prime Minister, Hazare wrote, "Your government is trying to crush those who raise their voice against corruption. This is happening more often in your government."
Seeking Singh`s intervention, he wrote, "You are 79-years-old and are holding the nation`s top position. You have got everything from life. What else do you want from life? Show courage and take some concrete steps."
Noting that it was the duty of the Prime Minister to protect the Constitution and democracy, Hazare expressed hope that Singh would "understand the gravity of the situation and would do something quickly".
Replying to Hazare’s letter, Singh told the social activist that his grievances needed to be "addressed by the statutory authorities who have taken the decision".
"My office does not in any way get involved in the decision-making process", the Prime Minister said.
Talking to media persons, Hazare made it clear that he was ready for any eventuality in case government decides to crackdown the protest, saying he would not mind going jail or beaten up by police.
Delhi Police had offered Jai Prakash Narain National Park as venue for Anna Hazare`s protest subject to a rider. Hazare had earlier declared to hold his fast at Jantar Mantar but was denied permission by Delhi police.
"Fast will take place in Jai Prakash Narain Park. We will continue with the protest beyond three days. The government is scared that their corruption will be exposed," said Hazare whose fast in April forced the government to come out with a Lokpal Bill with which he is not satisfied.
Rubbishing the “rider” that the number of protesters be limited to 5,000, the Hazare team said that when political parties hold protests, lakhs of people are being brought in buses and trucks with which the government has no problem.
"In our protest, people are coming on their own using their own money. The government is acting against them. People will come and teach the government a lesson," Hazare said.
Hazare said his team has been running from pillar to post to hold the proposed anti-corruption protest.
The anti-corruption crusader accused the government of betraying the nation`s trust by bringing a weak Lokpal Bill. "This is not the draft the nation wants,” he said pointing to the government version of Lokpal Bill.
Hazare said it was because of the “government`s misgovernance”, the US got the opportunity to pass remarks on the country`s internal matters -- a reference to a US State Department official`s call for "restraint" in dealing with the fast. The government had yesterday denounced Hazare’s proposed agitation as "unjustified" with a message that it could intervene if Hazare`s health fails.
Home Minister P Chidambaram said Hazare`s "extra Parliamentary protest" at this stage "seems unjustified" but was evasive on the delay in grant of permission, contending that the matter rests with Delhi Police.
Hazare`s earlier fast, when the Lokpal Bill was not in place, was "perhaps right" but not now when a bill has already been introduced in Parliament and the government has "moved forward" on it, the Home Minister said. At the same time, Chidambaram said, "Everybody has a right to protest and the context and circumstances will decide whether the protest was right or not."
Hazare`s fast at Jantar Mantar in April had generated a nationwide agitation, forcing the government to set up a joint committee to draft Lokpal Bill.
The Lokpal Bill, introduced in Lok Sabha on August 4, has been referred to the Standing Committee on August 8 by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari who has given it three months to give recommendations.
The civil society led by Anna Hazare have been demanding inclusion of the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and conduct of MPs inside Parliament under the ambit of Lokpal.
The Hazare team is also demanding a strong public grievance redressal mechanism, Lokayuktas at state-level and independent selection, funding and removal mechanism to ensure autonomy of function.
The Lokpal, consisting of chairperson and eight members, half of them judicial, will have its own prosecution and investigation wing with officers and staff necessary to carry out its functions.
The Lokpal Bill cleared by the cabinet seeks to keep the office of the Prime Minister outside the purview of the Ombudsman during his term in office and also exclude the higher judiciary and conduct of MPs inside the Parliament.