‘Second freedom movement has begun’

Anna Hazare is protesting against police crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s ‘satyagraha’ against corruption.

New Delhi: As Gandhian Anna Hazare Wednesday began a daylong token fast here to denounce the police crackdown on yoga guru Baba Ramdev`s agitation, civil society activists accused the Congress-led government of trying to scuttle the anti-corruption campaign in the country.

In front of thousands of supporters at Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the 73-year-old called it "the second independence struggle".

"We have started the second independence struggle but you should not back off. We will be ready to die but we will not surrender," the Gandhian said, speaking in Hindi.

He said if the anti-graft Lokpal Bill was not passed by the government, he would again launch an indefinite hunger strike Aug 16, a day after India`s independence day.

"They are putting roadblocks on the path of the Lokpal Bill," he said, and charged the government with trying to defame his associates, including Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal.

The Bhushans, Hazare, Kejriwal and Santosh Hegde form the civil society representatives in a 10-member panel, including five central ministers, to frame a tough Lokpal Bill.

With thousands shouting "Bharat Mata Ki Jai", singing a tuneful "Lokpal, Lokpal" and devotional songs and holding placards, Hazare got on to a raised platform and started his hunger strike at 10 am, his second in two months.

In a hard hitting speech, Kejriwal said, "We are not here to change the government, we want to change the system."

"Today we ask the Congress to put on the website all their income and expenditure of the past six decades," he said.

Former top cop and activist Kiran Bedi said: "We need a stronger law against corruption which can be trusted. The system should be approachable. We will consider ourselves free only when India is free from corruption."

In April, Hazare`s five-day fast drew widespread support across the country and forced the government to set up the joint panel to draft a Lokpal bill to combat corruption.

Hazare Wednesday said the primary reason for his fast Wednesday was to protest the police crackdown on Ramdev and thousands of supporters here after midnight Saturday.

"The government should not have done at Ramlila ground what it did," he said to repeated cheers from the thousands, many waving the Indian flag.

"And they did it at 1.30 at night. They lathi charged sleeping people. What injustice had they (people) done? It is a blot on humanity. It was like throttling democracy."

Hundreds have come to support Hazare in his campaign here at the Rajghat. A similar token fast is also being held in cities across the country.

At Rajghat, people started arriving as early as 7 a.m. although the fast was not to begin before 10 am There was also a heavy police presence at the site. The fast will go on till 6 pm.

Vaibhav Kumar, one of the many young Anna supporters, said: "Just like Gandhiji took the path of non-violence, Anna Hazare is doing the same and we are supporting that."

One of the first to reach the venue was Kuldeep Singh of the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Party who came with his friends from Punjab.

"We have come here to support Anna. What the government did at the Ramlila ground was wrong and it should not have taken such a step. Corruption is a big issue and we have the right to protest against it," Kuldeep Singh said.


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