New Delhi: Team Anna began an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday to press for a strong Lokpal bill and an inquiry into the allegations of corruption against two-dozen ministers in UPA-2 cabinet.
Key Team Anna members -- Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai -- are on a hunger strike while the 74-year-old Anna Hazare is on a dharna.
Team Anna members Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan indulged in a no holds barred attack on new President Pranab Mukherjee.
The protest also came on a day when Mukherjee, against whom Team Anna had levelled allegations, took oath as President of the country.
"If Lokpal was there, Mukherjee would not have been the President. The constitution provides immunity to President from any investigation. Now Congress has put a 'chadar' (veil) of constitution on the President," Kejriwal said addressing a modest crowd.
At the protest site, the Team Anna also covered the photograph of Mukherjee with a cloth.
Kejriwal sought to tear into Congress and BJP saying they were only different in their names. "Congress and BJP are the same. They differ only in their names. Whether it is Congress or BJP is in power, corporates increase their profit," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Ministers P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal and former Minister Virbhadra Singh were their other targets.
Team Anna had levelled allegations of corruption against 15 Union Ministers and demanded a special team of retired Supreme Court judges be constituted to probe the charges.
Besides the SIT demand, Team Anna wants the formation of fast-track courts to speed up prosecution of 162 Lok Sabha and 39 Rajya Sabha members facing charges.
Their third demand is that all probes against presidents of various political parties currently being carried out by the CBI should be handed over to the SIT.
Hazare, however, refrained from making any personal remarks. Addressing the protesters, Hazare spoke only about Lokpal.
"One day the government will have to bring Lokpal or they will have to go. People are not getting justice as all machinery is under government...Why Lokpal is not enacted? Because if there is a Lokpal, these ministers will have to go to jail," he said.
Alleging that the government is confusing people on the issue, Hazare said one has to be ready for the fight to finish.
Hazare served an ultimatum that he would wait for the government to take a decision on their demands in the next four days or else he would join his colleagues on fast from Sunday.
Suspected members of the National Students Union of India (NSUI) created a ruckus at Team Anna’s fast venue, triggering a law and order problem.
Shouting slogans against Team Anna, the NSUI members accused it of misleading and blackmailing the nation.
The anti-Anna protesters were sitting in front of the dais wearing 'I am Anna' caps.
Team Anna member Kumar Vishwas alleged they were in possession of an audio clip in which some activists were purportedly taped saying "Give Anna a push and beat up Arvind and Manish".
NSU(I), however, denied any involvement and condemned the incident, saying it might be the act of "anti-NSUI" people trying to harm the outfit's image.
Before reaching the protest venue, Anna Hazare and his team members went to Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.
As he arrived on the stage erected at Jantar Mantar, Hazare raised slogans like 'Inqulab Zindabad' and 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' as his supporters waved the tricolour.
In Bangalore, Indian Against Corruption (IAC) conducted protests for a stronger Lokpal at the Freedom Park. Former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde took part in the protests, which was in support of Team Anna's protest at Jantar Mantar.
Even as Team Anna launched their indefinite fast, the Congress-led UPA government, however, appeared to be unmoved.
Addressing a press briefing, Select Committee Chairman Satyavrat Chaturvedi said, “The chances of introducing the Lokpal Bil in the next session of Parliament are dim despite government’s concerted efforts to do so.”
Citing reasons for this delay, Chaturvedi said, “Consultations with several political parties still remains and a consensus over a fully competent anti-graft legislation still eludes.”
First Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 08:50