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Govt blinks, but Anna stays in Tihar

Deadlock continued between Team Anna and the UPA government on Wednesday, even as thousands rallied across the country in support of Anna Hazare who has been campaigning for a strong Lokpal.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Deadlock continued between Team Anna and the UPA government on Wednesday, even as thousands rallied across the country in support of Anna Hazare who has been campaigning for a strong Lokpal.

The government and Delhi Police appeared to be ready for a climbdown but the social activist stuck to his ground demanding unconditional permission to sit on an indefinite fast for a strong Lokpal.

The Delhi Police late on Wednesday offered Team Anna 21-day permission to sit on fast at Ramlila Maidan, as against previously agreed venue of Jai Prakash Narayan Park, but the Gandhian stuck to his demand of permission for at least 30 days to fast.

Police officials had earlier in the day agreed to let Hazare hold the protest fast for seven days after which the situation would be reviewed day after day.

The Delhi Police Wednesday also decided to lift all the restrictions they had earlier imposed on his hunger strike. Hazare`s refusal to obey them had led to his arrest.

According to Hazare`s associates, police have agreed to let the soldier-turned-activist hold his fast at the sprawling Ramlila Maidan and let any number of people to join him. Earlier, police had capped that number at 5,000, triggering a confrontation.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is also believed to have reserved the Ramlila Maidan for Team Anna till August 30, to hold fast there.

Further, the erection of tents and use of loudspeaker will be allowed but till 10.00 pm, the time limit set by the Supreme Court.

With the deadlock continuing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held consultations with senior ministers, including P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, to discuss the impasse.

Home Minister Chidambaram also held a high-level meeting today. He met his top ministry officials and the Delhi Police Commissioner to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, a prison official said the health condition of Anna Hazare is absolutely fine and there is no cause for any panic.

"Anna Hazare`s health is absolutely fine. There is no problem at all. Regular medical checkups are being done inside the jail," spokesman of Tihar jail Sunil Gupta said.

Nationwide support

The developments came even as tens of thousands of men, women and youngsters swamped the lawn around India Gate monument and marched to the nearby Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the capital shouting anti-government slogans. India Against Corruption group put the crowd strength at around 1.5 lakh.

Hundreds remained in a stadium elsewhere in Delhi where they had been detained a day earlier. Slogan-shouting and flag-waving crowds also laid a virtual siege to the Tihar Jail, from where the 73-year-old Gandhian has refused to leave despite official orders that he was no more a prisoner.

Similar vocal pro-Hazare demonstrations -- the crowds ranging from a few hundred to around 25,000 in Hyderabad -- gripped towns and cities all over the country in what was described as a veritable Anna storm.

Protests were also 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.

The hectic developments came on a day when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hit out at Hazare in Parliament.

Speaking in Parliament where an otherwise divided opposition has joined forces, 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.

The statement triggered a heated debate. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj made a scathing attack on the government. "I reject your policy of curbing citizen rights," she told the PM 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.

Sri Sri, Ramdev meet Anna

During the day, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar met Anna inside Tihar Jail to persuade the Gandhian leader to end the deadlock over his continuing stay there.

Throwing light on Anna’s health, the spiritual guru said that the social activist is in fine shape and that he would come out of the jail only if he is allowed to hold fast without conditions.

The intervention of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was sought by Anna’s anxious supporters to break the impasse.

Anna’s close associates - Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan, Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar, Manish Sisodia and others - were also present during the meeting.

Baba Ramdev too went to Tihar Jail today and met Anna. He also sought to muster support for the cause outside jail.

He also met President Pratibha Patil today and submitted a memorandum protesting police action against Anna and his team.

Hazare, who was ordered to be released last night after a day-long detention, had refused to come out of the prison unless he was allowed to protest at JP Park without conditions for a strong Lokpal.

Thousands of people who had converged outside the jail shouted slogans and waved the tricolour. Many donned caps and clothes that read `Me Anna Hazare -- India Against Corruption`.

Government officials, students, commuters and bystanders -- everyone was seen supporting Hazare.

Patriotic songs were also being sung as the crowd spread on to the streets.

Over the last few days, Team Hazare had refused to give a written undertaking that he will end his protest within three days and restrict the number of protesters to 5,000. Hazare and seven of his aides were picked up from an East Delhi apartment Tuesday morning shortly before he was to launch his protest fast at JP Park after Delhi Police failed to persuade him to give up the move.

Police arrested him on the ground he was about to commit a cognisable offence but in a sudden turn of events, the government in the evening decided to release him after protests erupted across the country against its action.