India on edge: It's Manmohan vs Hazare now

Protests across the nation

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday slammed a hunger strike campaign by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare as "totally misconceived" and deliberately confrontational.
 
"The path he has chosen... is totally misconceived and fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy," Singh said in an address to parliament that was interrupted by cries of "shame" from opposition benches.
 
Singh said Hazare's plans to hold an indefinite fast to push for changes to a new anti-corruption bill now before parliament was a direct and unconstitutional challenge to the government's authority.

"The question is who drafts the law and who makes the law," Singh said,  adding that legislation was the "sole prerogative" of parliament.
 
Singh's remarks followed a day and night of protests in cities across India after Hazare was arrested on Tuesday morning as he prepared to begin his "fast unto death" in a New Delhi public park.
 
As the protests mounted, the police ordered Hazare's release on Tuesday evening, but the 74-year-old activist refused to leave New Delhi's Tihar jail without a guarantee that his indefinite fast could go ahead.
 
Singh argued that Hazare's arrest had been justified as he had refused to accept police restrictions that included limiting his public fast to three days.
 
While acknowledging that Hazare's actions might be driven by "high ideals", Singh said his efforts to "impose" his own version of the anti-corruption bill on parliament were unacceptable and undemocratic.
 
Corruption has become a focus of public discontent in India, and Hazare has emerged as a prominent national figure in his campaign demanding that a new anti-graft law currently before parliament is strengthened.
 
Aswathi Muralidharan, a spokesman for Hazare's India Against Corruption movement, said Wednesday that the activist had refused food since his arrest.
"And he will not leave Tihar jail unless he is given permission to fast indefinitely," Muralidharan told AFP.
 
With his white cap and spectacles lending him a passing resemblance to independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, Hazare has galvanised public opinion at a time when the government is reeling from a succession of high-profile graft scandals.
 
His arrest was shown live on television and Wednesday's newspapers showed an editorial consensus that the government's action had backfired badly, with Hazare playing the role of wrongly-imprisoned martyr.
 
"Anna holds government hostage," ran the banner headline on the front page of the Hindustan Times.

In apparent anticipation of his arrest, Hazare had pre-recorded a message of defiance that clearly referenced his hero Gandhi.
 
"The second freedom struggle has begun," he said. "Time has come, my countrymen, when there should be no place left in jails in India."
 
 
EARLIER: An Indian anti-corruption activist refused to leave jail on Tuesday after being held in custody for several hours to prevent him starting a high-profile hunger strike in New Delhi.

Veteran campaigner Anna Hazare, 74, was released by authorities but said he would only walk out of prison if his demands to be allowed to hold a public "fast unto death" in a city park were met, officials told AFP.

About 1,400 Hazare supporters were set free after being held during the day inside a sports stadium in a police operation that was widely criticised as an attempt to quell dissent.

Dubai Indians court arrest

This website broke the news about how a group of Non Resident Indians (NRIs) have joined the protest fast being led by Indian social worker Anna Hazare in New Delhi on August16.
Leading the Gulf Indian expats is Advocate KK Saratchandra Bose, a businessman and social worker in Dubai.
He was quoted in the local media today as saying that at least two of the Dubai Indians, including himself, had courted arrest with Hazare.

 

Corruption has become a key issue of public discontent in India, and Hazare has emerged as a prominent national figure for his campaign to demand that a new anti-graft law currently before parliament is strengthened.

"Will this movement be stopped by my arrest? No, not at all. Do not let it happen," Hazare said in a pre-recorded message on Tuesday morning predicting the police's action.

"This fight for change which has begun, we will take it forward on the path of non-violence as long as there is life in the body."

Home Minister P. Chidambaram denied the government was quashing opposition voices, saying protest organisers refused to guarantee to obey police orders that the rally would be limited to 5,000 people and only last three days.

"This government is not against peaceful protest," he stressed.

Further demonstrations erupted in Chennai, Hazare's home state of Maharashtra and elsewhere after Hazare, a devotee of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, was taken to the capital's Tihar jail.

"We have issued his release warrant and it has been sent to the jail authorities," Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP on Tuesday evening.

But officials who declined to be named confirmed Hazare was refusing to leave as wild celebrations erupted among his supporters outside the prison gates.

Corruption has rocketed up the agenda in fast-developing India after a series of scandals, notably a telecom licence scam that is thought to have cost the country up to ê39 billion in lost revenue.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the opposition, accused authorities of an "absolutely undemocratic" act in arresting Hazare as protests in the national parliament forced business to be adjourned for the day.

"It's a bizarre and thoughtless act on the part of the government," party spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy told AFP, describing the police's approach as an "instigation to aggression".

Many observers believe the crackdown reflected concern Hazare may become a figurehead for a broader protest movement against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, which is also grappling with an economic slowdown and high inflation.

Zoya Hassan, a politics professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told AFP that Hazare's detention was a "violation of basic liberties".

"It's a bumpy road ahead," she said. "The civil society activists have significant middle-class support and they have ample media support. The detention will cause a lot of unrest."

In June, police halted another anti-corruption hunger strike in Delhi when officers broke up a protest by yoga guru Swami Ramdev that had attracted national headlines.

In April, Hazare staged a 98-hour hunger strike that pushed the Congress-led government into allowing him and his supporters to help draft the new anti-corruption law, called the "Lokpal" bill.

The bill, since introduced in parliament, would create a new ombudsman tasked with investigating and prosecuting politicians and bureaucrats, but Hazare wants the prime minister and higher judiciary to come under scrutiny.

Arguing that his recommendations had been ignored, Hazare had planned to begin a second hunger strike on Tuesday.

Hazare, a life-long bachelor who wears simple, white home-spun cotton, is a social conservative who dreams of an India centred around self-sufficient villages -- much like his hero Gandhi.

Supporters said he had started his fast in jail, but police declined to confirm the reports.

 

 

 

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