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The day after independence

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August 16, 2011

Anna Hazare waves to supporters after arrest

Anna Hazare waves to supporters after arrest

A day of high drama, in which the government came out with egg on its face is summarized by Deccan Herald:

* 7.20 am – Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal along with six others detained by police from an East Delhi flat where he was staying
* 7.20 to around 8.30 am – Supporters block way and the police vehicle is stuck in the East Delhi locality for nearly an hour
* Around 9 am – Kiran Bedi and Shanti Bhushan are detained at Rajghat
* Around 9.30 am – Hazare taken to Police Officers’ Mess at Civil Lines in North Delhi area
* 12 noon – In Parliament, Opposition parties protest the detention; both Houses adjourned for the day
* Around 2 pm – Hazare is produced before a special executive magistrate at Rajouri Garden area of West Delhi. He refuses to sign a bond and is sent to 7-day judicial custody
* Around 3.45 pm – Hazare, Kejriwal and other supporters brought to Tihar Jail.
* 6.30 pm – Kiran Bedi, Shanti Bhushan released from detention
* Late evening – Government reconsiders Hazare’s arrest in view of public protests
* 9.30 pm – A police warrant reaches Tihar Jail, withdrawing cases against Hazare. He refuses to leave the jail, insisting that he be allowed to stage the fast on his terms

Financial Express reported the morning’s events:

Civil society activist Anna Hazare and his associates were taken into preventive custody on Tuesday morning hours before he was to start his hunger strike in support of his version of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill.

Later, Hazare was taken to Tihar Jail where he will be lodged for the next seven days along with his associates including Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Manoj Sisodia and Shanti Bhushan. However, Bedi was released in the evening.

There were protests all over India about the attempt at stifling democratic protest. Sister publication IE reported a little later:

In a rare show of solidarity, BJP, Left and several other opposition parties on Tuesday came together to demand a statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh followed by a debate on Anna Hazare’s arrest and hinted that the Parliament would otherwise not be allowed to function.

As Hazare was arrested and sent to Tihar Jail, leaders of BJP, JD(U), Shiv Sena, CPI(M), CPI, Samajwadi Party, RJD and some other non-UPA parties met to discuss the issue and devised the common strategy of pursuing agitation in the parliament against corruption.

HT added:

With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) calling for nationwide protests on Wednesday, the authorities let go Hazare confidants Kiran Bedi and Shanti Bhushan in the evening.

“The reaction is tremendous all over India,” said former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde in Bangalore, one of scores of cities that saw numerous small and big demonstrations in support of Hazare, a 74-year-old former soldier who has become the face of India’s war on corruption.

“People are pouring out their anger. It is all spontaneous,” said Hegde, whose scathing indictment of corruption led to the exit of Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa.

The day-long drama — with street protests raging in many places even late in the evening — began shortly after 7am when policemen in civilian clothes swooped on Hazare and activist Arvind Kejriwal as they stepped out of a middle class apartment in east Delhi.

Hazare turned the tables on the government when his release was ordered at 10 PM. IE reports:

Social activist Anna Hazare refused to come out of jail on Tuesday, saying that he fears he will be arrested again. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, finding itself increasingly isolated over the arrest and judicial custody of Anna Hazare and his supporters, seemed to be blinking as they decided to release Hazare and seven of his supporters, who were arrested and sent to seven days in judicial custody on Tuesday.

Tihar Jail sources said that though his release orders were ready, Hazare refused to leave Tihar Jail until the government gives him permission to fast at the Jai Prakash Narain Park.

Delhi Police sent a warrant to Tihar Jail for the release of Hazare and his supporters after withdrawing bail bond conditions, which Hazare had earlier refused to sign. Over 1,500 people who have been detained for taking part in protests demanding Hazare’s release are also likely to be released.

The government seems to have very little political savvy these days. Between rampant corruption and total lack of touch with the streets, it is beginning to look as forlorn as the erstwhile communist government in West Bengal in the days before the state elections. Does the fate of the UPA government also lie with the trash can of history?

August 17, 2011

TOI reports overnight developments:

After Anna Hazare’s refusal to walk out, Tihar jail authorities allotted him a room to spend night in the jail, TV channels reported. Anna is continuing his fast in the jail.

Interestingly, most of the news came from the few newspapers and channels represented above. Many others did not give heavy coverage to the event. Some had different views. For example, Hardnews rained on the parade:

However, despite the media frenzy surrounding the Anna led campaign, too many people did not come out in solidarity. The crowd was thin and just trickling till 10 am. Barring a few groups of people here and there, there was no significant crowd at any point in the city. Taking refuge under umbrellas, TV cameras were seen looking for faces supporting Hazare and his team. Later, a few hundred protesters were exaggerated as thousands by television channels.

In fact, at Civil Lines, the first group which came in solidarity with Hazare, a good two hours after he was detained, were actually cadres of the ABVP from Delhi University, the students wing of the BJP. They however remained “in disguise” not identifying their saffron affiliations. Till then only two women volunteers of ‘India against Corruption (IAC)’ were seen sporting topis with ‘Mai bhi Anna’ printed on them.

At Chhatrasal Stadium where about 1500 people have been kept in “temporary custody”, the protests clearly had Rightwing traits, their slogans and symbols, all reflective of their background. There were some lumpen elements, some mavericks, and others with no serious political commitment or understanding of the issue. The middleclass, which was being seen as pillar of carrying this campaign to its conclusion, had not really come out in large numbers. The so-called ‘thousands’ were clearly missing. By evening, outside Chhatrasal Stadium, only a few hundred were left, plus, on-lookers.

Across the nation also there were scattered protests. There was no ‘massive’ turnout as the TV channels projected. “The middle class and college students can’t sustain this movement for long,” said a civil society activist, “unless the RSS gets into it full strength.” “Where is their huge constituency they are talking off,” asked other activists who strongly disagree with Anna. “Are Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan mass leaders? We all condemn the arrest, but is Lokpal the panacea of all that is wrong in India? Is it a campaign against corruption, or an ego issue around Lokpal?

NDTV reports that the government stepped back from the brink of provoking a situation like 1975:

More than 36 hours after he was brought to the Tihar Jail, Anna Hazare relented and accepted a police offer of staging a 15-day protest hunger- strike at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi. Mr Hazare is expected to be at the venue at 3 pm today, tweeted his close associate Kiran Bedi.

The breakthrough was reached after Anna Hazare’s close associates Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan met Delhi Police Commissioner BK Gupta late on Wednesday night to iron out differences. The meeting took place at Commissioner Gupta’s residence in Chanakyapuri’s Satya Marg after midnight. Team Anna then went back to Tihar Jail to brief Mr Hazare about their talks.

Reports suggest there will be no limits on how many people can gather at this base camp in support of Anna, though the police will review security and safety conditions continuously to ensure that those at the protest site do not disrupt traffic or in other ways breach upon normal life for the rest of the capital.

The Congress has clearly lost political capital here. A few months ago the Prime Minister’s integrity was not in question. BBC reports that it is not the case any longer:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has accused Mr Hazare of trying to circumvent democracy by demanding the overhaul of an anti-corruption bill.

Mr Singh told parliament Mr Hazare’s hunger strike was “totally misconceived”, but his speech was constantly interrupted by opposition MPs, many of whom jeered and shouted “shame”.

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