M A I N   N E W S

Anna wave rattles UPA govt
* As protesters hit streets, the ruling coalition revises its stand
* Rahul Gandhi meets PM, advocates Anna’s release * Govt says the Delhi Police had arrested Anna to only prevent any untoward incident * PM convenes a special CCPA meeting to take stock of the situation 
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, August 16
The storm of countrywide protests triggered by Anna Hazare’s arrest today left the Congress-led UPA government rattled as it was clearly unprepared for the growing public support for the anti-corruption crusader.
Security personnel detain a supporter of Anna Hazare in New Delhi.
Security personnel detain a supporter of Anna Hazare in New Delhi. Tribune photo: Manas Ranjan Bhui 

Pushed on the defensive, UPA sources explained that the government never intended to keep Anna Hazare in custody for an unlimited period and that Delhi police had arrested him to only prevent any untoward incident at the protest site.

There were unconfirmed reports that AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi advocated Anna Hazare’s release when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this evening. Congress sources said Rahul Gandhi is not in favour of a confrontation with civil society members.

When the Delhi police swung into action this morning and picked up Anna Hazare from his residence, it appeared that the UPA government was all set for a confrontation with Team Anna. However, as the day progressed and the spontaneous protesters hit the streets, the ruling coalition was forced to revise its stand, a clear betrayal that the Centre had no clear-cut strategy on dealing with the fast-paced developments threatening to spiral out of control.

Besides having to contend with people’s anger on the streets, the UPA government also found itself politically isolated after the Gandhian’s arrest united an ideologically divided opposition with the Left and the Right joining hands to put the ruling coalition on the mat both inside and outside Parliament.

There is growing concern in the Congress and the ruling coalition on the fall-out of today’s police action. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened a special meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) to take stock of the situation. Subsequently, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is one of the four members of the committee constituted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to look after party affairs in her absence, discussed these developments with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

Going into damage control mode, the government and the Congress put up a vigorous defence of the Delhi police decision to arrest Anna Hazare and his team members but refused to acknowledge that it would have any serious long-term political repercussions. Stating that the government had limited options before it given the adamant stand adopted by Team Anna, Congress leaders insisted that the public protests were confined to urban centres and would peter out within the next few days.

Union Ministers P.Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Ambika Soni, who were fielded to explain the government’s stand, justified the arrest on the plea that Anna Hazare and his supporters were in defiance of police orders, but refrained from launching any personal attack against Anna Hazare. In fact, Sibal went as far as to state, “we are on Anna’s side and Anna is on our side as as far our fight against corruption is concerned”, Chidambaram said if Anna Hazare wants to discuss the Lokpal Bill, the government would be willing to give him the “time and space” for it.

The Parliamentary standing committee, he said, had already met Team Anna to hear its views on the Lokpal Bill, adding, “We are willing to talk to anybody.” Soni described Hazare as a reputed person and that the government trusts his word on the protest being peaceful.

The ministers also clarified that contrary to public perception, the differences with Team Anna are not about tackling corruption but about the contents of the Lokpal Bill. “How do I accept in a democracy that it’s either my Bill or I’ll go on fast. Are Bills framed in Parliament or in maidans,” he said, adding that no government could give away the right of Parliament to make laws.

The government’s handling of the situation today has also added to the unease in the Congress. Party leaders privately admit that Anna Hazare’s campaign had dealt a body blow to the UPA government’s credibility as the activist has emerged as a symbol of the people’s fight against corruption. “The situation has changed drastically since 2009 when the UPA government enjoyed huge middle class support...today it has been completely eroded,” said a glum Congress leader.

The day-long drama

6.15 am Delhi Police officials meet Anna Hazare at a Mayur Vihar house.

7.25 am Anna Hazare along with Arvind Kejriwal and six others placed under 
‘preventive detention’.

Supporters block the way, stranding the police vehicle in Mayur Vihar locality for an hour.

9 am Kiran Bedi and Shanti Bhushan detained at Rajghat.

9.30 am Anna Hazare taken to Delhi Police GO Mess at Civil Lines and formally arrested.

2 pm Hazare is taken to the office of DCP West, Delhi Police, in the Rajouri Garden area of Delhi for presenting him before a special executive magistrate.

2.50 pm Anna Hazare refuses to sign a bond, sent to 7-day judicial custody.

3.45 pm Hazare and Kejriwal, along with other supporters, taken to Tihar Jail.

4.10 pm Anna lodged in jail number 4 of Tihar, Kejriwal in jail number 1.

6.30 pm Kiran Bedi, Shanti Bhushan released from detention.

NHRC seeks report

Hours after Anna Hazare was taken into preventive custody, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to the Union Home Secretary and the Delhi Police Commissioner seeking a report within two weeks on the episode.The commission notice came after it received a complaint from a human rights activist Anirudhasudhan Chakraborty, who alleged that provisions of the Constitution and international human rights conventions were violated in the police action against Hazare and his supporters. — PTI





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