New Delhi : The Delhi state administration denied permission to Anna Hazare for a hunger strike at a park on Tuesday to call for a strong anti-corruption watchdog, but the activist said he will press ahead.
The administration’s decision came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day speech on Monday, said people “should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts unto death” and talk about their differences with the government to parliamentarians, political parties and the media instead.
Hazare wants the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary to come within the purview of the proposed ombudsman, or Lokpal. The ageing activist had given the government until 15 August to make the change in a draft law to institute the Lokpal, and threatened to go on an indefinite fast at Delhi’s Jayaprakash Narayan Park otherwise.
An earlier fast by Hazare had gained popular support and forced the government to include civil society activists in a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill, along with some Union ministers. But committee members did not agree on the terms of the Bill, and the government introduced its own version in Parliament this month. In the draft Bill, the Prime Minister comes under its purview once the person leaves office.
Delhi Police said it denied Hazare permission to fast at the park as organizers refused to give an undertaking on the number of people attending and how long it would go on for, among other conditions.
The Press Trust of India reported that prohibitory orders were imposed in some Delhi areas, including Jayaprakash Narayan Park, late on Monday evening.
While opposition parties termed the move undemocratic, Hazare and his team said the activist will go ahead with his planned fast at the park.
Top leaders of the Congress party, which rules the state of Delhi and also heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, held several meetings on Monday to assess the situation. Prime Minister Singh met senior party members, including general secretary Rahul Gandhi, the son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to chalk out a strategy.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said during the meeting they do not want the party or the government to target Hazare and his team members personally, said a person familiar with the development, asking not to be identified.
“A large section of Congress leaders believe that personal attacks on Hazare, who seems to be enjoying the support of media and a section of the public, will not be good for the party and the government, which have already been in the shadow of corruption charges,” said a Congress general secretary, who also requested anonymity.
A day earlier, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari had accused Hazare of corruption on the basis of a 2005 report of a committee that had probed the affairs of some trusts the 74-year-old activist has been associated with.
Another senior Congress leader and a Union minister, however, said the government should be firm and stick to one stand while dealing with the activists. He also declined to be identified.
Earlier in the day, Singh, who became the third prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to hoist the national flag at the Red Fort in Delhi for eight years in a row, said in his speech that the judiciary cannot be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal as this will “go against the independence of the judiciary”.
He, however, admitted that many corruption cases have come to light lately.
“We are taking the strictest possible action in cases of corruption that have surfaced,” he said. “It is essential that when we consider these issues, we do not create an atmosphere in which the country’s progress comes into question. I believe there is no single big step which we can take to eradicate corruption (and) in fact, we will have to act simultaneously on many fronts.”
Members of the Congress and its allies have been named in a clutch of corruption scandals since the UPA won the general election in 2009 and formed the national government for a second successive term.
A high rate of inflation has increased the cost of living substantially in this period and hurt the government’s image further.
Singh, in his speech, said the country is going through a phase of sustained high inflation. “Finding a solution to this problem will be our top-most priority in the coming months.”