Jittery govt lashes out at Anna Hazare

Jittery govt lashes out at Anna Hazare

New Delhi: Two days before activist Anna Hazare begins his proposed fast against corruption, the government on Sunday tried to turn the tables on him by questioning the affairs of some trusts he is associated with and calling his campaign undemocratic.

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But Hazare’s team as well as opposition leaders and analysts said the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance’s hostility towards the campaigner betrayed its nervousness ahead of his protest.

Hazare has set 15 August as the deadline for the government to meet his demand to bring the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary under the ambit of a proposed anti-corruption watchdog, the Lokpal. He has said he will begin an indefinite fast the next day, after an earlier fast forced the government to include civil society activists in a panel to draft the Lokpal Bill.

The joint committee could not agree on all the terms of the Bill, and the government introduced its version of the draft law in Parliament this month.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said on Sunday that the “moral core" of Hazare’s campaign has been ripped apart by the Justice P.B. Sawant commission. The commission was formed in 2003 to investigate corruption charges made by Hazare against four ministers in the Maharashtra government, but went on to probe charges against Hazare and his trusts.

“The fast from 16 August has nothing to do with either the issue of corruption or the Lokpal Bill," Tewari said. “If that was the case, Hazare would have first clarified the grave charges."

He said Hazare’s team comprised “armchair fascists, overground Maoists, closet anarchists...lurking behind forces of right reaction and funded by invisible donors whose links may go back a long way abroad".

The Sawant commission had submitted its report in February 2005, criticising Hazare’s Hind Swaraj Trust for spending 2.2 lakh of its funds on Hazare’s birthday celebrations as a corrupt practice. It also indicted Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, a trust with which Hazare has been associated since its formation in 1980, for accounting-related “illegalities".

Hazare on Sunday denied the charges against him, saying the commission did not mention any charge of corruption against him. He reiterated that his fast would start on Tuesday.

On Saturday, Hazare wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention to protect his fundamental rights after the government put conditions on his hunger strike. Singh replied the complaints should be “addressed by the statutory authorities who have taken the decision".

Union ministers Kapil Sibal and Ambika Soni on Sunday lashed out at Hazare over the contents of his letter.

Sibal denied Hazare’s claim that the government was denying his constitutional rights. “The right to protest is not an absolute right. It also imposes certain obligations on the citizen. There is no right to protest at a place of your choice and convenience," he said.

Soni said Hazare called the Prime Minister a dictator in his letter. “Nobody has attempted to hit the Prime Minister in such a below-the-belt manner."

Both ministers also said Hazare’s proposed hunger strike is undemocratic as the draft Lokpal Bill is no longer with the government after being introduced in Parliament. The Bill is currently being studied by a parliamentary standing committee.

The Bharatiya Janata Party expressed dismay at the government’s treatment of Hazare.

“The Congress and its government wants to muffle the voices of those speaking against corruption," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said. “They should not shoot the messenger."

Kiran Bedi, a retired police officer and a member of Hazare’s team, told the Press Trust of India that the allegation against the activist “speaks of visible nervousness of Anna’s call for it has reached out to all victims of corruption".

Analysts agreed with Bedi.

“I think the (Congress) party and the government’s openly hostile attitude (against Hazare) does not augur well for the outcome of the movement at all," said Balveer Arora, former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The government is hardening its position and the government collectively taking a position will be damaging and it betrays a sense of nervousness."

PTI contributed to this story.