Delhi: Tens of thousands rallied here and across
India for a second day Wednesday as Gandhian activist Anna Hazare
refused to leave Tihar Jail until he could fast for a strong
anti-corruption law on his terms, even as Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh accused him of trying to trip parliamentary democracy.
Tens of thousands of men, women and youngsters swamped the lawn
around India Gate monument and marched to the nearby Jantar Mantar
observatory in the heart of the capital shouting anti-government
slogans. India Against Corruption group put the crowd strength at
around 1.5 lakh.
Hundreds remained in a stadium elsewhere in Delhi where they had
been detained a day earlier. Slogan-shouting and flag-waving
crowds also laid a virtual siege to the Tihar Jail, from where the
74-year-old Hazare has refused to leave despite official orders
that he was no more a prisoner.
Similar vocal pro-Hazare demonstrations -- the crowds ranging from
a few hundred to around 25,000 in Hyderabad -- gripped towns and
cities all over the country in what was described as a veritable
As popular support for Hazare swelled, a beleaguered Delhi Police
decided to lift all the restrictions they had earlier imposed on
his hunger strike Tuesday. Hazare's refusal to obey them had led
to his arrest.
Hazare aide and former police officer Kiran Bedi said Wednesday
evening that the main sticking point was the duration of his fast.
Team Anna says the protest, including Hazare's fast, will last for
a month. Police said it could go on for a week and hinted they
could extend it by two weeks.
According to Hazare's associates, police have agreed to let the
soldier-turned-activist hold his fast at the sprawling Ramlila
ground and let any number of people to join him. Earlier, police
had capped that number at 5,000, triggering a confrontation.
Hazare will also be allowed to use a sound system.
Before Delhi Police did a U-turn Wednesday, Manmohan Singh hit out
at Hazare in parliament. But the opposition dumped his arguments
and insisted that the Gandhian be released.
Speaking in parliament where an otherwise divided opposition has
joined forces, Manmohan Singh said Hazare might have high ideals
but his path was wrong.
The road Hazare "has chosen to impose his draft of a (Lokpal) bill
upon parliament is totally misconceived and fraught with grave
consequences for our parliamentary democracy", he warned.
In his 1,800-word statement, he said: "Our government does not
seek any confrontation. But when some sections deliberately
challenge the authority of the government and parliament, it is
the bounden duty of the government to maintain peace and
The statement triggered a heated debate.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj made a scathing attack
on the government. "I reject your policy of curbing citizen
rights," she told the prime minister in the Lok Sabha.
Opposition MPs also asked why the government earlier chose to
negotiate with the Anna-led civil society to frame a Lokpal Bill.
For a second consecutive day, street protests engulfed many cities
and towns across India in support of Hazare -- who has emerged as
the face of India's war on corruption -- and his version of the
Protests were reported from Chennai, Bangalore, Mangalore,
Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Guwahati, Ahmedabad as well as other
places. In most places the young dominated the crowds.
While most demonstrators maintained they were not against any
political party, many expressed disgust with Congress leaders
including Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.
Mumbai saw thousands take to the streets for a second day. They
included students, lawyers, diamond merchants, mill workers, taxi
and train drivers and even former soldiers.
Almost everyone said they wanted a corruption-free India.
In Delhi's India Gate lawns, businessman Vinod Gupta told IANS:
"We are here to protest against the injustice done to Anna Hazare.
The common man and Hazare have been deceived by the Congress-led