India snubs US for advice to go soft on Anna protest

Washington asks New Delhi to treat the Gandhian with kid gloves

India snubs US for advice to go soft on Anna protest

“Needless” was how the New Delhi reacted to a statement from a US Department of State spokesperson that obliquely sought to suggest that the Indian government handle the protests by the civil society anti-corruption  people with sensitivity. The US statement came on the eve of the planned fast by Hazare in Delhi.

“As you know, we support the right of peaceful, non-violent protest around the world,” Victoria Nuland, spokesperson of the US Department of State told journalists in Washington. She was asked if the US was concerned over the alleged police brutality against peaceful demonstrators in India.

“That said, India is a democracy, and we count on India to exercise appropriate democratic restraint in the way it deals with peaceful protest,” she added, apparently making a subtle reference to the proposed stir to be launched by Hazare and his team of corruption crusaders.

Washington’s advice did not go down well with New Delhi. “We have seen the needless comments by the US State Department spokesperson on handling of peaceful protests in India,” said official spokesperson and Joint Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs Vishnu Prakash. “Freedoms of speech and expression, as well as, of peaceful assembly, are enshrined in the Constitution of India and exercised by citizens of this country of 1.2 billion people,” he added.

Home Minister P Chidambaram said Hazare’s plan to go on fast from Tuesday was ‘unjustified’ as the Government had already made a move to set up a Lokpal and introduced a bill in Parliament. The bill had been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, which would study it and make recommendations for necessary changes. “At this stage, an extra-parliamentary protest seems unjustified,” he told mediapersons on Friday.

Hazare is likely to start his fast on Tuesday, although the confusion over the venue continued on Friday. The Delhi Police denied him permission to hold the fast at the national capital’s protest hotspot Jantar Mantar, and instead asked him to do it in Jai Prakash Narain Park.

The Team Anna, however, is yet to get the nod from the Central Public Works Department, which controls the park. The context of the US State Department spokesperson’s remark seemed to have also included the alleged police brutality on the agitating activists of the BJP near Jantar Mantar in Delhi and on protesting farmers in Maharashtra on Tuesday.

But Chidambaram said that Delhi Police had not lathi-charged, but just used water cannons to disperse the protesting BJP activists, who had flouted prohibitory orders in force around Parliament House and crossed the barricades erected by the cops. The BJP had protested against police lathi-charge on its activists and stalled parliamentary proceedings demanding resignation of the Home Minister.

On the issue of police firing on farmers in Pune in Congress-ruled Maharashtra, Chidambaram said only an inquiry could unearth the truth and he would not rely on the short video footages aired by the TV channels to make a comment if the police action was brutal.

Chidambaram said law enforcing agencies would have to do the needful if Hazare’s health deteriorates during the fast as it was not only a right, but also a duty for the Government to intervene if a citizen’s life is in danger. Hazare's earlier fast, when the Lokpal Bill was not in place, was “perhaps right”, but not now, when a Bill had already been introduced in Parliament and the Government had “moved forward” on it, said the Home Minister.

The Congress denounced Washington’s advice to New Delhi and stated the US State Department spokesperson was “completely oblivious of the Indian reality.” “We do wish the State Department spokesperson should have checked up facts, the context and the ground reality before making these sweeping generalisations which have no basis at all,” party spokesman Manish Tiwari said.

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