Anna leads Delhi thunder

Thousands join hunger strike as Hazare turns heat on UPA govt

Anna leads Delhi thunder

Thousands of Hazare’s supporters piled onto the streets, some perched on electric poles, traffic lights and parked cars, to catch a glimpse of the Gandhian as he moved to the Ramlila grounds to launch his fast after he emerged out of Tihar jail around 11 am Friday morning.

The hunger strike, scaled down to 15 days after negotiations ended Thursday between the Delhi Police and civil society leaders is part of a strategy to push the government to create an independent anti-graft institution of ombudsman.

The sheer scale of the support he has drawn has made the Congress-led UPA government, which has been pummelled by one allegation of corruption after another, turn jittery.

“The government is watching the situation closely whether the protest, which is at present confined to only major cities, may spill out to smaller places” a senior Cabinet minister told Deccan Herald.

This time, however, the government will adopt a more cautious approach and not repeat the police action that was taken against yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s protest fast at the Ramlila Maidan on June 5.

After spending about 70 hours in Tihar Jail, the 74-year-old Hazare  stepped out of the prison gate around 11:30 am. The air reverberated with nationalist slogans, chanted by hundreds who had gathered since dawn to welcome the civil society activist.

Before leaving for the fast venue, Hazare appealed to his supporters not to indulge in violence or damage public property. When his rally started, thousands, braving torrential rain, joined the march which swelled as Hazare’s convoy wound through some of the important landmarks of the national capital, including M K Gandhi’s samadhi at Rajghat. The procession of supporters was almost 2 km-long when it reached the Ramlila Maidan from Tihar Jail.

At the Ramlila Maidan, where more than 25,000 people are expected to gather over the next two weeks, Hazare declared that he will continue his fast until the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by civil society leaders, is passed in Parliament. “The government can do whatever it wants, but I want to say one thing that I will continue my fast till the Jan Lokpal Bill is passed in  Parliament,” Hazare said while addressing a crowd of almost 10,000 people at Ramlila Maidan. Indicating that his protest fast for a strong anti-corruption legislation will not end any time soon, Hazare exhorted his supporters to carry on the fight with renewed vigour.

Threatening to intensify his agitation, Hazare said his supporters will begin a ‘jail bharo’ protest after August 30 if the prime minister and the judiciary were brought under the purview of the Lokpal bill.

Faced with this challenge, the Congress Core Committee met here under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

As the crowd cheered, Hazare said: “You should not allow this torch of struggle to be put out whether Anna is alive or not.”

Asked what chances Hazare had to extend the protest fast, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said that “the Delhi Police commissioner had agreed that the hunger strike could be extended by a week on a four-days notice.”  Dismissing the possible early wrapping up of the hunger strike, Kejriwal said: “Though both Delhi Police and Team Anna agreed on a 15-day fast, it can be reviewed and the protest can be prolonged depending on what the government does on the demands put forward by Hazare.”

Tricolours in hundreds, patriotic songs, music, Gandhi caps and college students dominated the Ramlila Maidan as thousands of people, mainly urban middle class youth, thronged the sprawling venue to support the anti-corruption crusader in his fight for a stringent Lokpal bill.

The presence of young men and women in large numbers is a sign of the public outpouring of anger against corruption in government.

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