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Hazare asks people to join him on daylong fast

Vidya Subrahmaniam

Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Anna Hazare interacts with the media in New Delhi on Sunday

New Delhi: The government's crackdown on Baba Ramdev and his followers has had one unintended effect: It has united civil society groups till now bitterly divided over the direction and scope of the anti-corruption movement.

From Anna Hazare to Aruna Roy, civil society activists on Sunday buried their differences and spoke in one voice against the midnight police swoop, calling it draconian and undemocratic. Mr. Hazare threatened to follow up a day-long fast on June 8 with a second country-wide movement along the lines of the April 2011 Janatar Mantar protest. Ms. Roy's Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan said the right to protest was fundamental to functional democracy.

Until Saturday Mr. Hazare had been in two minds about joining the yoga guru at the Ramlila maidan, the equivocation arising from ideological differences with the latter. Indeed, Team Anna was decidedly worried after spotting the yoga guru on the stage with Babri Masjid rabble-rouser Sadhvi Rithambara. Prashant Bhushan, civil society member on the joint Lok Pal drafting committee, went on record to deplore the accommodation of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh on the swami's platform.

However on Sunday, Mr. Hazare urged people everywhere — in towns, kasbas and villages — to join him in a day-long fast on June 8 to protest the police action, which he described as a shame and kalank (blot) reminiscent of the Jalianwalah Bagh massacre. “There were no gun shots fired at the Ramlila maidan but the way innocent people were set upon recalls the same brutality,” he said, even as he demanded an explanation from the Prime Minister for the unprovoked brutality. He asked: “What is the difference between British autocracy and an Indian government that thinks nothing of trampling on the democratic rights of the people?”

Mr. Hazare, who addressed a press conference with Shanti Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal, co-chairperson and civil society member of the Lok Pal joint committee, said he himself would sit with his followers at Jantar Mantar. He also announced a boycott of the next meeting of the joint Lok Pal drafting committee, arguing that it made no sense to talk to a government that persistently stonewalled civil society effort to draft a strong and relevant Jan Lok Pal Bill. “The attack on Ramdev and the government's response to the Jan Lok Pal Bill have together convinced us that this government is out to crush the anti-corruption movement.” Mr. Kerjriwal said his team would send a letter to the government seeking its stand on the issues that were at the heart of the Bill. “Our next step will depend on the government's response.” Mr. Hazare chipped in to say that he would not attend any future meeting unless the government agreed to telecast live the proceedings.

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