New Delhi: 10.02 am: Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday said that he was ready to face consequences for his remarks against parliamentarians. Defending his comments at Jantar Mantar, he said, “I am leaving for Bulandshahr court. In a public meeting I said that 162 MPs have done some criminal offence. If such people will sit in Parliament then there is no future for our country. Someone filed a complaint against me saying that it is against the nation. I don’t think I have done anything wrong. And if speaking truth is against the country then I am ready to face the consequences. I will not take any bail for it.”
9.40 am: Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal is addressing the public at Jantar Mantar.
9.20 am: Not many people have turned up to support Team Anna’s indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar on Thursday. Anna Hazare will reach Jantar Mantar at 10 am. Arvind Kejriwal has to appear before a sessions court in Bulandshahr on Thursday for his remarks against MPs. He will address a public gathering there.
After a tepid response on first day, Team Anna would look for a better public support on the issue of corruption on the second day of their indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Thursday.
While their larger focus is bringing the Lokpal bill, this time round they are also demanding an independent probe into allegations of corruption against 15 union ministers. Anna will be present on Thursday as well but may begin his fast on Sunday only if the government doesn’t pay heed to his demands.
Earlier, Team Anna on Wednesday launched an indefinite fast with activists attacking new President Pranab Mukherjee, though Anna Hazare refrained from making any personal remarks.
Hazare stuck to his pet theme of bringing a strong Lokpal Bill and threatened a ‘jail bharo’ agitation if government does not concede to his demands and campaigning for candidates chosen by people in the next Lok Sabha elections.
But activists Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan indulged in a no-hold barred attacks on Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, levelling serious charges of corruption.
Union Ministers P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal and former Minister Virbhadra Singh were their other targets.
“If Lokpal was there, Mukherjee would not have been the President. The constitution provides immunity to President from any investigation. Now Congress has put a ‘chadar’ (veil) of constitution on the President,” Kejriwal said addressing a modest crowd which started thinning towards evening.
Team Anna had levelled allegations against 15 Union Ministers and demanded a special team of retired Supreme Court judges be constituted to probe the charges, one of the demands of the protesters. The other two demands are fast track court for trying cases against MPs and the special team to probe cases against party chiefs.
They also accused Congress and BJP of indulging in corruption.
Reacting to the protest, Union Minister Salman Khurshid took a dig at Team Anna saying they were raising issues which have been rejected by the Supreme Court and if they did not have any faith in it, they could approach the United Nations.
Addressing the protesters, Hazare spoke only about Lokpal and not about other demands or make any specific reference to Mukherjee, Singh or any ministers.
“One day, they will have to bring Lokpal or they will have to go. People are not getting justice as all machinery is under government…why Lokpal is not enacted? Because if there is a Lokpal, these ministers will have to go to jail,” he said.
Alleging that the government is confusing people on the issue, Hazare said one has to be ready for the fight to finish. He said Team Anna will not fight the next elections but if public chooses a candidate, they will support him in the 2014 elections.
“We will not fight the elections. We will not campaign for a party. But if the public comes up with a good candidate, we will go and campaign. We will take people’s opinion in this,” he said adding he will take up the issues of farmers and labourers after the success on Lokpal issue.
Earlier in a TV interview, Kejriwal had said a people’s front will emerge during the next elections and Team Anna will support it.
At the protest venue, he sought to tear into Congress and BJP saying they were only different in their names. “Congress and BJP are the same. They differ only in their names. Whether it is Congress or BJP is in power, corporates increase their profit,” he said.
Referring to Union Minister Ambika Soni’s remarks, he said Team Anna is ready to fight their case. “If we are wrong, file defamation cases. We are ready to face,” he said.
The protest started on a dramatic note as around 20-30 suspected NSU(I) supporters broke into sloganeering against Kejriwal while Team Anna member Kumar Vishwas alleged they were in possession of an audio clip in which some activists were purportedly taped saying “Give Anna a push and beat up Arvind and Manish”. The anti-Anna protesters were sitting in front of the dais wearing ‘I am Anna’ caps.
NSU(I) denied any involvement and condemned the incident, saying it might be the act of “anti NSUI” people trying to harm the outfit’s image.
V Narayanasamy, Minister of State in the PMO, dubbed as “baseless and unfounded” the allegations that NSUI activists had tried to disrupt the Team Anna’s agitation.
At the protest site, the Team Anna also covered the photograph of Mukherjee with a cloth as Kejriwal alleged Congress has now managed to put a ‘chadar’ on the allegations against its leader.
Hazare has announced he will join the fast on Sunday if the government does not concede their demands on Lokpal Bill. They reached the dharna spot after paying a visit to Rajghat.
On its part, government also responded to the allegations with Khurshid saying if Team Anna did not have any faith in them, they could approach the United Nations.
“They should write to the United Nations. In India what can be more independent than the Supreme Court? They want an independent probe into matters which have been rejected and
disapproved of by the Supreme Court,” he said.
Refuting Team Anna’s allegation that government was not sincere in ensuring passage of the Lokpal Bill, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said the proposed law was being examined by a select committee of Parliament.
“The bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha. It was brought to the Rajya Sabha, which is mandatory. There were over 185 amendments. There were so much discussions. It could not be passed,” she said.
Noting that government has been making sincere efforts to bring the Lokpal bill, she said it was sent to select committee as members of Parliament wanted the legislation to be “powerful” and “complete”. “Parliament of India is already looking at it,” she said.
Referring to government brining the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill and Citizens’ Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill, Soni said UPA was committed to bringing transparency in governance.
However, BJP came out in support of Team Anna’s agitation hitting out at Congress for its alleged attempts to disrupt the movement and said it does understand the restlessness in the ruling party over charges of corruption levelled against its ministers.
BJP also attacked Khurshid for “mocking at” Hazare asking him to seek justice from the UN instead and said the people were listening to the voice against corruption and such statements would prove costly to him and his party.
“We condemn the act of certain Congress activists who wanted to disrupt the dharna of Anna Hazarre and his team. It is unacceptable, it is undemocratic and every individual has the right to put forward his or her point of view and protest democratically,” BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.