Yet another wave of protest by supporters of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare hit the Capital's roads on Thursday, this time a peaceful demonstration was staged outside the 7 Race Course Road residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Over 400 protesters were detained and later released.
Team Anna had given a call for the third round of protest outside Dr. Singh's heavily guarded bungalow after talks with the government over three contentious issues regarding the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill hit a dead-end on Wednesday night.
Anna's supporters were asked to gherao the Prime Minister's residence at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Suspecting a large turnout, senior police officers held a meeting at the Delhi Police headquarters to chalk out a plan of action to maintain law and order. Since orders prohibiting assembly of more than five persons are in place around 7 Race Course Road, a decision was taken to erect multiple barriers to prevent the protesters from entering the high-security zone.
While the traffic police planned diversions in accordance with the security arrangements covering almost 1-km radius, four metro stations located near the Prime Minister's residence were closed for several hours, making it difficult for Anna's supporters to reach there.
However, the police were taken by surprise when a large group of protesters managed to converge outside Dr. Singh's residence around 3 p.m. Wearing caps with “I am Anna” inscribed on them and carrying the national Tricolour, they shouted slogan demanding introduction of Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament. Sixty people were bundled into a bus and taken to the Tughlak Road police station. “It was a peaceful protest. We were also unarmed,” said a police officer.
Sensing trouble, the police started barricading the roads leading up to Race Course Road. While rumours were doing the rounds that the protest had been called off, in the afternoon Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal announced at Ramlila Maidan that it was still on.
Since all roads to the Prime Minister's residence had been blocked and heavy deployments made along the routes, only few protesters could sneak in later to register their protest. “I am a student from Kolkata. I could not just sit at home and wanted to join the movement. I had to do something,” said a young protester while being taken away in a police vehicle.
A large number of Anna's supporters staged protests near the police barricades. Some of them were rounded up near Nehru Park, Akbar Road roundabout and outside the Tughlak Road police station. A group also took out a two-wheeler rally near India Gate, waving the national Tricolour.
“Although several markets were closed today [ Thursday] on account of the ongoing agitation, the protests largely remained restricted to New Delhi and Ramlila Maidan. No incident of violence was reported from anywhere,” said a police officer.