The government was on Tuesday night faced with a piquant situation with Anna Hazare refusing to come out of Tihar Jail despite being offered a release, 15 hours after he was detained and prevented from going on fast demanding a strong Lokpal.
The 73-year-old Gandhian, who was fasting in the jail, was insisting on an unconditional release and permission to launch his fast at Jai Prakash Narain Park from where he had planned to launch his fast this morning.
Mr. Hazare’s close aide Manish Sisodia, who was arrested along with him and released, said the Gandhian has told the authorities that he will come out of the prison only after a written unconditional permission is given to continue his fast at Jai Prakash Narain Park here.
Mr. Sisodia said Mr. Hazare and activist Mr. Arvind Kejriwal were still continuing with their fast.
Neeraj Kumar, Director General,Tihar Jail, said Mr. Hazare was in his room and all formalities have been completed for his release.
But he has refused to go out as he wants an unconditional release, he said.
Jail sources said Mr. Hazare’s conditions like permission to fast from JP Park has been communicated to the authorities concerned for final decision.
In a sudden turn of events, government withdrew charges against him after picking up Mr. Hazare from a flat in east Delhi’s Mayur Vihar at 7:30 a.m. when he refused to heed Delhi Police’s request to him not to go ahead with his fast in violation of prohibitory orders.
Amidst scenes of jubilation by hundreds of candle- holding and tri-colour carrying supporters who shouted slogans, Mr. Hazare came out of the prison waving to them.
On a day of high drama, Delhi Police, which got Mr. Hazare and seven of his associates remanded to seven days judicial custody and lodged them in Tihar Jail, issued warrants of release around 2000 hours as thousands of people courted arrest in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities across the country protesting against the government action.
Mr. Hazare and his associates were charged under Sections 107 and 151 of CrPC dealing with preventive arrest after police believed that they were about to commit cognizable crimes when they refused to heed to Delhi Police’s request not to go ahead with the protest as it would be in violation of prohibitory orders.
After some high-drama of shifting the arrested from a police officer’s mess to a police station, the Gandhian and his associates were remanded to judicial custody for seven days after they refused to give a personal bond that they would not violate prohibitory orders and hold protests.
Mr. Hazare along with his three supporters have been kept in new admission ward of Jail number four while Mr. Kejriwal, a former IRS officer, and three others have been kept in Jail number one.
Two other prominent activists Ms. Kiran Bedi and noted lawyer Mr. Shanti Bhushan, who were detained under Delhi Police Act for apprehension of breach of peace, were released in the evening.
More than 1,500 activists were detained in Delhi when they hit the streets in support of Mr. Hazare, while in Mumbai, over 1,000 were held and hundreds of others in cities across the country.
Mr. Hazare, who is campaigning Lokpal that will cover Prime Minister, higher judiciary and MPs conduct inside Parliament among others, went on fast in the prison taking only water, sources close to him said.
Opposition parties closed ranks, disrupted both the Houses of Parliament, attacking the government action as “murder of democracy” and a throw-back to the days of emergency.
Government fielded an array of Ministers led by Home Minister P. Chidambaram before the media and rejected the criticism of its action.
Mr. Chidambaram strongly defended the arrest saying the Delhi Police came to a conclusion that he and his supporters would commit a “cognisable offence” by defying prohibitory orders.
“This is not a pleasant task and none of us is happy trying to explain the circumstances under which certain events have taken place. It is a painful duty and we are performing it with the seriousness it deserves,” he told reporters.
Government was at its pains to say right to protest is a Constitutional right but it must be exercised under certain reasonable conditions.
Mr. Chidambaram said Lokpal is not a panacea for corruption but on of the answers to deal with the menace and government was against Mr. Hazare Team’s attitude of “my bill or no bill”.
Shortly after Mr. Hazare’s arrest, his campaigner Prashant Bhushan announced a series of agitational programmes, including a march from India Gate to Parliament tomorrow evening and protest by supporters in Delhi streets.
He also called upon government employees to go on mass leave tomorrow to show solidarity with Mr. Hazare. However, Mr. Chidambaram expressed the hope that government servants will not heed to the “wrong call” of mass leave given by Team Anna.
Noting that Delhi Police was ready to release Hazare on a personal bond if he gave an undertaking that he will not defy prohibitory orders, Delhi Police Commissioner B.K. Gupta said the Gandhian refused to do so.
He said they had initially suggested that Mr. Hazare hold his protest at Sadbhavana Park which has a capacity to accomodate around 15-20,000 people.
“According to our intelligence reports, 15-20,000 people were to gather for the protest and we suggested that he stage his protest there but Delhi High Court had banned any protest there. It was then that we suggested Jai Prakash Narain Park,” he said.