A large number of people protesting, under the aegis of India Against Corruption, against the coal scam were lathicharged and tear-gassed by the police when they attempted to gherao the residences of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP president Nitin Gadkari here on Sunday.
Action on the streets of Lutyens’ Delhi began in the afternoon when, responding to the gherao call given by Arvind Kejriwal, the charged-up protesters proceeded towards Parliament Street from Jantar Mantar. Barricades failed to stop the marchers who faced little resistance from the men in khaki, most of whom helplessly watched the protesters head towards Parliament.
As planned, the protesters split into three groups on Rafi Marg. While one group led by Mr. Kejriwal himself marched towards the 7 Race Course Road residence of Dr. Singh, the other two were guided by his associates Prashant Bhushan, Manish Sisodia, Kumar Vishwas, Gopal Rai, Sanjay Singh and others towards the bungalows of Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Gadkari.
Mr. Kejriwal, who accused the Congress and the BJP of being hand-in-glove on the coal blocks issue, and many others managed to give the police the slip but were intercepted on Akbar Road. With the protesters refusing to budge, the police used water cannon and lobbed nearly a dozen tear gas shells. As they held their ground, the policemen charged towards them with lathis. Several people were injured and they retreated. But they joined another group that blocked the way when the police tried to whisk away Mr. Kejriwal and others in a bus.
A similar scene unfolded near Ms. Gandhi’s residence, where too tear gas shells were lobbed to subdue the protesters. The high drama came to an end around 3.15 p.m. when Mr. Kejriwal announced that the protest was suspended. Nearly a thousand protesters who courted arrest were later released.
Addressing the gathering at Jantar Mantar earlier in the day, Mr. Kejriwal and other speakers debunked the “zero-loss theory” propounded by the government. They alleged that the allocations were made at throwaway prices to companies that had nothing to do with power generation and this despite repeated requests by the then Coal Secretary to auction the blocks. The speakers accused the BJP also of public posturing by only demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and not pushing for cancellation of the allotments and a fresh auction of coal blocks.
Mr. Kejriwal said the Central government should make public the names of all the Chief Ministers who had recommended names of industrialists for the allocations. “Names of the industrialists should also be made public,” he added.
While the protest was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., Mr. Kejriwal and his five associates took the security apparatus by surprise when they turned up at the residences of Dr. Singh, Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Gadkari much earlier, around 6.30 a.m.
Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Gopal Rai were detained outside Dr. Singh’s residence, Mr. Sisodia and Mr. Vishwas were picked up near 10 Janpath, and Sanjay Singh and another team member outside the bungalow of the BJP president. The police kept them confined at the Mandir Marg police station for about an hour, but had to set them free after a large number of supporters landed there to stage a protest.
Detained in Mumbai
Rahi Gaikwad reports from Mumbai:
In Mumbai, a team of IAC volunteers was detained while leading a march against coalgate. The police registered an offence of unlawful assembly against IAC coordinator Mayank Gandhi and 40 other volunteers.
IAC spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon said IAC volunteers were leading a morcha in three batches to the Mumbai residence of Rajiv Shukla, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.
“We were around 70 to 100 volunteers. The police detained us for about two-and-a-half hours. Another group reached the house, but they were also detained. The police did not press any charges,” Ms. Menon said.