The Opposition on Wednesday said the UPA government’s restrictions on public protests were unheard of even during the British period and demanded "bold decisions" to tackle corruption.

Describing as “disappointing” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statements on Anna Hazare's arrest, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said they did not “inspire confidence” and demanded “bold decisions by the government to tackle the menace of corruption. Denouncing the restrictions imposed by the Delhi police, Mr. Jaitley said in the Upper House that the UPA government's restrictions on public protests were unheard of even during the British period. “The country is exasperated with the government and the level of corruption in the UPA's rule and hence people had taken to the streets,” he said.

Mr. Jaitley said the problem with the government of the day was that there were too many “lawyers advising” Dr. Singh and none of them understood that the problems needed political solutions and not police intervention.

“Do you even recollect from the British regime when these kinds of restrictions were imposed on freedom fighters and Gandhiji? You cannot impose such unnecessary conditions,” the BJP leader said.

Lashing out at the UPA government for imposing conditions such as limiting the protest's duration, the number allowed to gather, and the number of vehicles allowed at the protest site, Mr. Jaitley said, “Is the Congress party willing to give a guarantee that they [themselves] will not hold a protest having more than 5,000 people in future?”

Accusing the UPA government and the Congress of “unleashing a new political idiom” against opponents and those fighting corruption, Mr. Jaitley said: “Political spokesmen are being used literally as hit-men. Is that the level to which you have brought the political discourse? Smugness, which has become a character of this government; arrogance, which has become a character of this government — is not the way to fight corruption,” he said amid thumping of desks by the BJP members.

“Your advisors let you down. Your agencies let you down. You are now in a trap,” he said, pointing to the Prime Minister. “The Prime Minister is trying to build a thesis that Hazare's protest was some sort of a confrontation between Parliament and civil society but the Opposition rejects it.

“It is time for the Prime Minister and the political leadership of India to really stand up and take bold decisions. The Prime Minister must go to the root of the issue and find out why such a loss of faith and confidence has taken place in his government,” he said.

“Why blame the youths on streets when even the vote of confidence in Parliament is vitiated by corruption?” He asked the government to treat the Hazare issue as a “wake-up call.”

“Unless we put our House in order and the government leads us in putting the House in order, people of the country will become restless,” he said.

All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP V. Maitreyan targeted the Prime Minister stating: “Mr. Clean Prime Minister is getting dirtier day by day.” He said there were no takers for Dr. Singh's assurance that he was taking steps to fight corruption. The country had witnessed several scams, including the 2G spectrum scandal. But the Prime Minister was earlier in denial mode, later in switch-off mode and now in silent mode.”

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Tiruchi Siva said that while every citizen had a right to protest, the government had certain duties and Parliament certain powers. DMK also had a view that the Prime Minister should be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill, but this would be presented before the Standing Committee — a mini-Parliament with representatives from different parties.

“Assault on rights”

Communist Party of India Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said Mr. Hazare's arrest was a “blatant assault” on the democratic rights of citizens. She said the Prime Minister's statement was adding to the fairy tale of the Home Minister, who said the Delhi Police was acting on its own. “The government is browbeating Hazare and the Prime Minister's statement is insensitive to assault on the civil society. The government is suffering from selective amnesia.”

Ms. Karat said after being tough with the civil society, the government changed tactics once “Prince Charming” came and the media was fed that the Congress and the government would no more use abusive language for Mr. Hazare.

Ms. Karat said even in the Congress, there are many who were dismayed, mentioning the name of the former Union Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was present in the House, in this regard. She demanded the unconditional release of Mr. Hazare and said the government should not divide the civil society that and different standards should not be used for the National Advisory Council and the others.

D. Raja (CPI) said he disapproved of and condemned Mr. Hazare's arrest and demanded his release without conditions. He asked who authorised the government to form a joint drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill with civil society .

Janata Dal (United) national spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari said the government had lost its ability to govern and run democracy. Biju Janata Dal leader Pyarimohan Mohapatra said the Prime Minister was not being allowed to act. “When will the PM start acting as PM? If he is not able to act, he should go.”

Intervening in the debate, Union Law and Justice Minister Salman Khursheed said every citizen had the fundamental right to protest, as enshrined in the Constitution, but the Constitution itself imposed reasonable restrictions so that liberty was not converted into licence.

Mohammed Adeeb (Ind), Nationalist Congress Party general secretary Tariq Anwar, BJP MP Ram Jethmalani, Shiromani Akali Dal secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Telugu Desam Party MP M.V. Mysura Reddy, Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Rajniti Prasad also spoke.

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