In an early morning swoop, the Delhi Police picked up social activist Anna Hazare from his residence in New Delhi just as he was preparing to leave for Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat ahead of his fast at J.P. Park to press for a strong anti-corruption Lokpal Bill.
"This is the second fight for freedom and this movement will not halt now," said Mr. Hazare as he was whisked away with several supporters trying to stop the vehicle that carried him to the Delhi Police Officers’ Mess at Civil Lines. He was later sent to the Tihar jail after he reportedly refused to offer surety for his bail before a magistrate.
"We have orders from higher up," said the detaining officer when Mr. Hazare asked him what his crime was. Team Anna was denied permission to stage his indefinite fast and prohibitory orders were imposed at the venue after they refused to comply with all the riders imposed by the police.
The arrest sparked off angry, widespread protests with reports of people courting arrests from different parts of the country and opposition parties slamming the move as an attack on democratic and civil rights of citizens.
Both the Houses of Parliament were adjourned over the issue.
Along with Mr. Hazare, other key members of the India Against Corruption movement including Arvind Kejriwal, Shanti Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia were also detained from different venues. About 1,300 supporters were detained in Delhi alone.
In a terse statement made to the press, Home Secretary R.K. Singh said Mr. Hazare was detained because he said he was going to defy prohibitory orders.
With opposition parties and activists likening the government action to the emergency imposed in the country in 1975, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came before the media to say that while everyone had the right to protest, were the police to perceive a law and order situation, it could impose conditions. Union Ministers P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Ambika Soni also addressed the media to express similar views.
Blasting the government, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said the detentions were an attack on democratic rights of people which the government should re-consider. "We totally reject the argument that because the Lokpal Bill was in Parliament, there can be no protests on it. If it is so, then even the Women’s Reservation Bill is before Parliament and there are so many protests over it. Did the government accuse them even once as it has Anna Hazare?"
Terming it as a "sad day" for India's democracy, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley said the move shows that the United Progressive Alliance is a government in panic and has over-reacted. "Do a group of citizens who disagree with the government have the right to protest and dissent or not or have we abandoned civil rights and the right to protest in this country?"
In Patna, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar described Mr. Hazare’s detention as "murder of democracy" and said it was a "rehearsal of emergency" which the people will never tolerate.
Addressing a joint press conference, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said he was going to move the Supreme Court against the action, while Swami Agnivesh called upon the government to withdraw the "repressive measures" and hold a dialogue with the civil society group.
Activist Medha Patkar said while there were several movements as theirs under the banner of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, Mr. Hazare had come to be a representative of all anti-corruption struggles. She said, to say that the Bill was before Parliament and therefore there should be no protests on this was wrong. "After all, it was Parliament that passed the Bill on setting up Special Economic Zones."
Baba Ramdev, whose demonstration against corruption was lathi-charged by the Delhi Police in June, said this government was "dictatorial, cruel and manipulative".