Anna Hazare on Tuesday faced a low turnout as he launched his three-day fast against a “weak” Lokpal Bill asking people to be ready for an ‘aar paar ki ladai’ (fight to finish) to stamp out corruption and ensure that “goondas” do not enter Parliament.
The 74-year-old Mr. Hazare, who sought to sidestep the appeal of his close aides to stop fast due to his health condition, said people will one day teach the government a lesson for the “betrayal” on the Lokpal issue.
In contrast to the impressive gathering at his three protests in Delhi earlier, the numbers were not up to expectations at the MMRDA ground.
Mr. Hazare repeated his threat to undertake a tour of five-poll bound states, including Uttar Pradesh, and said he will campaign against the government and do the same when General Elections are announced.
“Humko thay karna hain, aar yaa paar? (We have to decide, this side or that side). Whatever we should do, we should do.
We should be ready to go to jail,” Mr. Hazare told his supporters after starting his fast at 12:30 pm.
Mr. Hazare, who is suffering from a viral infection, reached the venue after a two-and-a-half-hour long drive from the guest house where he was staying. In between, he also paid respects to Mahatma Gandhi at Juhu Beach.
“Elections have been announced in five states. You and me have to decide whether this betrayal should continue. I will campaign against the government in the five states,” he said.
Emphasising that Parliament should retain its dignity, he claimed that 150 MPs in the House were criminals and if there is a Right to Reject provision, they will not get entry into the “sacred temple of democracy”.
“Today, goondas and criminals are entering politics...if we have Right to Reject, goondas will not enter this sacred temple (Parliament and Assemblies). We have to ensure that our lawmaking bodies remain sacred,” he said.
The commencement of Mr. Hazare’s fast came as Lok Sabha began a debate on Lokpal bill with government side and opposition sparring over the issue.
Mr. Hazare’s drive to the protest venue was marked by high drama when around 20 men blocked his convoy and showed him black flags saying that he cannot take the country to ransom.
The convoy of Mr. Hazare, on way to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue on Juhu beach, was briefly stopped by the protesters shouting “Anna Hazare murdabad“.
Terming his campaign as the second freedom struggle, Mr. Hazare said the fight for a strong Lokpal will not end today and one has to fight a long battle.
“You will not get the Lokpal Bill. You need to be ready for a long battle. The elections are coming in five states.
After two and half years, the general elections will come. I will campaign against the government and tell people how they cheated us,” he said.
Defending his tactics, he said one has to close the nose to make somebody open his mouth.
Hazare alleged that some people were threatening them not to go to the poll-bound states. However, he did not name them.
“We will go there. Many people are threatening us that they will do this, they will do that. What will they do?” he said.
Demanding more powers to gram sabhas, Hazare accused the government of forcefully acquiring farmers’ land and resorting to lathicharge and opening fire when there is resistance.
“Farmers’ land is being acquired without their permission. You don’t have powers to acquire land using force. Without gram sabha’s permission, you should not acquire land,” he said.
Hazare said after ensuring the setting up of a strong Lokpal, the next fight will be for Right to Reject provision.
Crediting himself, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi for the fight for RTI, he said because of this law, Suresh Kalmadi and A Raja, who are accused of corruption, are in jail.
In Delhi, the protest by Hazare’s supporters did not elicit much response due to winter chill as well as the activist’s absence. He was earlier scheduled to sit on fast at Ramlila Maidan but changed the venue due to weather condition.
The protest relay fast in Delhi was scheduled to start at 10 AM but it started only 90 minutes later as the crowd was not as huge as witnessed during the earlier agitation when Hazare was at the centre stage.
The leader of the protest in Delhi Shanti Bhushan himself came to the podium at 10:30 AM though another Team Anna member and his son Prashant Bhushan was at the venue before explaining to media persons about the protest and the delayed start.
Prashant blamed the chilly and foggy weather for the low turnout in the morning. “I am sure people will come here as well. It is a cold day, foggy day today. It will take sometime for people to turn up. They will come, don’t worry,” he said.
Activist Gopal Rai said winter and probably the absence of Hazare may be the reason for the low turnout.
Prashant said the Bill in its present form is unacceptable. Protest will continue as well as jail bharo agitation, he added.
Team Anna has made it clear that their four key demands which included provision for an independent investigating agency for the anti-corruption ombudsman were “non-negotiable”.