Organisers blame chilly weather, Anna's absence

The call for a three-day relay fast issued by Team Anna to press the demand for a strong and independent Lokpal drew a rather lukewarm response from anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare's supporters at the historic Ramlila Maidan here on Tuesday, with the organisers blaming it on Anna's absence and the chilly weather in the Capital.

The event, being organised as part of the third round of protests since April, was scheduled to start around 10 a.m. But it was delayed by almost 90 minutes as former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, who was to kick-start the event, arrived late. However, Team Anna members Prashant Bhushan, Gopal Rai and Sanjay Singh had reached the venue well in advance to review the arrangements.

In sharp contrast to the second round of protests under the leadership of Mr. Hazare in August, the turnout this time was poor. While the organisers had made arrangements for a fairly large gathering, supporters converged at the venue in small groups shouting pro-Anna slogans and demanding a strong Lokpal Bill.

Addressing the gathering, Mr. Bhushan said there could not be any compromise on the four non-negotiable demands that had been put before the Central government and the Parliamentarians through an open letter. “It will be meaningless to pass such a weak Lokpal Bill,” he said. The Lokpal should either have its own independent investigating unit or the Central Bureau of Investigation must be made independent. Several amendments to the present Lokpal Bill was a must, Mr. Bhushan said. In a participatory democracy, the government must consider the people's opinion.

Among the speakers was psephologist Yogendra Yadav who noted that it was because of the sustained pressure mounted through the movement that political parties had responded and taken up the issue of corruption with all the seriousness it deserved. Asif Mohammad Khan, MLA from Okhla constituency, also addressed the gathering.

While most visitors to the Maidan were from Delhi, several had come from outside as well. “We cannot leave the struggle for a strong anti-corruption mechanism half way. That is why I have come here to lend my support. I will do whatever I can in the national interest,” said M.S. Sawant from Garhwal.

Wearing Anna caps and waving the Tricolour, the crowd watched the Parliament proceedings and the developments at the MMRDA grounds in Mumbai on a large screen installed close to the podium.

“We have made all arrangements for the visitors' convenience. Although the gathering today was not relatively large, our prime focus this time is the ‘jail bharo' call given by Mr. Hazare beginning December 30, subject to the decision taken by the political leaders in the coming two days,” said an India Against Corruption representative. Team Anna member Kiran Bedi is expected to join the protesters at Ramlila Maidan on Wednesday.

Symbolic demonstration

Meanwhile, local MLA Shoaib Iqbal and his supporters held a symbolic demonstration against corruption, communalism, price-rise and food adulteration at the Turkman Gate.

Extending his support to the government's Lokpal Bill, Mr. Iqbal demanded that Team Anna respond in a positive way; an adamant approach was not good for a healthy democracy.

“Team Anna is not saying anything about the anti-communal violence Bill. He should clarify his stand on the issue. He should also clarify his stand on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party.”

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