New Delhi: After protests through the day over the arrest of Anna Hazare, the Government was all set to release him from Tihar Jail on Tuesday night. However, Mr Hazare refused to come out of jail, saying he wants unconditional permission to fast at Jaiprakash Narain Park. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare?)
Sources say Mr Hazare had been given the option of either accepting the conditions laid down by Delhi Police and staging a three-day protest fast, or return to his hometown in Maharashtra. Anna rejected both options. Unwilling to use forces owing to the sensitive nature of the case, the jail authorities had no option but to let Anna spend the night inside Tihar.
"Anna said that he left home to go to JP Park to conduct his fast and that is exactly where he would go from here (Tihar Jail). He has refused to be released till he is given a written, unconditional permission," Manish Sisodia, Anna's close aide told the reporters outside the Tihar jail just before sitting on a dharna right outside the jail. He was joined by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who reached after midnight on Wednesday to meet Anna Hazare. Sri Sri has been a supporter of Anna Hazare's India Against Corruption movement.
Mr Sisodia was released late on Tuesday night after being detained and subsequently arrested along with Anna Hazare in the morning.
Speaking to NDTV, former IPS officer and a member of Team Anna, Kiran Bedi said Mr Hazare will not take a conditional release and will also ensure that the other activists are released with him. She also suggested that the Delhi Police is capable of handling this fast on its own. "Delhi Police should not allow itself to be used as a tool. They are capable to handling and regulating this fast. It is absolutely capable of managing traffic. It should not allow itself to be used as a tool by political parties," she said. (Watch)
Sources have told NDTV that the decision to release Anna Hazare was taken after Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's intervention. Rahul Gandhi reportedly met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this evening and discussed the Anna situation.
Government sources also add that they never wanted Mr Hazare to be sent to Tihar Jail.
Mr Hazare was brought to Tihar Jail at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, eight hours after he was arrested. The 74-year-old activist has not touched any food or water all day. His hunger strike against corruption has begun, say those who are in touch with him. (Forum: Do you agree with Anna Hazare's fast?)
The anti-corruption crusader was lodged in a normal cell in jail no 4. Ironically, among the more well-known residents of jail no. 4 is Suresh Kalmadi, charged with large-scale corruption in Commonwealth Games projects. To add to the irony, Mr Hazare's fellow-activist and Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal was in a jail that houses DMK leader A Raja, also in jail on charges of corruption in the 2G scam. (Top surfer comments on Anna Hazare)
The pressure showed when jail authorities sought to make clear that Anna Hazare and Suresh Kalmadi shared only a jail, not a ward. Director General, Prisons, Neeraj Kumar said Mr Hazare's ward was in fact some distance away from that of Mr Kalmadi. He also said that Mr Hazare had been given tight security, had been medically examined and was well.
Whether or not India agrees with Mr Hazare's methods or the new law against corruption that he is championing, there was widespread consensus that his arrest was a violation of the fundamental right to protest peacefully; that the Government has through his arrest catapulted Mr Hazare into a new league of stardom; and that the issue of corruption - rather than Mr Hazare's plan for how to tackle it - has engulfed India with a craving for correction.
Mr Hazare was greeted in a Delhi flat on Tuesday morning a little after 7 by many policemen. They asked if he was planning on proceeding with his plan for a mass protest at Jai Prakash Narain Park. When he confirmed that was his agenda, he was taken into preventive custody. The government said that it had no choice but to arrest Mr Hazare for defying ordered that banned large gatherings.
His arrest was not unanticipated - he had recorded a video message declaring this the second freedom struggle. "My dear countrymen, second freedom struggle has begun and now I have also been arrested. But will this movement be stopped by my arrest? No, not at all. Don't let it happen... Time has come my countrymen when there should be no place left in jails in India to accommodate any more persons," he said. (Watch: Anna's video message for India)
At 3:30 pm, Mr Hazare was moved to Tihar Jail. Nearly 300 people gathered outside in a show of solidarity. The police and the Government tried to explain that Mr Hazare would have been allowed to hold his protest if he had accepted the conditions of limit his hunger strike to three days and his supporters to 5000. In court, the police said it did not want custody. (Anna Hazare arrested: In Big cities, big protests)
At India Gate, a few hundred people gathered for a candlelight vigil. In other cities across the country, crowds gathered, making the same point - that they support Mr Hazare's call for action against corruption. The strength of the crowds varied. Thousands in Bangalore and Mumbai, a few hundred in Kolkata and Hyderabad.
What Mr Hazare is fighting is the Government's draft of a new bill to counter corruption among politicians and bureaucrats. Mr Hazare wants the Prime Minister and senior judges to be covered by the Lokpal Bill. He also believes that the Government has too hefty a vote inter selection of the Lokpal or ombudsman committee. Mr Hazare and his supporters have their own version of the Lokpal bill - which has also been criticized for imagining an ombudsman panel with totalitarian powers.
For now, though, it is the arrest of Mr Hazare that the Opposition has leapt upon. In Parliament, parties united to slam the government. The BJP says the Prime Minister must make a statement on the Gandhian's arrest. (Read) Even old friends of the UPA government like Mulayam Singh Yadav placed their disagreement on record. More worryingly for the government, allies like the DMK chose to distance themselves.
"Both sides could have avoided the adamance," said DMK chief M Karunanidhi.
Defiance of police orders unacceptable: Chidambaram
Under attack from all quarters, the government has justified the police action on Anna. Home Minister P Chidambaram, not allowed to make a statement in Parliament by a belligerent Opposition, called Anna Hazare's detention a "painful duty," carried out because of "breach of peace." He was at pains to say that the government was not against peaceful protest, but said Team Anna was detained because it had refused to comply with six of the police's 22 conditions and made clear that it would defy orders not to hold their protest fast.
"It is unacceptable to defy police conditions...I inform you with regret that this action has been taken." Mr Chidambaram said, adding that Anna and six other people had been detained under Section 151 of the CrPC and taken to the police mess at Alipur road. He said a little over a 1000 people had been detained elsewhere in Delhi and most of them were at the Chhatrasal Stadium in north Delhi.
Parliament opened to chaos on Tuesday. The BJP gave a notice for suspension of Question Hour to discuss the Anna Hazare issue. The government said it was ready for a discussion after Question Hour, at noon. There was no meeting ground - when Mr Chidambaram offered to make a statement in Parliament, the Opposition said it will settle for nothing less than a statement from the Prime Minister. The two Houses were repeatedly adjourned, finally for the day.