On overcast day, Anna draws large crowds, aides deny Narendra Modi controversy

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On overcast day, Anna draws large crowds, aides deny Narendra Modi controversy

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New Delhi:  Delhi woke up to a Monday without any electricity. Metro trains weren't running, so commuters hit the roads, where traffic lights weren't working because of a massive power outage across North India. At 9 am, attendance was sparse at activist Anna Hazare's protest camp in the capital.

But perhaps because it was overcast and cool in Delhi as 75-year-old Anna entered the second day of his hunger strike, or because the Left had called a demonstration against rising food prices at the same location,  a few hours later it was house-full at Anna's venue,  Jantar Mantar. Activists used the occasion to deny reports of a growing rift within their ranks.

As Anna took the stage, he warned, "The way this wave of protest against corruption is building in the country, I get the feeling that this government will have to bring a strong Lokpal Bill or else it will have to go." 

Anna and his activists want the government to ensure that the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill is cleared by Parliament urgently. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in December, but was stalled in the Rajya Sabha. It creates a Lokpal - a new national ombudsman agency- empowered to investigate charges of corruption against government servants. Last year, a 16-day fast by Anna in Delhi forced the government to promise him that the Lokpal Bill would be debated in Parliament in its Winter Session. This time around, sources say, the government does not plan to enter discussions or negotiations with the activists.

Since it began its protest in Delhi on July 25, Team Anna has been trying to provoke the sort of fervour that moved thousands of middle-class Indians to march on the streets last year, demanding the Lokpal Bill championed by Anna. But equally public are the differences within those who work most closely with Anna.

Despite his aides' advice, Anna has collaborated with yoga icon Baba Ramdev. The latter, who is focusing on a campaign against black or undeclared money in foreign banks, showed up at Anna's camp on Friday. He brought thousands of followers with him, helping turn a poor crowd into a robust one. Over the weekend, as Anna began his fast, he needed no help. Jantar Mantar was packed. But his team publicly criticised Baba Ramdev for sharing the stage with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a function over the weekend. The yoga guru showered praise on the chief minister, described by Team Anna members as "a murderer of humanity" for his alleged complicity in the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.  But Anna's aide Kiran Bedi today said that just as Team Anna meets leaders of the Opposition, Baba Ramdev cannot be faulted for meeting BJP leaders or others. 

There are other points of difference as well. Anna's aides like Mr Kejriwal are campaigning for the government to authorise an independent investigation against the Prime Minister and 14 of his senior cabinet ministers. Team Anna has accused these ministers of graft. Among them, is former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherhjee, who was sworn in as the 13th President of India last weekend.

Anna does not want the "black-listed" ministers to distract from the Lokpal Bill. He has also said, contradicting aides like Mr Kejriwal, that with Mr Mukherjee now in the top constitutional office in the country, it is no longer kosher to question his integrity.


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