New Delhi: It was a defiant Anna Hazare that faced the cameras on Sunday evening. Taking on the government, who had charged him with allegations of corruption, Hazare stated his innocence and challenged the government to prove otherwise.
''Allegations against Team Anna have been started since the joint drafting committee was to be formed. When the committee was formed, committee started alleging accusations against everyone I was the only one left. Now, they have started targeting me as well, but it will come to nothing because I have a clean record. The charges are baseless. Please prove the charges against me.''
Earlier in the day, the Congress party had accused Mr Hazare of double standards. The party spoke of pending corruption charges against Mr Hazare and asked him to clear his name first, before speaking of corruption.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, ''We would like to ask Anna Hazare, with what face are you talking about fast against corruption? You are corrupt yourself. We are not saying this. This is what a high court-appointed inquiry has said.''
Mr Tewari was referring to the Justice PB Sawant Committee report, which had allegedly found Anna guilty of involvement in a graft case. The report criticized an NGO, the Hind Swaraj Trust, and accused it of spending Rs 2.20 lakh of its funds, on the birthday celebrations of Mr Hazare.
Responding to the allegations Mr Hazare said, ''The government is defaming me. The Sawant committee does not say that I am corrupt.'' On the question on the celebration of his birthday, he added. ''I've never celebrated my birthday. There were some people who wanted to celebrate it, but the trust money was returned. So where is the corruption?''
However, when asked for his position, Justice Sawant described the act as morally incorrect. "Anna spent the money from the account of his own Hind Swaraj trust on the occasion of his birthday. That was morally incorrect," he said.
The Congress party had also questioned Mr Hazare's proposed fast calling it undemocratic. At a Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting on Sunday, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had said, ''There is nothing more undemocratic than what Anna is doing. The Lokpal Bill is the property of the Parliament not that of the government. The question of dialogue between Anna and the government doesn't arise. Team Anna has to speak to the standing committee. If he complies good otherwise action will have to be taken.''
The Congress has also complained about the conditions laid down for his fast by Mr Hazare, in his letter to the Prime Minister, on Saturday. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, "We have given him (Anna) the venue, but he has not liked it. He is also talking about an indefinite strike but that may not be right as it may amount to suicide. The police have exercised the powers vested in them. If Anna has an issue, he should complain to the specific authority against a person. Who is the competent authority to frame laws in the country? According to the constitution, the power is vested in the hands of the Parliament and no one else has the right to frame any laws."
The acrimony between the Congress and Team Anna has grown ever since the latter approached the Delhi Police for permission to stage his fast. The 74-year-old Gandhian wants to begin an indefinite hunger strike at the Capital's protest hotspot - Jantar Mantar. But he was denied permission for this venue. The Delhi Police instead said he could hold his fast at Jai Prakash Narain Park. The permission, however, was conditional - only 5,000 people would be allowed to gather and they would have to vacate the venue by August 18.
Rejecting these restrictions, Team Anna had said: "We cannot control the number of people since it is an indefinite fast. We will decide where to hold the fast. Police may arrest us."
Expressing his unhappiness with the conditions, Mr Hazare once again wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday saying. "If you can't help us, we will court arrest." He added, "Can't our Prime Minister get us a location to protest peacefully?"
Mr Hazare had also asked Dr Singh in his letter. "People say your government is the most corrupt. Because of what's happening in the government, America intervened in our matters. If you can't help us, we will court arrest on August 16."
Replying to Mr Hazare, the Prime Minister in a letter said, "Your grievance that the police has given you permission to protest and go on fast at JP Park only for three days needs to be addressed by the statutory authorities who have taken that decision. My office does not in any way get involved in the decision making process."
The Lokpal Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 4, has been sent to the Parliamentary committee for its consideration. But its draft did not include several key suggestions made by Team Anna. Earlier this week, the panel had invited Hazare for the discussion in yet another bid to strike an understanding with civil society activists.
The Lokpal Bill provides for the establishment of the institution of Lokpal, or ombudsman, to fight corruption in public office. Hazare and four of his nominees were initially invited by the government to help draft the new Bill, along with five ministers. The elected and non-elected teams of representatives clashed bitterly, and ultimately produced two dramatically different versions of the Bill.
But the government chose to introduce its version of the Bill in Parliament. In this version, senior judges and the PM are exempt. Team Anna has accused the government of "betraying" the nation by delivering a Bill incapable of really taking on politicians or public servants over corruption.
Arvind Kejriwal, a member of Team Anna had said, ''We feel that the government is doing nothing to tackle corruption, on top of that they are doing everything they can, to quash the movement.''