The tussle between the government and Team Anna over the fast for a strong Lokpal bill Sunday headed for a major confrontation with the Congress accusing Anna Hazare of being “neck deep in corruption” and the social activist demanding an apology for the allegations and vowing to continue his fast from Aug 16 till the charges are proved wrong.
Along with the Congress, the government also stepped up its offensive against the much-publicised threat of fast with union ministers Kapil Sibal and Ambika Soni terming it “undemocratic and unconstitutional”.
President Pratibha Patil’s address to the nation on the eve of the Independence day also reflected the government’s viewpoint that there cannot be a single panacea for corruption and healthy convention of parliamentary procedures should be respected.
Congress sources said that with parliament in session, the government does not want a repeat of April when Hazare’s fast at Jantar Mantar became a 24-hour TV spectacle and led to curious crowds converging in large numbers.
They said the party’s attack was aimed at questioning Hazare’s credentials to lead an anti-corruption agitation.
The remarks from the Congress leaders, however, drew immediate condemnation from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which called the attacks on Hazare “unfortunate”.
Associates of Hazare launched counter-attack on the Congress in the evening, accusing the party of misleading people by making false allegations, and challenged it to put on its website in the next 24 hours the donations it has received and its expenditure of the last five years.
Hazare said the government had earlier targeted other civil society members of the drafting committee on Lokpal Bill, including Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, Justice (retd) Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal, and it was his turn now.
“They are liars and I am challenging the government to register a police complaint against me and start an inquiry. I am not afraid of any inquiry. I have decided that I will continue my fast till false allegations against me are proven wrong,” the 74-year-old Gandhian told reporters here.
Hazare also demanded that the government should apologise to him for the allegations.
Earlier in the day, the Congress made a strong attack on Hazare over the Justice P.B. Sawant Commission report and demanded a reply to the charges.
“We want to ask Kisan Baburao Hazare alias Anna that with what face do you talk of fast against corruption? You are involved in corruption from top to bottom, and we are not saying say this, this has been said by a probe panel which was headed by a former Supreme Court judge,” party spokesperson Manish Tewari said.
The Congress’s hardening stand came after Hazare’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which Hazare accused the United Progressive Alliance of adopting “dictatorial stance” and asked the prime minister “with what face will you unfurl the tricolour” at the Red Fort on Independence Day Monday. Hazare’s letter also made references to the prime minister’s age and said he should act boldly.
“The Lokpal bill has gone to the standing committee. He (Hazare) was invited before the panel which had representatives from several political parties…One stance inside and another outside. It (his words) are not an insult to the government but parliament,” Tewari said.
The Justice Sawant Commission was set up by the Maharashtra government in 2003 to probe Hazare’s allegations of corruption against four state ministers, but one of the ministers had made counter-allegations against the social activist.
Sibal and Soni held a joint press conference here Sunday and accused Team Hazare of making wild allegations and using intemperate language.
“The right to protest is not an absolute right, it also imposes certain obligations on the citizen. His attack on the PM (prime minister) is not Gandhian. A fast is meant for personal purification and not publicity,” Sibal said.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, speaking in Kolkata and in an oblique reference to Hazare’s threat of indefinite fast, said no one can force parliament to make a law according to his wishes and protest cannot be indefinite.
Associates of Hazare said that a committee formed to study Sawant Commission recommnedations had found the allegations against Hazare baseless.
Accusing the Congress of vendatta politics, they said it was the Congress governments which had bestowed civilian hounours like Padmabhushan on Hazare.
The BJP attacked Congress for its allegations of corruption against Hazare.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari said: “It is prime minister’s responsibility to protect democracy in the country. If the people under him are behaving undemocratically, will the prime minister not pay attention to it?”
Team Hazare rued that Manmohan Singh had failed to resolve the issue of restrictions imposed by Delhi Police on the fast.
Accusing Team Hazare of crossing “the Lakshman Rekha”, Tewari said if someone was suffering from a combination of grandeur and grandstanding, then he needs to be shown his place. “That’s precisely what we have done today,” he said.