The leader of a campaign against corruption in India was today sent to jail for a week after being arrested at a house in New Delhi hours ahead of a planned hunger strike in the capital that police had banned.
The detention of veteran social activist Anna Hazare sparked nationwide demonstrations by flag-waving supporters. In the capital, up to 1,400 people were detained during protests, the city’s police chief, B.K. Gupta, said at a press briefing. Opposition parties forced adjournments in both houses of parliament.
“This is a struggle for change,” Hazare said in a message broadcast by television channels that was recorded before his detention. “We should continue the movement through the path of non-violence.”
A hunger strike by Hazare in April tapped nationwide anger over graft cases, including allegations linked to a sale of mobile-phone licenses in 2008 and last year’s Commonwealth Games. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government has been weakened by months of protests, used his Independence Day address yesterday to the nation to urge Hazare to take his grievances to parliament not the street.
“Public opinion is strongly with the demands made by Anna Hazare and his team,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, managing director of New Delhi-based Development & Research Services. “The public mood has decisively turned against the government on corruption issues, which will corner it further.”
Hazare was sent by a magistrate to New Delhi’s Tihar Jail for seven days, police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said in a phone interview. The septuagenarian was scheduled to begin an indefinite fast to push demands for tougher laws to fight corruption. Senior members of his movement were also detained.
Hazare’s supporters yesterday rejected police restrictions on the proposed hunger strike that would have limited it to three days and curbed the number of people who could attend to about 5,000, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said at a press conference today. All those wishing to protest have to accept conditions imposed on them to protect society, he said.
Television channels broadcast images of protests by Hazare’s supporters in several cities, including Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad.
The rally in the capital attracted thousands of people who milled in streets around the police station where Hazare, who dresses in the simple white shirt and cap of India’s independence movement, was being held.
Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the arrest of Hazare marked a “very sad day for Indian democracy.”
After consultations with Hazare and leading backers, the government this month presented to parliament a bill to fight corruption that excludes oversight of a serving prime minister, judges, parliament and most bureaucrats. The legislation has been referred to a panel of lawmakers for scrutiny. Critics, including Hazare, say the proposals in the so-called Lokpal, or Ombudsman Bill, lack teeth.
“We want a strong Lokpal to prevent corruption in high places,” Singh said yesterday. “Now, only parliament can decide what type of Lokpal legislation should be enacted.”
Singh, in the third year of a five-year term, has seen his legislative agenda stall amid the corruption claims. Two ministers have resigned over the sale of permits to run mobile- phone services, which the country’s auditor says may have cost the exchequer $31 billion.
One of them, former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja, is in Tihar jail while his trial continues. A federal lawmaker and business executives have also been imprisoned.
Police in June use teargas and batons to break up a protest camp in New Delhi and forcefully evict yoga guru Swami Ramdev, who had joined the anti-graft movement.
While Hazare’s first fast forced the government to invite him and his supporters to join a panel tasked with drafting the anti-corruption bill, the two sides couldn’t agree on key features, such as bringing the prime minister under its ambit.
“Those who don’t agree with this bill can put forward their views to parliament, political parties and even the press,” Singh said yesterday. “They should not resort to hunger strikes and fast unto death.”
Corruption poses a risk to sustaining economic growth near 9 percent and winning overseas investment, auditing and consulting company KPMG said in March. India first introduced anti-corruption legislation in parliament four decades ago.
“The country will not accept” the way the government is acting against the anti-corruption protesters, said Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer in the Supreme Court and civil-rights activist, terming Hazare’s detention “undemocratic.” Hazare’s team called for renewed countrywide protests tomorrow.