Will Congress restrict their rallies to 5,000, asks Arun Jaitley

The main opposition, Bhartiya Janata Party, has mocked the government’s defence of cracking down on Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption protests.

Senior leader and leader of the opposition Arun Jaitley mocked the argument that Hazare was arrested because he refused to limit his supporters to 5,000 in number.

Jaitley said the Congress Party led government is crushing the people’s democratic right to protest in the guise of maintaining law and order.

“The conditions imposed on a protest can be that you won’t indulge in violence, you will not disrupt normal life.. but they cannot be such that they finish off your right to protest,” Jaitley said.

He was referring to the press conference by the Home Minister P Chidambaram and others such as Kapil Sibal in which they alleged that a protest involving 5,000 people would have spun out of control and caused a ‘law and order’ situation.

“This is the first time we are hearing these sort of conditions.. how many days will you protest, how big the protest.. A small protest will be allowed, a large protest will not be… You can’t lay down impossible conditions that take away the right to protest. This is what the government is trying to do,” he said.

“Will the ministers give an undertaking to the Country that the Congress party will not have more than 5,000 people in its protests,” he asked. “It is incredible that there is no place in Delhi where a peaceful protest can happen,” he added.

He also scalded the senior ministers for saying things like they don’t know what the Delhi Police (a wing of the Central Government) was up to in this matter. The Delhi Police reports directly to the office of the Union home minister.

“You are trying to hide behind the men in uniform… [by saying things like] we don’t know what is going on, it’s the police etc..,” he alleged.

“It smacks of smugness, it shows arrogance and shows the erroneous impression that power is immortal,” he said. “The government has almost declared a war against those activists who are asking for probity.”

He said that even as he accepts that the final authority for making laws in India lie with the Parliament, the right to protest cannot be quashed in an undemocratic fashion.

Leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj too was scathing in her remarks. “If the (prohibitory orders of) section 144 were imposed on JP park, why was Anna arrested from a place which was not under the prohibitory orders.

She also confirmed that both the Left parties, the CPI and the CPI(M) participated in the opposition parties’ meeting today. The move breaks new ground in opposition co-operation as the left has never officially planned any move in co-operation with the right-of-centre BJP.

Asked about the judicial remand of Anna Hazare, Swaraj said in the eyes of the BJP, the arrest itself was illegitimate. She also said two parties, the SP and the TDP, which are close to the government, also joined the opposition meeting and expressed their displeasure about the arrest.

Mulayam Singh said that the arrests were illegitimate, she added.


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