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Friday, 19 August 2011

Civil society faults govt for mishandling Anna's protest

NEW DELHI: With the government and the Anna Hazare group locked in a standoff over the Lokpal bill, civil society members have criticized the government's ham-handed approach in handling the situation, adding that the two sides had polarized the debate.

National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander said the government had "mishandled" the situation and allowed the Hazare campaign gain legitimacy among people. "This government has mishandled the situation by attempting to suppress the protests, transforming it into a larger campaign," Mander said. He added that the "intolerance" on both sides had aided in polarizing the debate.

National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) member Nikhil Dey expressed concern that both alternatives on the issue were not sustainable. "There is no doubt that the government has mishandled the situation. There is also very little discussion on specifics which is a cause for worry," he said.

Mander said the Hazare campaign had support from people mobilized by right-wing parties - a criticism that the Congress has often leveled against the group. He however qualified it by saying that while the group enjoyed right-wing leanings, it had also become a "fulcrum of a larger political dissatisfaction against an unresponsive and uncaring government".

Mander also took exception to recent comparisons between the Hazare campaign and the second freedom struggle or JP movement. "The comparison is unfair and historically incorrect. This movement speaks of financial corruption but has no larger vision for economic equality, dalit or gender equality."

NCPRI has, in fact, prepared an alternative to the two Lokpal drafts. Their 'basket of measures' includes different approaches and independent agencies to deal with corruption in judiciary and executive.

In a statement on Tuesday, condemning the government's move to arrest Hazare, members including Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy said, "It is the democratic right of every person to protest peacefully and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that public protests do not inconvenience or endanger other people. The government cannot abrogate this responsibility by either banning or severely constraining public protests, or by shifting their responsibility on to the protestors. How can Delhi be the capital of the largest democracy in the world and yet not allow the people of India to exercise their basic democratic rights?"

It added, "Though NCPRI does not agree with many of the demands of Anna Hazare and his campaign, we fully support their democratic right to publicly make those demands and are fully committed to protect such a right for all citizens of India."


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