Crowds keep away from Team Anna fast

New Delhi: Crowds today kept away from Team Anna`s indefinite fast against the UPA government on corruption raising questions as to whether the movement has lost its steam on a day when Anna Hazare refused to endorse his aides` attack against President Pranab Mukherjee.

Unlike in the past, crowds that had thronged the protest venue were missing this time and the count at its peak in the evening was somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000. The organisers issued appeals to "mothers, wives and daughters" to flock to the protest site at Jantar Mantar tomorrow. Hazare appeared not in sync with his close aides levelling allegations against Mukherjee, who was sworn in as the new President, when he congratulated him on assuming the highest Constitutional office.

"He is the top most person in the country by becoming the President. I congratulate him," Hazare told reporters here and refused to talk about the allegations raised by Team Anna against him, saying, "I do not want to speak about it." In his speech also at the protest venue, he did not speak about Mukherjee or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Team Anna had even masked the photograph of Mukherjee in a collage at the site in a symbolic protest, alleging Congress has managed to put the `chadar` (veil) of Constitution on the President, who has the immunity against any investigation.

Hazare`s aides also avoided any attack on Mukherjee during the day but trained guns at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with Shanti Bhushan and Kiran Bedi alleging that there is a "leadership failure" on his part and he cannot shy away from responsibility arguing that he is not personally corrupt. They also took a dig at Ministers for their reactions on protest. "We respected the Prime Minister and we still respect him. Where is leadership? There is a leadership failure. He has to honour the spirit of the letter promising three demands on Lokpal," Bedi said.

Referring to the last year`s April agitation, Bedi said they would not have gone on agitation if Singh had agreed to the demand for a joint committee when Hazare had met him in March and alleged that the leadership failure led to this situation. "We have not lost hope. We still hope he can do something," she said. Attacking the government, Shanti Bhushan said the UPA ministers appeared agitated and they seemed to be out of their senses in their reactions against the protest.

"How is the Prime Minister tolerating them? The Prime Minister`s job is not just to say that he is not corrupt but to ensure that there is no corrupt person in the Cabinet," he said. The real worry for the organisers were dwindling numbers at the protest site with activists expressing hope that it will pick up as the protest progresses. The crowd count in the afternoon was less than 1,000, a marginal improvement from morning`s 600, in a contrast to its earlier protests. The response to the fast on the first day yesterday was also modest with 2,000-3,000 people attending it.

There were only a few scores in the morning and when Hazare and his aides took the dais at 11 AM, they were greeted with lukewarm chants of `Bharat Mata ki Jai, Vande Mataram and Inquilab Zindabad`. While the counters for donation, information, volunteer registration wore a deserted look, more than half of the protest venue was empty. Meanwhile Kejriwal, one of the three Team Anna members who is fasting, went to Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh to attend a court hearing on his remarks against MPs calling them "murderers and rapists".

Bedi appealed to the protesters to bring their "wives, mothers and daughters" to the venue tomorrow. "Regret to see audience is predominantly male. It is said that we vote for a saree or a bottle of alcohol. We are being fooled. More than 50 per cent of those who vote are women. Why are they not seen here?" she said. Addressing protesters, lawyer Prashant Bhushan responded to Khurshid`s jibe that they should approach the UN if they do not subscribe to the Supreme Court rejecting charges against Union Ministers.

"His claim that Supreme Court has cleared Ministers is false. The apex court has not cleared a single charge. It is not that the allegations levelled do not warrant an independent probe," he said. Kumar Vishwas, another Team Anna member, also responded to Khurshid`s statement saying he has doubts about the intelligence of the Law Minister, who is foreign educated.

"I studied in a municipal school. Our Law Minister is foreign educated and considered sensible. But after his comment that we go to the UN, I have doubts about his degree and intelligence," he said. Countering views that Team Anna has changed its course on Lokpal, he said the demand for probe against 15 Union Ministers is part of Lokpal agitation. "This country is going in a fast pace towards destruction. Soon in future, it will be totally destroyed. We have to stop this," he said.

Team Anna launched the agitation on Wednesday raising the pitch against the ruling UPA government on corruption issue with activists attacking new President Pranab Mukherjee. Hazare, however, refrained from making any personal remarks.