Surrounded by hundreds of supporters and media personnel, civil society activist Anna Hazare on Monday prayed at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial Rajghat after being denied permission by the Delhi Police to hold a hunger strike.
Hazare, who was scheduled to begin a hunger strike to press for a stronger lokpal bill from Tuesday, meditated in one of the lawns near the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi Police were caught unaware by Hazare's unscheduled stop at Rajghat.
Joint commissioner of police Sudhir Yadav had earlier said that if Team Anna went ahead with its protest at the JP Park in the heart of the city, it would be deemed an unlawful gathering as they not agreed to certain conditions.
Confrontation between Hazare and Government escalated on Monday with police denying permission to the Gandhian for holding a fast from Tuesday to press for a strong lokpal bill and his team declaring that they would go ahead with the planned stir and court arrest if prevented.
Delhi Police's refusal of permission coincided with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strong remarks in his Independence Day speech that hunger strikes and fasts-unto-death do not help address the problem of corruption and Parliament is the only body to form legislations to curb the menace.
The city police did not give its nod to hold the protest at Jai Prakash Narain Park near Ferozeshah Kotla stadium saying that the organisers have refused to give an undertaking on restricting the number of days of protest and protesters besides four other conditions.
Yadav said anybody assembling at the Park tomorrow would face legal action.
"We have denied the permission. Nobody is supposed to come to the park. If somebody comes there, it is unlawful. They will be handled according to law. If they do that, it is violation of law," Yadav said as police prepared to lock down the grounds.
The Hazare team said they have given an undertaking leaving six out of the 22 conditions laid by police.
"We have not accepted six conditions as they are unconstitutional," activists Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi said.
The activists said Hazare would go to the venue and court arrest if he and his supporters were not allowed to enter the park.
"We will court arrest tomorrow. The conditions laid by the Delhi Police are unconstitutional. Unfortunately they are under directions," Bedi said.
Kejriwal alleged that the denial of permission showed the "dictatorial and arbitrary attitude" of government and that it was creating an Emergency-like situation.
Asked whether they would approach court against the Delhi Police action, Kejriwal said, "All options are open and there is an option to go to court."
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan had on Sunday said they may approach Supreme Court if a permission is denied.
The conditions that were not accepted by the Hazare team were capping the agitation to three days and the number of protesters to below 5,000, government doctors to check on Hazare, ban on use of loudspeakers after 9pm, limiting the number of vehicles to 50 cars and 50 motorcycles in parking and not erecting tents.
Government, meanwhile, justified the police action with regard to Hazare's fast. Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said the law of the land is the same for all and that everybody will have to take permission to carry out any protest.
A senior police official said they had been "very accommodating" and had gone out of the way to help the Hazare team. He said they would be forced to take action against them if they forcibly enter the park tomorrow.
However, Kejriwal alleged, "The conditions set by police were at the behest of politicians. Artificial restrictions were imposed on us. We won't agree to such unconstitutional methods." Soni denied these allegations.
Earlier in the day while addressing the nation on the occasion of Independence Day, the Prime Minister said those who are opposed to the bill should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts-unto-death.
Without naming Hazare and his agitation beginning here tomorrow, Singh said he was aware that some people had different opinion on some aspects of the lokpal bill.
"Those who don't agree with this bill can put forward their views to Parliament, political parties and even the press. However, I also believe they should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts-unto-death," the Prime Minister said.
Reacting to this, the Hazare team called him an "insensitive" person who is asking people to fall in line on the issue.
Bedi claimed people have no trust left in the UPA government which was elected two years back as it had "squandered" an opportunity to make history by enacting a law for strong anti-corruption ombudsman.
"He speaks like a final arbiter. He says you cannot protest. This is a direct imposition of a bill on people against their will. The Prime Minister is imposing a bill on the country and saying protest fast is wrong. The PM is asking people to fall in line," Bedi told PTI.
"He is insensitive to people's perception. Surveys after surveys and referendums after referendums showed that people rejected the government's lokpal bill. He is not taking this into account," she alleged.
Supporting the Hazare team on the issue, senior CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said one's right to protest cannot be questioned even if you do not agree with the demands of the agitator.
"The point here is one may not agree with the form of protest or with all the demands being raised by Hazare. However, his right to protest cannot be questioned. Saying once a bill is in Parliament, there can be no protest in this country is highly undemocratic.
"The Congress has forgotten when it was in opposition and when it is in Opposition, even in the states there are so many occasions they do not agree with a bill and they have staged a protest," she said.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)