NEW DELHI, Aug 16 (IANS): Civil society activist Anna Hazare was detained by Delhi Police Tuesday morning as he was about to set out for his fast in support of a strong Lokpal bill. He was taken to the Police Officers Mess, Civil Lines, in north Delhi.
Activist Arvind Kejriwal, who was also detained along with Hazare just as they stepped out of their residence in east Delhi, was also taken to Civil Lines along with him.
As news of Hazare's arrest spread, sporadic protests broke out across the capital, leading to the detention of more than 500 supporters, including former top cop Kiran Bedi and lawyer Shanti Bhushan.
There were demonstrations in several parts of the country as well.
The events unfolded after Hazare and Kejriwal left their flat in Supreme Enclave early Tuesday for their fast at Jaiprakash Narayan Park. As they got out of the lift in the apartment complex, around 20 police officers in plain clothes encircled them and whisked them away in a police van.
Hazare's supporters, who had gathered in hundreds in the apartment complex, shouted anti-government slogans and praised the social activist. A large number of them followed the cavalcade all the way to north Delhi.
The police formed a human chain on the road to prevent any untoward incident. There were massive protests in Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi's memorial, and near the Delhi University campus.
Just before his arrest, Hazare told a news channel: "Don't let my arrest stop this movement. This is the nation's second struggle for freedom. The entire world has come to know how deep rooted corruption is."
He added: "I appeal to you that let there be no violence in this movement. I also appeal to you, young and old alike, to give eight days of your life to the nation - if necessary for a jail bharo andolan."
Prashant Bhushan, one of Hazare's team members, said: "Anna's arrest is illegal, unconstitutional... This government has no faith in democratic values. It has become dictatorial. This situation is like the Emergency period."
Former Karnataka lokayukta, another member of Team Anna, described the detentions as "unfortunate".
Ramon Magsaysay award winner Bedi, who was detained from Rajghat, said: "When Anna asked on what charges was he arrested, the police said they had just been given orders.
"The Delhi Police is capable of handling such peaceful protests... These (arrests) are just orders from above. It's during the Emergency that such things used to happen, arrests just because there were orders."
Rejecting outright that the Delhi Police was influenced by political pressure, Congress leader Ambika Soni said: "The police is not under any political influence. They are working independently.
"I am sure Anna's supporters will not resort to violence but who can ensure that two-three protestors will not resort to violence and property is vandalised or people are hurt? So we have to take police help."
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned the arrest of Hazare, comparing the scenario to the "1975 Emergency like situation".
"It is regrettable and condemnable. This government is bent upon crushing anyone who wants to protest against corruption," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
"The language used today is identical to that during the Emergency period. I regret many people in government today were there that time too, still they can't understand the people. Anna is articulating the emotion of the distress of people against rampant corruption," he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for an emergency meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs to study the situation after Hazare's arrest.