PM prays at Golden Temple, faces black flags
Amritsar, Jan 1 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began the new year Sunday by praying at the Golden Temple here while Anna Hazare supporters waved black flags and shouted slogans outside.
The 30-35 protesters kept a steady chant of high-pitched slogans while the prime minister was inside. Police and Golden Temple security personnel kept them away from Manmohan Singh when he came out.
The protest caught the security agencies off-guard.
Carrying posters of Hazare, the demonstrators shouted pro-Anna and pro-Jan Lokpal Bill slogans.
Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur reached the shrine around 6.30 a.m. and performed a 'parikarma' or circumambulation of the sacred pond before entering the sanctum sanctorum.
Wearing a white kurta-pyjama and a dark grey jacket, the prime minister offered prayers with his wife. He later sat down in the sanctum sanctorum with eyes shut to listen to hymns.
Of the nearly 75 minutes he spent in the complex, Manmohan Singh spent nearly 45 minutes inside the sanctum sanctorum.
He and his wife were presented a 'siropa' (robe of honour) by the priest.
Thousands of devotees were at the shrine complex when the prime minister arrived amid tight security.
He and his wife paid obeisance at the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion. He was escorted by Special Protection Group (SPG) and scores of volunteers of the shrine.
Manmohan Singh arrived here Saturday evening from New Delhi. He stayed overnight at the government Circuit House. The visit was a 'private one', a police officer said.
A devout Sikh, the prime minister last visited the shrine in March 2009, a few weeks after his coronary bypass surgery in New Delhi.
Manmohan Singh, who studied in Amritsar after his family migrated here from Pakistan after partition, has relatives in this city.
Team Anna later denied its involvement in the black flag protest and said 'it is a reflection of what people feel and think' about the Lokpal and the government.
'I guess this is the result of people's mood as they want a stringent anti-corruption law and this is being not done,' Shazia Ilmi said in New Delhi.
Ilmi said the prime minister, cabinet ministers and leaders of political parties would have to face such protests.
The government's Lokpal bill was passed by the Lok Sabha Dec 27 but failed to sail through the Rajya Sabha two days later.