Social activist Anna Hazare began his indefinite hunger strike against corruption in New Delhi on Sunday, saying he won't end his protest till the government bowed to his demand for a stringent jan lokpal bill.
In contrast to the first few days, there was a surge of crowds at the protest venue at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital. The indefinite fast by Hazare, 75 is his third
such fast in over a year.
Also on fast since Wednesday at the spot are some 350 others including three key Anna aides - Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, and Gopal Rai. Hazare is only drinking water, said an aide.
Addressing the crowd of a few thousands, Hazare said: "I am ready to sacrifice my life for the cause. I am confident that people will not let me die."
"People will not let me die till Jan Lokpal bill is passed," said Hazare as his supporters cheered.
The crowd, which kept increasing through the day, saw around a thousand supporters join the venue after marching from India Gate to Jantar Mantar.
A supporter of Anna Hazare waves the national flag during a protest at Jantar Mantar. AP/Tsering Topgyal
Hazare, whose 12-day long-fast in August last year had forced the government to get working on a lokpal bill to set up an ombudsman, said people had forgotten the meaning of the word swaraj.
A file photo from April 2011 of a Anna Hazare supporter during his fast unto death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. HT/Virendra Singh Gosain.
"They (politicians) are servants and we people are the owners; but the picture today is that people have become the servant and the politicians are the owner," he thundered to loud cheers.
"This movement is to awaken the people," Hazare said.
The soldier-turned-activist from Maharashtra denied accusations that Team Anna was deviating from its stated aim of getting the jan lokpal bill passed in Parliament.
"It is the government which is moving away from its path. Our main demand is to get the jan lokpal bill passed."
He quickly added that as long as all 15 ministers in the Manmohan Singh government who Hazare alleges are corrupt remain in Parliament, the lokpal bill will not be passed.
He also touched on yoga guru Baba Ramdev sharing the dais with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad, saying: "I do not want to be dragged into this muddy debate", and then warned, "Don't try to divide us".
He added immediately that if he saw the movement becoming directionless "I will stop it right there".
Digvijaya Singh, general secretary of the ruling Congress party, said: "Other Team Anna members failed to gather support so now Anna has stepped in."
Hazare also launched a book by Kejriwal, titled Swaraj.
Meanwhile, 15 people who were on hunger strikers had to be taken to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital after their condition deteriorated, a Team Anna member said.
Earlier, Hazare used diplomatic language to criticise Saturday's surprise protest by some of his supporters outside Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's official residence.
He said the protest was a reaction by people angry with the government. However he advised his supporters to "think before doing any such things" in future.
While the crowd was largely dominated by youngsters, the elderly also turned up in huge numbers.
Shilpa Gupta, an Anna supporter, told IANS: "I was not able to come the last four days. I decided to come to Jantar Mantar today to join the fight against corruption."
Harkishan Gupta, a 69-year-old retired government official at the venue, said: "The government could say anything it wants to, but the fact is that somebody has been keeping up this fight against corruption."
The lokpal bill was passed by Lok Sabha in the winter session last year, but got stuck in Rajya Sabha. Team Anna members are demanding that their version of the bill be incorporated and passed by Parliament.
Team Anna has permission to fast at Jantar Mantar till Aug 8, the day the Parliament's monsoon session is expected to begin.
We asked our readers whether Team Anna is popular enough to draw support for their demands.
Almost 75% of the surfers responded in affirmative, while 24.36% said the Team had lost people's support and about 1% answered that they were not in a position to answer.
Here are few tweets doing the rounds:
Support swells for team as Hazare joins fast
Sangh backing for Ramdev, Hazare: Digvijaya
Cops tell Team Anna not to make provocative speeches
Team Anna attacks Ramdev for sharing dais with Modi
In pictures and videos:
Anna fights for lokpal bill again | Anna begins indefinite fast | BJP backs Anna's fast | 'Students should join protest for a week'