Indian activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption hunger strike drew thousands of supporters to central New Delhi on Saturday as his populist campaign sought to face down the government.
The 74-year-old spoke briefly to the crowds from a high podium before he reclined on cushions to be feted with speeches, chanting and live music during the second day of his public fast.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been left floundering by a national swell of support for Hazare’s campaign, with many Indians saying years of anger at corrupt officials had reached a boiling point.
Singh today struck a conciliatory note after previously dismissing Hazare’s tactics as undemocratic.
Public support for Hazare — particularly among the middle classes — soared when he was briefly arrested earlier this week before he was due to start his public fast.
Hazare now has permission to hold his fast at Ramlila, a muddy open-air venue in Delhi, for 15 days, and he has said he has already lost seven pounds after refusing food since his arrest on Tuesday.
Scenes of frenzied celebration erupted as Hazare travelled to the venue yesterday. But his campaign organizers face a challenge in sustaining momentum due to the long holiday weekend and muggy monsoon weather.
Several thousand people ranging from students to farm workers massed to witness Hazare’s fast on Saturday, but numbers were lower than some observers predicted after a vast spontaneous pro-Hazare rally in Delhi during the week.