NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – An Indian anti-graft campaigner whose jailing sparked mass protests and fierce criticism of the government has accepted a police offer to fast in a New Delhi park for two weeks, an aide said last night, prompting euphoria from his followers.
Protests swelled across India yesterday in support of Anna Hazare, a Gandhian-style campaigner who had refused to leave jail until he won permission to continue his fast until death at the Ramlila Maidan, a popular rallying site in the heart of old Delhi.
Crowds outside the Tihar jail where Hazare was staying erupted in joy at news of the deal, reached in the middle of the night, shouting his name “Anna”, singing, playing guitars and waving the Indian flag. He is expected to go to the protest ground at 3 pm local time (0930 GMT).
“Anna wanted three weeks but … has finally settled on two weeks,” Kiran Bedi, one of India’s first female police officers and a widely respected figure for her anti-graft-drive, told Times Now television.
“None of us is looking at this as a victory,” said Bedi, who had also been briefly arrested. “We are not playing games. We are doing this to move the country forward.”
Beleaguered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government had appeared at a loss over how to end the standoff. The arrest of Hazare shortly before he was due to start the fast on Tuesday sparked nationwide outrage and promoted lawmakers to block parliament proceedings and shout “shame” at the government.
The arrest and sudden about-turn to release him appeared to confirm a widespread feeling Singh’s government is cornered, clumsy and too riddled with scandal to govern Asia’s third-largest economy effectively.
The focus now turns from the arrest to the fight against corruption, proving headaches for the government for weeks to come.