Hazare, a disciple of Mahatma
Gandhi, is the face of a nationwide social movement against rampant corruption that has gathered pace this year after a string of high-profile scandals. He has become a major thorn in the side of the government, which is led by the Congress party, and the confrontation has become increasingly bitter in recent weeks.
Hazare, dressed in homespun white cotton and a white cap, smiled and waved at supporters as he was driven away Tuesday morning from his lodgings in the Indian capital in a police vehicle after earlier being denied permission to stage his protest. Later, hundreds of candle-holding, flag-waving protesters shouted slogans and pushed against the iron gates of Tihar Jail demanding his immediate release.
“He will not come out of prison unless the government gives him a written and unconditional permission to fast in the park,” fellow activist Manish Sisodia told reporters after being released from Tihar Jail, drawing cheers and applause from the assembled crowd. “He is continuing his hunger strike inside the jail.”
Earlier, police said 1,400 protesters had been detained in Delhi. Activists said that 20,000 had been detained across the country but that many had been released.
About 3,000 are still being held at a sports stadium in eastern Delhi, they said Tuesday.
The arrest of Hazare and hundreds of his fellow activists has shifted the focus of the debate from corruption to the right to protest in the world’s largest democracy. By late afternoon, senior government officials were admitting privately that events had been mishandled.
Political analyst Kuldip Nayar said the government’s flip-flopping showed that it was panicking. “They could not handle the public anger,” he said. “Today’s events will only embolden the movement because people will now say, ‘Look, the government is a paper tiger.’ ”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking in Parliament Wednesday morning as opposition lawmakers jeered, accused Hazare of trying to circumvent democracy by demanding Parliament pass a reform bill he supports.
“Those who believe that their voice and their voice alone represents the will of 1.2 billion people should reflect deeply on that position,” Singh said. “They must allow the elected representatives of the people in Parliament to do the job that they were elected for.”
Both houses of Parliament had adjourned in chaos Tuesday, with neither government nor opposition lawmakers allowed to speak over the din of jeers and catcalls protesting the arrests. The chaotic scene continued Wednesday.