Protests swelled across the nation on Wednesday in support of Gandhian Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death in Tihar Jail.
The 74-year-old Anna fasted on Wednesday as thousands of his followers gathered outside the jail, the latest development in a crisis that saw him arrested on Tuesday and then refuse to leave jail after the government ordered his release.
Thousands of Anna supporters on Wednesday also took out a march from India Gate to Jantar Mantar to express solidarity with the Gandhian in his fight against corruption.
Protesters, some of them dressed in T-shirts and Gandhi caps with slogans “I am Anna”, gathered at the war memorial at around 4 pm and began marching towards Jantar Mantar, where Hazare had sat on a fast in April which forced the government to expedite the introduction of the Lokpal Bill in Parliament.
The march choked the roads in and around India Gate and brought traffic in Lutyen’s Delhi to a halt putting commuters to inconvenience.
Anna Hazare, who has struck a nerve with millions of Indians by demanding tougher laws against rampant corruption, insists he wants the right to return to JP Park where he had originally planned to publicly fast, before he leaves jail.
The arrest and sudden about-turn to release him appeared to confirm a widespread feeling that Manmohan Singh’s government is cornered, clumsy and too riddled with corruption scandals to govern Asia’s third-largest economy effectively.
“We don’t have faith in our government,” said Sujeet, a young software engineer from the IT city of Gurgaon, as he protested at the popular tourist site of India Gate in the capital. “We are living in a democracy but only in letter, not in spirit.”
In Assam, thousands of farmers, students and lawyers marched. In the financial capital of Mumbai, 500 people carrying the Indian flag and wearing Gandhi caps chanted “I am Anna”.
“I was forced to pay a bribe while getting my passport approved and I felt helpless,” said student Rahul Acharya, 21. “This is the time all youngsters should join the movement so that the future would be corruption-free.”
In the IT hub of Hyderabad, lawyers boycotted courts, students skipped class and hundreds took to the streets.
Across Andhra Pradesh, a Congress party stronghold, thousands went on snap fasts, staged sit-ins, blocked roads and formed human chains.
Demonstrations are part of daily life in the towns and cities of India, a country of 1.2 billion people made up of a myriad of castes, religions and classes. But spontaneous and widespread protests are rare and the scale of this week’s outpouring of public fury has taken the government by surprise.