Veteran social activist, Anna Hazar, was detained by police at his home on Tuesday to prevent him from defying authorities with a fast to the death to force a beleaguered government to pass tougher laws against corruption.
Images of Anna Hazare, decked out in a plain white shirt, white cap and spectacles in the style of Mahatma Gandhi, being whisked away by police are sure to inflame tensions already high over mounting corruption and soaring inflation.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has struggled for months over how to deal with the popular Hazare and his followers, who have become a serious challenge to the authority of the government.
A string of corruption scandals has shaken India in recent months, smothering Singh’s reform agenda, denting investor confidence and distracting parliament at a time when the economy is being hit by inflation and higher interest rates.
“Delhi police detained Anna and several colleagues this morning,” Kiran Bedi, a social activist and member of Anna’s anti-graft movement, told reporters.
“The protest will go on,” added Bedi, who was also detained. Television pictures showed Hazare being taken away to an undisclosed location by plainclothes police in a white car.
Hundreds of supporters were gathered outside the activist’s home waving Indian flags.
Police denied the septuagenarian Hazare permission on Monday to fast near a cricket stadium because he had failed to meet certain conditions, including ending his fast in three days and ensuring not more than 5,000 people took part.
Dozens of Hazare supporters were also detained on Tuesday at two sites in the capital, which had been planned to be used to protest against rampant corruption in Asia’s third largest economy.
Local media said police took Hazare into preventative custody to stop a breakdown in law and order in New Delhi as thousands of followers were due to take part in the fast.
Hazare has become a serious adversary for Singh’s government, challenging it over its failure to tackle mounting corruption in Asia’s third largest economy.
He became the unlikely thorn in the side of the Congress party-led coalition when he first went on a hunger strike in April to successfully win concessions from the government.
“My fast is starting tomorrow…I will fight till my last breath to ensure that the Lokpal (anti-corruption bill) is passed . I will not go back,” Hazare told reporters on Monday.
“The government has become unconscious in its own power … We placed our demands before them and they just turned a blind-eye to them.”
Tapping into a groundswell of discontent over corruption scandals in Singh’s government, Hazare lobbied for a parliamentary bill creating a special ombudsman to bring crooked politicians, bureaucrats and judges to book.
Hazare called off his fast after the government promised to introduce the bill into parliament. The legislation was presented in early August, but activists slammed the draft version as toothless, prompting Hazare to renew his campaign. ET