New Delhi: Septuagenarian social activist Anna Hazare began an indefinite fast against corruption here on Sunday brushing away concerns about his health, saying people would not let him die till the Jan Lokpal bill for setting up an ombudsman was passed.
Hazare, 75, began his fast at 10.30 a.m. at the Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital, very near the seat of the Indian government. It is his third indefinite fast in the capital in just over a year. The soldier-turned-activist's 12-day long-fast in August last year had attracted massive following and forced the government to get working on a Lokpal bill.
Some 350 others, including three Team Anna members, have been fasting at the site since Wednesday. Fifteen of them had to be hospitalized after their condition deteriorated.
Addressing the crowd of a few thousands, Hazare said: "I am ready to sacrifice my life for the cause. I am confident that people will not let me die."
"People will not let me die till Jan Lokpal bill is passed," said Hazare as his supporters cheered.
He also said that though India was a democracy, the people had forgotten the real meaning of the word and it was time to awaken the people for a return to real people's power.
"They (politicians) are servants and we people are the owners; but the picture today is that people have become the servant and the politicians are the owner," he thundered to loud cheers.
"This movement is to awaken the people," Hazare said.
Hazare denied accusations that Team Anna was deviating from its stated aim of getting the Jan Lokpal Bill passed in parliament. "It is the government which is moving away from its path. Our main demand is to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed."
He quickly added that as long as all 15 ministers in the Manmohan Singh government who Hazare alleges are corrupt remain in parliament, the Lokpal Bill will not be passed.
He also touched on yoga guru Baba Ramdev sharing the dais with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad, saying: "I do not want to be dragged into this muddy debate", and then warned: "Don't try to divide us."
He added immediately that if he saw the movement becoming directionless "I will stop it right there."
Later Hazare launched a book titled "Swaraj" by Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal, who is also on fast at the venue.
Besides Kejriwal, two other team members on fast are Manish Sisodia, and Gopal Rai.
Earlier, Hazare used diplomatic language to criticise Saturday's surprise protest by some of his supporters outside Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's official residence.
He said the protest was a reaction by people angry with the government. However he advised his supporters to "think before doing any such things" in future.
The crowds appeared to be more Sunday compared to earlier days. While the crowd was largely dominated by youngsters, the elderly also turned up in huge numbers.
Shilpa Gupta, an Anna supporter, told IANS: "I was not able to come the last four days. I decided to come to Jantar Mantar today to join the fight against corruption."
Harkishan Gupta, a 69-year-old retired government official, told IANS: "The government can say anything it wants to, but the fact is that somebody has been keeping up this fight against corruption."
A group of young chartered accountants have volunteered to manage the donations for India Against Corruption, run by Team Anna members, at the venue. Saksham Mittal, 32, an accountant with a private firm, said he could not join the movement last August "but this time I did not want to miss the opportunity," Mittal said.
The Lokpal Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in the winter session last year, but got stuck in the Rajya Sabha and was referred to a parliamentary select committee. It was expected to be tabled during the budget session but was not. Team Anna members are demanding that their version of the bill be incorporated and passed by parliament.
Team Anna has permission to fast at Jantar Mantar till Aug 8, the day the parliament's monsoon session is expected to begin.