Hours before Anna Hazare (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) started his announced fast to protest against a proposed new anti-corruption law, he was arrested by the police, along with 1,300 of his supporters. Mr Hazare will stay in Delhi’s Tihar prison for a week.
According to India’s home minister P Chidambaram, the protesters are being detained because the had not obeyed police conditions for the demonstration.
Mr Hazare, 74, is a prominent campaigner who believes that the country’s proposed anti-corruption ombudsman should be able to investigate any official, even judges and the prime minister.
In many Indian cities the news of Mr Hazare’s arrest led his supporters to the streets.
Many of Hazare’s supporters who were arrested were then brought to a sports stadium in the city. A large crowd then gathered outside the stadium in a tense stand-off with the police, AFP news agency reported.
Mr Hazare had announced that on Tuesday he would begin a hunger strike in Delhi, the country’s capital.
Fellow activist Akhil Gogoi told the AFP news agency that Mr Hazare was picked up from a house in the capital by police officers wearing plainclothes who then drove him away in an unmarked car.
His supporters will appeal against his detention in front of the Supreme Court.
The police later said Mr Hazare had been held for allegedly breaching the peace.
According to India’s Home Secretary RK Singh the reason for Mr Hazare’s detention is that he “intended to defy prohibitory orders” and fast at a park in Delhi.
In order to take place, the fast had to respect six conditions established by the police. Those conditions stated that the fast should not last more than three days, and that no more than 4,000 to 5,000 people were allowed to gather.
“Nowhere in the world are protests allowed without conditions,” said Mr Chidambaram.
“We are not prohibiting a peaceful democratic protest – we are trying to find a reasonable set of conditions under which protests can take place.”
The proposed anti-corruption law was described as a “cruel joke” by Mr Hazare who also said that the fight against corruption was his country’s “second war of independence”. He added that his arrest would not stop the movement.
His detention proved that the government was “dictatorial and not heeding to the democratic rights of the people”, said Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer who is a prominent supporter of Mr Hazare.
Last April, Mr Hazare ended a four-day hunger strike when the government set up a committee to draft a legislation that would create an anti-corruption ombudsman. Mr Hazare and other non-elected activists were part of that committee.
Earlier this month the legislation was introduced in India’s parliament, but Mr Hazare said it should be made tougher because the current draft of the law does not include the prime minister and the judiciary in its remit.
According to a recent survey corruption cost billions of dollars in India and threatened to derail growth.
Several high-profile corruption scandals hit the country recently. Government auditors said as much as $40bn were lost with the scandals about the sale of mobile phone licenses and the hosting of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.
For the past two weeks crucial legislation has been stalled in India because the parliament has been paralysed by anti-corruption protests.