New Delhi: Cheers rang out as Anna Hazare emerged from Tihar Jail a little before noon, 45 minutes later than promised by his team. The steady drizzle all morning did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 2000 people who had gathered with flags to catch a glimpse of the anti-corruption activist who launches a 15-day mass protest today at Ramlila Maidan in Central Delhi.
It was near impossible to hear Anna's short speech. He referred to the campaign against corruption -as he has so often in the last few months- to "a second freedom struggle." Now on the fourth day of his fast, he seemed strong. "Whether I am there or not, this fight will continue," he said to a huge roar of applause. His close associate, Arvind Kejriwal, who has spent three nights in Tihar with Anna, stood behind him. After his address, Anna was seen waving the national flag. Hundreds of smaller flags fluttered in response in the crowd that chanted "Anna zindabad (long live Anna)."
Anna will head in a truck to Ramlila Maidan. En route, he will stop at India Gate and visit Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat. The Delhi Police has asked commuters to avoid roads near Ramlila Maidan. Anna's close aide and former cop Kiran Bedi has asked his supporters to let him travel alone to Rajghat and then onto Ramlila Maidan to avoid causing traffic jams.
Anna has been fasting since Tuesday, when he was arrested and taken to Tihar. Doctors have been examining him regularly in prison. They will check on him thrice a day once he moves to Ramlila Maidan, the large grounds in Central Delhi that have been granted to Anna's team as a base-camp. About 1000 people have gathered there already, despite rain all morning.
Though Anna was told he could leave Tihar on Tuesday night, hours after he was arrested, he refused, launching a complex and extensive negotiation with the Delhi Police. What Team Anna wanted- and won after 24 hours of talks - was permission to hold a huge demonstration that would not restrict either the length of Anna's fast, or the number of people that could join the protest. In a matter of huge relief for the government, Team Anna has said his fast is "not a fast unto death but an indefinite fast." A set of conditions imposed upon the mass-protest mandate that Anna will allow doctors from both a private and government hospital to examine him.
Since Anna was arrested on Tuesday morning, the country has responded with huge marches and candlelight vigils. The government has finally accepted that the 74-year-old Gandhian has been nominated by the country as the icon of the war against corruption. So the government will work behind-the-scenes to persuade Anna to cut short his fast. It will also try and engage with Anna's close aides, some of them from his home turf of Maharashtra, in new discussions.
What Anna has been pushing is his team's version of a new anti-corruption law that Parliament plans to debate during its current session. Team Anna says that the Lokpal Bill which provides for an independent investigating agency to handle charges of corruption - an ombudsman committee- is weak. Team Anna has developed a parallel version of the Lokpal Bill and wants the government to circulate this draft in Parliament too.
As a possible compromise, the government may request Anna to appear before a Parliamentary committee that's studying the Lokpal Bill.