Indian activist Anna Hazare began his fifth hunger strike in 16 months on Sunday to pressurize the government to set up an anti-graft agency and tougher laws to abate the unbridled corruption in India.
Team Anna, as Hazare and his supporters are known, is also demanding an investigation against 14 cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee.
The low turnout at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi, where Anna's associates started an indefinite fast Thursday, was a far cry from the euphoria and massive crowds that marked the beginning of Hazare's protests more than a year ago. However, as Hazare began the fast, thousands of people turned up to lend support.
Political commentator Inder Malhotra said that hunger strikes as a form of political protest have lost their edge.
"You can't use the same weapon so many times," Malhotra was quoted saying by the Associated Press.
Hazare told the crowd that he will continue to protest until the government accepts his team's version of the bill to establish an anti-corruption body.
"I want to tell my supporters that I will not die until the Jan Lokpal bill is passed," Hazare said Sunday.
"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 told amid cheers from the crowd gathered at the venue of his strike.
"This movement is to awaken the people," he added.
The Jan Lokpal Bill or the Citizen's Ombudsman Bill is an anti-graft proposal drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an agency similar to the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, which will have complete autonomy in investigating corruption cases.
Hazare, a 75-year-old former army truck driver, who has adopted the same means of protest as Mahatma Gandhi, mobilized the masses, fuming over a series of corruption scandals, including the $4 billion that disappeared during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and a 3G spectrum licensing scandal that is estimated to have incurred a loss of $36 billion in revenue for the government.
Team Anna hopes the strike will force the Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government to take up an anti-graft bill when the Parliament resumes on Aug. 8. A government legislation to form an anti-graft body is pending in the Parliament, but Hazare and his supporters say it is too weak to tackle India's corruption problem.
The civil society support for Hazare, who began his first hunger strike on April 5 last year, has significantly reduced from that time, following allegations of autocracy against Team Anna and its internal differences in opinion.
Hazare was also seen with the leaders of the Hindu nationalist opposition party, which damaged his image as an impartial Gandhian activist beyond partisan politics.
Hazare's aide, Arvind Kejriwal, said the veteran activist is not physically capable of going on a hunger strike. "His health is not good," said Kejriwal Saturday as reported by the Hindustan Times. "We lost Mahatma Gandhi at a wrong time, we lost Jaiprakash Narayan early, and we cannot afford to lose Anna now. So I request Anna to not fast."