Social activist Anna Hazare's indefinite hunger strike entered the fifth day on Sunday even as locals blocked a state highway in support of his agitation in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, leading to traffic jams in the area.
Hazare has been on a hunger strike since Wednesday in his native Ralegan Siddhi village in Ahmednagar demanding the appointment of anti-corruption watchdogs at the Centre and in Maharashtra and resolution of farmers' issue.
In support of the 81-year-old Army man-turned-activist's demands, farmers and youth blocked the Ahmednagar-Pune state highway at Supa village in Parner tehsil in the morning, resulting in huge traffic jams.
They supported Hazare's demands for the immediate appointment of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states where such statutory anti-corruption watchdogs do not exist, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on ways to address agrarian distress, besides some electoral reforms, the protest's convener, Shahir Gaikwad, told PTI.
The police, however, tried to pacify the protesters and asked them to clear the road blockade as there were around six-kilometre-long traffic jams on both sides of the road, Supa police station's inspector Rajendra Bhosale said. The police also detained around 110 protesters in the afternoon to clear the blockade and later let them off, he said.
Dr Dhananjay Pote, who conducted a health check-up of Hazare in the morning, said the anti-corruption crusader has lost around 3.8 kilograms of weight in the last five days and that his blood pressure, blood sugar and creatinine level in urine have gone up.
Around 5,000 farmers from the district are likely to stage a protest outside the Ahmednagar collector's office on Monday to support Hazare's agitation. The decision for the protest at the collector's office was taken at a gram sabha (village meeting) in Ralegan Siddhi on Saturday night.
Leaders of various political parties from Parner tehsil were present at the meeting and expressed their support to Hazare's protest. Those present at the meeting also condemned NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik for levelling "false allegations" against Hazare.
However, Hazare appealed people to protest in a non-violent manner and also asked them to use decent and respectful language while expressing their feelings. Hazare had earlier declined to meet state government envoy and minister Girish Mahajan for talks over his demands.
Speaking to ANI, 81-year-old Hazare said, "People will remember me as a person who tackled situations and not as somebody who added fuel to the fire. If something happened to me, people will hold prime minister responsible."
"Through Lokpal, even the prime minister can be investigated if people will give any evidence against him... Similarly, in Lokayukta a chief minister and all ministers and MLAs under him can be investigated if somebody gives any evidence against them. That's why they don't want it. No party wants it. Lokpal was passed in the Parliament in 2013, but the government is yet to appoint it," Hazare had told ANI earlier.
The anti-corruption crusader had earlier told PTI that he welcomed the Maharashtra Cabinet's decision to bring the office of state chief minister under the ambit of Lokayukta.
"However, the strike will continue till the government fulfils promises they made before coming to power about passage of Lokayukta Act, appointment of Lokpal (at the Centre) and to tackle farmers' issues," he had said. The Lokayukta is a statutory body that is empowered to probe complaints of abuse of position and corruption against public servants.
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday also appealed to the BJP-led Maharashtra government to intervene in Anna Hazare's hunger strike and asked it not to "play" with the social activist's life.
Thackeray in a statement expressed concern over the activist's health condition. He dubbed a purported letter from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) conveying good wishes to Hazare as "condemnable" and "laughable". Supporters of Hazare had claimed that the Gandhian had received a "cold response" from the PMO in response to a letter sent by the activist.
The Sena president said Hazare's fight was against corruption " a problem faced by the country. He asked Hazare to take to the streets in this fight to create an awakening among people, instead of giving up his life by fasting.
"At present, people in the country have been given anaesthesia and the need is to bring them out of this situation," he said. Hazare should don the role of freedom activist Jayaprakash Narayan to usher in a new revolution, he said.
Thackeray also said activist GD Agrawal had sat on a huge protest in Haridwar district of Uttarakhand over his demand to clean Ganga and maintain free flow of the river. "But, the government did not take note of the situation and let the professor die. Anna should give up his fast and lead an agitation over his demands, and I assure Shiv Sena's support wherever possible."
Agrawal, 86, had died of a heart attack at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Uttarakhand's Rishikesh, in October last year, 111 days after he began a fast for a pollution-free Ganga. The Shiv Sena is an ally of the BJP at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
With inputs from agencies