Anna Hazare
Anna Hazare

A triumphant Anna Hazare walked out of Tihar Jail in Delhi Friday morning and began slowly moving through a crowd toward Ramlila Maidan, a public ground where he promised to wage a hunger strike that is set to last 15 days.

He was immediately greeted by huge cheers from the large crowd of supporters gathered at the prison gate.

Bolstering his followers, the Gandhian activist told the crowd "Whether I live or not, corruption should not live."

Hazare, 74, is now expected to reach Ramlila Maidan, a public space in the national capital where he will continue his fast, in the afternoon and thousands of supporters are expected to join him in a mass demonstration during his hunger strike.

Hazare has been fasting since Tuesday, taking only water, as part of a campaign to force India's political leaders to push through legislation creating a tough, independent anticorruption agency.

Hazare's arrest only made his movement more popular and his exit from jail was carried live on most of India's news channels, after large parts of the Indian society apparently felt compelled to join the anti-corruption struggle.

Hazare however appeared to be aware of the importance of the moment and climbed atop the back of a truck for a slow procession through the streets which were lined with thousands of people, shouting to his supporters "Victory to India, Victory to Mother India!"

Along his route, people waved national flags and many had the Indian flag painted on their faces, while others pressed toward the flatbed truck, trying to touch him.

The activist's popularity has been soaring in recent days. Banners from supporters read "You are Anna, I am Anna, today the whole country is Anna."

Despite the simplicity of his message, however, Hazare is a complex figure. The activist is an ex-soldier, and along with professing messages of love, he also is an ascetic and a disciplinarian. His dress is styled after Mahatma Gandhi. He dislikes alcohol, cable television, the chewing of paan and the eating of meat.

His methods are not always nonviolent, if one is to believe an incident reported by the Telegraph when three men from his village appeared drunk, he tied them to a temple pillar and flogged them with his army belt.

Irom Sharmila, has been on hunger strike for more than 10 years, but is now force fed, but she never attracted the same level of support than Hazare has gained.

After nine meetings with the government, Hazare and his supporters came up with their own version of the Lokpal (Citizen's Ombudsman) bill, which they say should be made into law.

His proposal plans for the creation of a new body, independent of government, which would administer swift justice and would have the power to investigate and prosecute government officers, judges and politicians, the prime minister included.

The government, on the other hand, wants to pass its own anti-corruption bill, which it says contains 34 of the 40 principles of Hazare's bill, but he and his supporters are not satisfied.

Analysts, while praising Hazare for fighting the rampant corruption that plagues India, warn against a polarisation that would mainly oppose his movement to the government, leaving little place to other political voices. Giving such power to another body, might also end up being dangerous, observers point out. Now that Hazare is free, it will be interesting to see if he manages to keep his momentum going and become an important political actor in India's future.