NEW DELHI // Anna Hazare broke his water-only fast yesterday morning with a glass of coconut water mixed with honey.
As he drank from the glass handed to him by an untouchable and a Muslim girl, a roar erupted from the more than 80,000 people who had converged on a playground in central Delhi to cheer the anti-corruption activist, who had undertaken his fast to pressure parliament into adopting his anti-corruption legislation
As word spread on Saturday that Mr Hazare would end his hunger strike on its 13th day, the crowd at the Ramlila Ground swelled by the thousands, as supporters poured in from neighbouring towns and villages. They were accompanied by village bands, normally a wedding fixture, which added to the festive atmosphere.
Accompanied by brass bands and the beat of the dhol, a traditional Indian drum, Mr Hazare's backers sang and danced their way into the grounds and chanted slogans of support: "Vande Mataram" ("I bow to thee, Mother") and "Inquilab Zindabad!" ("Long live the revolution!"), they said. They had come to celebrate what they hailed as Mr Hazare's victory over the country's parliament.
It was, in part, a victory for moderation and compromise. Over the course of his fast, which began on August 16, the 74-year-old Mr Hazare softened his demands. Parliament, it turned out, could not easily adopt his "Citizens' Ombudsman" bill in its entirety, as he insisted. Also, most Indians were keen to see parliament and its processes respected.
He eventually settled on a three-point package - namely, that investigations against low-level bureaucrats be allowed, that state-level anti-corruption bureaus be created and a citizens bill of rights be drafted. After nine hours of debate that ended late Saturday, parliament accepted the demands, and a letter was delivered to Mr Hazare urging him to end his fast immediately. He demurred, saying that - in the Gandhian tradition - he does not eat after sundown. Today, lawmakers were scheduled to debate several versions of anti-corruption legislation, including Mr Hazare's.
Among his supporters who gathered yesterday at the Ramlila Ground, the enthusiasm for Mr Hazare showed no signs of ebbing.
Wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan, "I am only 99% perfect," Sneha Chandam, 23, said, "I am only 99 per cent perfect, but Anna Ji is 100 per cent perfect."
It was followers such as Ms Chandam that Mr Hazare addressed after breaking his fast, during which he lost 7.5 kgs.
Referring to the hats they wore that were styled after his own topi and emblazoned with the slogan, "I am Anna", Mr Hazare said: "You cannot become Anna just by wearing the cap. You have to have pure thoughts, work diligently, be unselfish, be ready to sacrifice."
Ubaid Swamy, 46, from Shakur Pur village on the outskirts of Delhi, sacrificed a significant portion of his salary for Mr Hazare. He hired a truck and filled it with 2,000 water bottles, which he distributed for free at the ground. "This is in celebration of Anna breaking his fast," he said.
Ram Prakash Shah traveled to Delhi on August 15 to join Mr Hazare's fast and carry on a family tradition of protest.
Mr Shah's grandfather, Ram Brij Shah, had protested alongside Gandhi. Now he was eager to see Mr Hazare's legislation enacted in Bihar, where both government corruption and inefficiency are rife. His grandson traveled from Bihar on August 15 to join in Mr Hazare's fast. "I am just continuing my grandfather's tradition", he said.
Before being shuttled to Medanta Medicity hospital in Gurgaon, a weak Mr Hazare thanked parliament for conceding to his demands and his supporters, claiming that "people power is greater than the parliament". He also said he would campaign next for electoral reforms that would allow people to recall their MPs and reject candidates on party ballot lists.
India is unlikely to have seen the end of Mr Hazare's fasting. He insisted his hunger strike was merely suspended, not over. Other Indians had joined him, and would likely do so in the future.
Raj Kumar ended his fast yesterday, too. Although he is 37-years-old, he looked almost as old as Mr Hazare. A former library attendant at the Jammu University in Jammu and Kashmir, he recalled how he lost his job in 2003 to office politics and someone who was "close to the vice chancellor".
Mr Kumar petitioned both the state's High Court and the Supreme Court, but his case was dismissed. Nevertheless, he continued to protest. In 2009, he was assaulted, he claims, because he would not stop.
He was at home sleeping when men broke into his home, threatened him, doused him in petrol and set him alight. Mr Kumar survived, but was left with third degree burns on his stomach, arms and legs. Yesterday was his ninth day of fasting. "No one would listen to me, that is why I came here to fast," he said.
"Justice is a must, and I will fast until justice is done."