NEW DELHI—Indian police detained scores of anti-corruption activists who tried to march Sunday to the homes of top political leaders to protest a scandal over the government’s sale of coal fields without competitive bidding.
Hundreds of activists lay down on the road outside the homes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders in central New Delhi as police held them back with security barricades. They later broke through police cordons at many places, and police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.
Officers dragged protesters to buses parked near the prime minister’s house and took them to nearby police stations. Police also used bamboo batons to beat back protesters who had climbed over a barricade near the prime minister’s office complex.
Roads in the heart of the capital were closed to traffic.
Police said the detained activists would be held for a few hours and then released.
The protesters, members of India Against Corruption, a group led by prominent anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, have said they would blockade the homes of leaders of both the ruling Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because they blame both parties for India’s endemic corruption.
“Our protest today was to tell the country how the Congress and the BJP are hand-in-glove in looting the country,” said protest leader Arvind Kejriwal.
Kejriwal was detained for about an hour and then released by police. He returned to address protesters who had gathered outside the homes of Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and BJP President Nitin Gadkari.
He said the protesters were ready to go to jail. “We have succeeded in exposing the corruption indulged in by this government. We are ready to make any sacrifice to achieve our demands,” he told cheering supporters.
Sunday’s protest follows two separate hunger strikes in recent months by Hazare and yoga guru Baba Ramdev demanding the creation of an independent ombudsman to prosecute politicians and officials suspected of corruption.
Singh’s government has been hit by a slew of corruption accusations, adding to public anger over its failure to push through much-needed economic reforms to revive a slowing economy.
Several senior officials have been implicated in scandals involving the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the reported loss of billions of dollars through the government’s haphazard sale of cellphone spectrum.
In the latest scandal, national auditors said the government’s sale of coal fields to private companies without competitive bidding resulted in windfall profits of US $34 billion for the companies.