Anna Hazare knows the power of fasting. Mahatma Gandhi used fasting as a form of political protest to help free India from British colonial rule more than six decades ago.
And Hazare, India's best-known anti-corruption activist, effectively employed fasting to force the Government to tackle graft, which has become a problem at every level of Indian society.
Former army driver Hazare, 74, ended his hunger strike at the central Ram Lila grounds in New Delhi after 13 days on Sunday. It was his 16th and longest hunger strike, and struck a chord with millions of Indians disgusted with rampant and unchecked governmental corruption at all levels.
He took on India's troubled Government by demanding it set up an anti-corruption ombudsman, or Lokpal, with the powers to investigate every part of the Government.
By the end of his hunger strike, MPs had expressed support for his proposals and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had caved in to his demands.
Hazare called off another hunger strike in April after four days when Singh said he could help draft legislation to create the citizens' ombudsman. But when the final version of the bill was presented in early August, Hazare and other activists rejected it because the prime minister and senior judges would be exempt from scrutiny.
So this month's hunger strike was the latest round in an ongoing standoff with Singh's Congress Party-led federal coalition, which has been besieged by a slew of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals.
While Hazare's hunger strike has attracted international attention, there are other fasting protests that fail to have the same impact or achieve the same results.
In June, a 34-year old Hindu monk starved to death in northern Uttarakhand province after fasting for 115 days as part of an environmental campaign.
Swami Nigamand died on June 13 in a hospital in Haridwar, 200km north of New Delhi, but failed in his endeavour to persuade provincial and federal authorities to initiate measures to save the heavily polluted Ganges River, a fast-depleting lifeline on which millions depend.
It seems hunger strikes have lost their potency as an effective protest tool in the cynical, consumer-oriented 21st century.
Further afield in India's north-eastern Manipur province bordering Burma, for instance, Irom Sharmila, who had her last voluntary meal on November 4, 2000, languishes in a secluded government hospital ward in the provincial capital, Imphal, where she has been force-fed under police supervision for nearly 11 years.
The 38-year old poet, locally christened "The Iron Lady", is demanding the withdrawal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) enforced in her insurgency-ridden province after paramilitary personnel shot dead 10 people including a 62-year old woman and an infant, claiming they were militants.
The shooters were not prosecuted or reprimanded as the AFSPA accords immunity from prosecution to India's security forces deployed across any region declared "disturbed" by the federal authorities.
Under the act even a non-commissioned officer has the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion in order to "maintain public order".
And since suicide is a crime, Sharmila was arrested three days after beginning her fast and has been fed forcibly through her nose ever since.
She remains confined to a hospital bed surrounded by her family and a handful of sympathisers but is determined to continue fasting till her demands are met.
Hunger strikers can take liquid, mostly water, but not solid food.
And in instances where the state is able to obtain their custody, the ordeal is invariably terminated through force-feeding which, as in Sharmila's case, can be interminable.
"An increasingly insensitive and harsh administration is indifferent to activists like Irom Sharmila, Nigamand or Hazare undertaking fasts," said social activist and journalist Seema Mustafa.
In the land of Gandhi, hunger strikes had become relatively inconsequential, at best minor irritants for the authorities, she said.
Gandhi, perhaps the world's best known practitioner of civil disobedience, effectively employed fasting as a means of protest not only against the British with regard to gaining independence but also fellow Indians during times of sectarian tension and rioting.
Gandhi's fundamental idea was to fast for the shortcomings or sins of the person or entity that had wronged him. The intention was to embarrass the other party or make them realise the error of their ways.
In this Gandhi was influenced greatly by Irish playwright and politician Terence Joseph Macswiney, who was arrested by the British on sedition charges in the early 20th century.
To protest over his arrest and trial by a military court, Macswiney began a hunger strike in August 1920 that lasted 74 days, resulting in his death.
Gandhi credited Macswiney with influencing him greatly.
Gandhi's fasting not only moved Indians but also the world and was a major factor in the colonial administration leaving India in August 1947.By Rahul Bedi