Moves to resolve the political crisis in India triggered by a 74-year-old anti-corruption campaigner's hunger strike have gathered pace.
After a weekend of mass street protests, the government has appointed a representative to hammer out a deal to the week-long standoff, reports said.
Anna Hazare, who has fasted for a week, wants the government to create an anti-corruption ombudsman with sweeping powers. His hunger strike has focused widespread anger over corruption – which is endemic in India – as well as broader grievances amid the growing middle classes.
"It is not just about corruption, not just about one issue. People are very emotional about this," Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst in Delhi, said. "However … there may be a deal relatively soon."
Following protests earlier this year, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, proposed a small package of reforms. On Tuesday, he signalled that he would be prepared to meet further demands of the anti-corruption protest, calling for a meeting on Wednesday between all political parties.
Supporters say Hazare's health is a growing concern as he enters a second week of fasting.
"His health is weakening by the hour," Kiran Bedi, a former police officer and now a leading anti-corruption campaigner, told Reuters.
Later, she tweeted to tell followers to "pray for Anna's health. He is reaching a difficult stage."
Over the weekend, thousands of supporters filled a parade ground in the centre of Delhi, waving the national flag and chanting their support. But by Tuesday, the crowds were noticeably smaller owing to a combination of monsoon heat, open toilets, mounting waste and outbreaks of food poisoning and illness among protesters, many of whom travelled to the capital from across India. Organisers are believed to be concerned that the mobilisation of support has peaked.
The protests and pressure on the government have also led some activists to express reservations about the campaign.
The author and human rights campaigner Arundhati Roy launched a scathing attack on Hazare in an article published in the Hindu newspaper.
"Who is he really, this new saint, this Voice of the People? Oddly enough we've heard him say nothing about things of urgent concern," wrote the Booker prizewinning author, who also accused Hazare of supporting xenophobic politicians and ignoring other important issues such as poor farmers killing themselves over debt.
Other senior activists said the mass mobilisation and fast was "undemocratic". There has also been criticism from Muslim groups who see Hazare as being too close to radical Hindu organisations.
The crisis has added to the general sense of political drift in India, where a coalition government led by the Congress party, now halfway through its second term, has been hit by successive corruption scandals involving senior officials. Singh, 78, is widely seen as honest but out of touch.
Though Hazare and his followers have said they want the new ombudsman to have the power to investigate the prime minister and the judiciary, it is the mundane day-to-day routine of bribe-paying for millions of people which is fuelling the protests.
A bill to create an ombudsman first appeared before parliament in 1968.
"There is definitely room for compromise on the prime minister and the judiciary. This is not the crucial issue. But the bureaucracy, upper and lower, will have to be there," Rao said.
In India, it is routine to bribe public officials for basic services such as a telephone line or a passport. The police have a particularly bad reputation. "I support Hazare. There is only a small amount of corruption in the police force," said Mohan Lal, an officer guarding the protest site in Delhi on Tuesday. "Anyway, it is only the bad people who pay bribes because they have done something wrong