Anna fails to draw big crowd

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Anna fails to draw big crowd

Septuagenarian social activist Anna Hazare began his fifth hunger strike in 16 months on Sunday to push for strong anti-graft legislation, but failed to draw the massive crowds that marked the start of his campaign.

By (AP, AFP)

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Published: Mon 30 Jul 2012, 12:14 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 11:41 AM

A year ago tens of thousands of middle-class Indians crowded into a New Delhi fairground — braving both pouring rain and a sweltering sun — and pledged support for Anna Hazare as he went without food and water for 12 days to pressure the government to create a wide-ranging anti-corruption watchdog.

But on Sunday afternoon, the 75-year-old activist managed to only attract only a few thousand people. Three of his aides have been fasting at the site since last Wednesday.

The activists hope the hunger strike will force Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to take up an anti-graft bill when Parliament resumes on August 8.

Hazare and his supporters are also demanding an investigation into corruption allegations against 14 Cabinet ministers.

Hazare, a former army truck driver and social activist from western India, touched a nerve in a country where nearly everyone has paid bribes when he began battling for a powerful ombudsman, newspaper columnist and political commentator Inder Malhotra said.

“But he didn’t know how to mobilise that momentum. The protest lost its edge,” Malhotra said.

The media has been less supportive, suggesting that Hazare risks overstepping in insisting that parliament adopts his campaign’s input for the new anti-corruption bill.

“Anna and his cohorts must realise that they are only a pressure group. They cannot hold parliament to ransom. Their primary job is to keep the issue of corruption in play, the Times of India said in a recent editorial.

“Using fasts to arm-twist the government is against the very spirit of democracy and amounts to political blackmail,” it said.

Hazare began with a five-day fast in April last year which ended when the government invited members of his group to help draft anti-corruption legislation. In August, he fasted for 12 days to pressure Parliament to pass a proposal to create a powerful watchdog that would police everyone from the prime minister to the lowest village bureaucrat.

Hazare tapped into public anger over a series of corruption scandals, including $4 billion that disappeared during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and a cellphone spectrum licensing scandal that is estimated to have cost the government up to $36 billion in lost revenue.

There was breathless, around-the-clock television coverage of his campaign last year, but now the media coverage is muted.



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