Indian anti-graft activist ends 13-day fast

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Indian anti-graft activist ends 13-day fast

Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare ended his 13-day hunger strike triggering wild celebrations among supporters after parliament agreed to consider his demands.

By (Agencies)

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Published: Sun 28 Aug 2011, 10:56 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:40 PM

NEW DELHI - Sipping coconut water and honey, a self-styled Gandhian anti-corruption reformer ended a 13-day hunger strike on Sunday that had sparked India’s biggest protests in decades, besieged the government and ushered in a new middle class political force.

“It’s a proud moment for the country that a mass movement which was carried out for 13 days was peaceful and non-violent,” Anna Hazare in a crisp white kurta smock and cap told thousands of cheering supporters from a stage at an open ground in New Delhi that has become the epicentre of a nationwide crusade.

“The people’s parliament is bigger that Delhi’s parliament.”

After initially arresting Hazare and dismissing him as an anarchist, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government caved in to the demands of the 74-year-old veteran activist as parliament backed anti-graft legislation that met many of his demands.

Hazare has tapped a groundswell of public anger against endemic corruption, uniting the country’s bulging middle-class against a hapless political class and underlining voter anger at Singh and the ruling Congress party.

“Anna wins it for the people,” splashed the front page of India’s Sunday Times newspaper, as supporters flocked to Hazare’s fast site to revel in victory after parliament gave its support to many of the activist’s demands late on Saturday.

Tens of thousands of mostly urban and wired voters across India celebrated the achievement of an unprecedented movement that may usher in a new force in Indian politics and damage the ruling Congress party in crucial state elections next year.

The veteran activist, whose health has seriously deteriorated, said that he would break his fast after a special session of parliament saw lawmakers backing a resolution by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to push for a law to create an independent ombudsman with wide-ranging power to investigate lawmakers, the judiciary and bureaucrats.

Undermined by graft scandals and seen as out-of-touch with voters battling high inflation, Congress’ failure to deal with Hazare’s campaign before it flared up into a national issue spells danger for the ruling party in state polls next year ahead of the 2014 general election.

While protests in India are not uncommon, the sight of many well-off young professionals using Twitter and Facebook taking to the streets of Asia’s third-largest economy suggest an awakening of a previously politically-ambivalent middle-class.

Nationwide support

Supporters surged to Hazare’s protest site in a sea of saffron, white and green from nearby metro stations on Sunday, as smiling protesters with the national flag painted on their faces chanted “long live Anna” and “victory to mother India”.

“It is a historic day,” said Aamir Pratap, 37, who brought his wife and three sons to the site in central New Delhi.

“Anna and the whole country succeeded in uniting the parliament yesterday for such a crucial bill.”

Mukherjee announced parliament’s support for Hazare’s demands after over nine hours of fervent debate in both chambers of parliament that highlighted just how much the activist’s campaign had rocked India’s political establishment. Hazare’s trademark white cap has been sported by thousands of protesters across the country, and the slogan “I am Anna” has become a rallying cry for a generation of young people disillusioned by their graft-stained politicians.

“It is a victory for Anna but as he was fighting for the people, this is a victory for the people,” Santosh Hegde, former solicitor general and Hazare aide told CNN-IBN.

The activist, who lost over 7.5 kgs (16.5 lbs) during his almost fortnight-long hunger strike, will go straight to a hospital outside India’s capital after breaking his fast.

Hazare is not some out-of-the-blue phenomenon, however.

Deep-seated change has been underway for years in India as its once-statist economy globalises, bolstered by a widely used freedom of information act, aggressive private media and the election of state politicians who have rejected traditional caste-support bases to win on governance issues.

After a botched arrest as part of a hardline approach to Hazare, a government U-turn saw ministers praise the activist, suggesting a leadership deficit in Congress without party head Sonia Gandhi, who is recovering after surgery for an undisclosed condition.

Congress pledged a slew of economic reforms after winning re-election in 2009 that would have made foreign investment easier and tax collection more effective. But graft and anger over inflation has stymied attempts to debate the legislation.

Transparency International rates India in 87th place on the most corrupt countries, according to a 2010 survey.

Several scandals linked to the government, including a bribery scam involving the granting of telecom licences that led to the arrest of a telecoms minister and may have cost the state up to $39 billion in lost revenues, led to Hazare’s latest protest.

Congress has staked a large amount of political capital on victory in next year’s state election in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where a disappointing result would ring serious alarm bells for the federal ballot in 2014.

Hazare became the unlikely thorn in the side of the government when he went on hunger strike in April. He called off that fast after the government promised to introduce a bill creating an anti-corruption ombudsman.

The so-called Lokpal legislation was presented in early August, but activists slammed the draft version as toothless because the prime minister and judges were exempt from probes.

Chronology of an epochal fast

Chronology of a fast that forced Indian parliament to acknowledge people's power and established civil society's primacy in a democracy:

Jan 30: Marches in over 60 cities to demand anti-corruption Lokpal bill. Social reformer Anna Hazare, former top cop Kiran Bedi, activist Swami Agnivesh and lawyer Prashant Bhushan participate in Delhi rally.

Feb 26: Hazare announces fast unto death from April 5 if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not decide on civil society's inclusion in drafting the bill.

April 5: Hazare starts fast at Delhi's Jantar Mantar.

April 8: Hazare announces decision to end fast as government agrees to form 10-member panel of civil society members and union ministers to draft a stringent anti-corruption law.

April 9: Hazare ends fast.

April 16: Joint committee's first meet cordial. Both sides exchange drafts.

May 2: Second meet with 'no difference of opinion'.

May 7: Agreement on independent Lokpal with powers to initiate investigation and prosecution.

May 23: Agreement on empowering Lokpal to order list of movable and immovable assets of accused in corruption cases when sufficient evidence found to book them.

May 30: Differences appear as government disagrees on including prime minister, Supreme and High Court judges and MPs' conduct in parliament within Lokpal's ambit.

June 6: Civil society members boycott meet a day after police crackdown against yoga guru Baba Ramdev's fast in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan.

June 15: No consensus on inclusion of prime minister, Supreme and High Court judges.

June 20: Some ice melts amid war of words; government calls it 'major step forward'.

June 21: Last meeting of joint committee ends on sour note. Both sides exchange drafts; Hazare warns of another fast.

Aug 15: Hazare denied permission to fast at Delhi's Jayaprakash Narayan Memorial Park after Team Anna agrees to accept only 16 of police's 22 conditions.

Aug 16: Hazare begins fast, detained early morning and sent to seven-day judicial custody to Tihar jail. Government decides to set him free late night. He refuses.

Aug 17: Hazare refuses to leave Tihar Jail till a solution is reached on fast venue. Supporters gather outside prison, Hazare continues fast from jail. Permitted to fast at Ramlila Maidan.

Aug 19: Hazare leaves Tihar Jail, continues fast at Ramlila Maidan.

Aug 23: Government invites Team Anna for talks.

Aug 24: Second round of talks, all-party meeting held. No breakthrough in impasse.

Aug 25: After meetings with political parties and Team Anna, government agrees to debate all versions of Lokpal bill in parliament.

Aug 27: Both houses of parliament debate Lokpal bill, adjourn after adopting 'sense of the house' and agreeing to Hazare's three demands that will be sent to standing committee on Lokpal bill.

Aug 28: Anna breaks fast on 13th day.

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