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Anna Hazare's 98-Hour Fast Yields Anti-Corruption Bill In India

Paresh Dave |
April 9, 2011 | 2:41 a.m. PDT

Deputy Editor

Hazare on day two. (Creative Commons)
Hazare on day two. (Creative Commons)

A 73-year-old Indian activist ended a four-day fast on Saturday after the country's government agreed to consider this summer comprehensive anti-corruption legislation that has stalled for decades.

The fast, which inspired in recent days a nationwide movement in government-scandal-plagued India, echoed the protests that continue to take place in the Middle East and resembled the many peaceful protests of famed Indian social activist Mohandas Gandhi.

Thousands of Indians erupted into celebration Saturday in Jantal Mantar, where Anna Hazare had become a spark for the movement when he began his fast on Tuesday. The legislation, which a special advisory committee will help design during the next three months, could become law by India's Independence Day on Aug. 15.

Among other measures, the legislation could create an in-house watchdog to oversee government ministers and to address complaints about them from regular citizens.

"Our responsibility has increased, the path is long," Hazare said in a victory speech. "Now we have to prepare the draft; then, if the draft faces hurdle in the cabinet, we will struggle for getting it passed."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrated the breakthrough.

"The fact that civil society and government have joined hands to evolve a consensus to move this historic legislation augurs well for our democracy," Singh said in a statement.

India's minority BJP Party also applauded the bowing to Hazare's demand and underscored the protest's significance.

“This movement is an indication of the agony of the people of the country, their pain, their frustration. They want action,” a BJP spokesperson said.

India's government has been riddled with graft at every level since its inception, and the legislation sought by Hazare would only touch the national government. The country's population could reach nearly 1.5 billion by 2030 with 1 billion of them being of working age. Despite a problematic education system, high levels of poverty and a worrisome international perception, the country's economy has flourished this decade.

Indian spiritual leader Ravi Shankar noted the struggle is just beginning. He offered new demands to the government.

"This is the right step in the right direction," he said. "[Singh will need to] get rid of all the corrupt elements in high places including some ministers."

Political commentator Ajit Mohan said Saturday in the Wall Street Journal that though Hazare's fast bordered on "moral blackmail," people supported him "not because of the compelling symbolism of a fast unto death, but because his cause and his angst are deeply shared by his fellow citizens."

Mohan continued: "Mr. Hazare is only carrying forward a tradition that has been so effectively deployed in the past, at other moments of deep crisis in this country’s history, when its public custodians have failed the very citizenry they are meant to serve. That the threat of a fast, and other acts of civil disobedience, has been deeply misused by the political system in the recent past does not make Mr. Hazare’s movement less legitimate or his cause less compelling."

One state has already suggested a law allowing it to cease the house of a government official convicted of corruption.

As of Friday, a few hundred Indian-Americans were planning to gather in New York City's Times Square on Saturday afternoon to show solidarity for the India Against Corruption movement.

"People have shown to the world that we are one on an issue which relates to the country. People stood united here, irrespective of caste, religion and community," Hazare said, allowing India to enjoy a second straight joyous Saturday.

Last week, the country beat Sri Lanka to take home the Cricket World Cup.

To reach reporter Paresh Dave, click here.

Find him on Twitter: @peard33.



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