Indian Anti-Corruption Activist Promises ‘Revolution’

Posted August 19th, 2011 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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Indian activist Anna Hazare told followers Friday that they are launching what he called a new “revolution,” as he began a 15-day hunger strike aimed at forcing officials to adopt tougher anti-corruption legislation.

Hours earlier, thousands of his supporters had greeted the bespectacled 74-year-old activist clad in white as he was released from jail. As Hazare's procession headed to a public venue in New Delhi for the hunger strike, he paid homage at a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi led his own non-violent struggle against India's British rulers more than half a century ago.

Authorities detained Hazare and hundreds of his followers Tuesday after the activist refusing to submit to police demands limiting his protest. His arrest sparked mass demonstrations across the country, and police and Hazare later reached an agreement for his release.

In Mumbai Friday, some 5,000 men who distribute lunch boxes went on strike for the first time in more than a century to show solidarity with Hazare's campaign.

Analysts say the activist has tapped into widespread public anger over what is seen as a pervasive culture of official corruption, which has put Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government on the defensive.

Mr. Singh told parliament Wednesday that Hazare's protest, while inspired by high ideals, was “fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy.” Mr. Singh said that Hazare cannot be allowed to force lawmakers to sign his own version of anti-corruption legislation.

Earlier this month, the prime minister's ruling Congress party introduced an anti-corruption bill in parliament that would create a civil organization , with the powers to investigate ministers and bureaucrats. But Hazare rejected the bill and called for parliament to pass his own version, saying it would do more to hold the prime minister and judicial branch accountable.

Popular outrage over widespread corruption in India has grown steadily over the past year with high-profile corruption scandals, including the sale of telecommunications licenses at below market value and numerous financial irregularities in India's hosting of last year's Commonwealth Games.

In the latest scandal, India's upper house of parliament voted Thursday to impeach a sitting judge on charges that he misappropriated large sums of public money.