Thousands Gather in Support of Indian Anti-Graft Activist

Posted August 21st, 2011 at 7:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Thousands of people have again gathered in central New Delhi to support an Indian anti-graft crusader whose hunger strike against corruption is galvanizing millions of his countrymen.

Anna Hazare has been without food since Tuesday in a fast aimed at forcing officials to adopt a tougher anti-corruption law.

From a public venue in New Delhi where he is conducting his fast, Hazare told a huge crowd of supporters that he plans to carry on indefinitely unless legislation is passed by the end of this month.

Hazare's campaign has struck a chord with millions of Indians — particularly the middle-classes tired of endemic bribes and a series of corruption scandals — by using the same protest tactics as Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi.

On Saturday, the Indian government struck a conciliatory note after previously dismissing Hazare's demands. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said New Delhi was open to “discussion and dialogue'' aimed at reaching a national consensus on fighting corruption.

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 version that he says would do more to hold the prime minister and judicial branch accountable.

Hazare was briefly jailed on Tuesday after he refused to limit the duration and size of his protest. Although authorities later ordered his release, he refused to leave jail saying he wants no restrictions on his demonstration once he leaves prison.

In a statement released after his detention, the 74-year-old activist vowed to continue the protest movement, telling supporters that the “second freedom struggle” had begun.

Popular outrage has grown steadily over the past year as a string of high-profile corruption scandals has made headlines in national media. They include the sale of telecommunications licenses at below market value and numerous financial irregularities in India's hosting of last year's Commonwealth Games.