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Anti-graft activist ends hunger strike

Sun., Aug. 28, 2011

Indian officials agree to tackle corruption

NEW DELHI – An anti-corruption activist who sparked a major political crisis in India agreed Saturday to end a 12-day hunger strike after officials acceded to his demands for tackling graft.

Septuagenarian Anna Hazare thanked tens of thousands of supporters at a protest grounds, even as he cautioned that the battle was far from over.

“I feel this is the country’s victory,” he told cheering crowds, adding that “we have won only half the battle.” He was flanked by key aides in front of an oversize image of his idol, Mohandas Gandhi.

The evident breakthrough came when parliament pledged to authorize a new independent lokpal, or ombudsman, to investigate and punish high-level corruption.

The government also agreed to create local ombudsmen to tackle graft at lower levels and said it would provide written outlines of what services each government agency is supposed to provide, and how long it should take.

Corrupt officials in India, as elsewhere, frequently extract bribes by exploiting their power to delay a driver’s license, for instance, or passport.

Hazare’s protest has tapped a wellspring of anger among citizens fed up with the status quo. India has seen several national scandals recently in telecommunications, real estate and sports management.

Arguably more frustrating to India’s millions, however, is pervasive, petty corruption that may include traffic police demanding a few dollars at intersections or officials at the local power authority demanding a bribe to provide electricity.

While few disagree with Hazare’s aims, however, a growing number of critics have opposed his tactics, terming his populist approach anti-democratic, or blackmail.

The final hours before the deal was struck saw frantic negotiations between government ministers, opposition lawmakers and members of his “Team Anna” advisory group.

“Anna” is an honorific title meaning “elder brother.” The anti-corruption campaigner, who lost about 17 pounds since Aug. 16, was born Kisan Baburao Hazare.

While protests in India are hardly unusual, Hazare has won support among affluent young professionals using Twitter and Facebook. Analysts have heralded his movement as an awakening of the previously apathetic middle class.

Hazare and his advisers, wary of the government reneging on its pledge to enact his anti-graft measures, called for lawmakers to show their support by going on the record with a voice vote, which they eventually did.


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