After the Indian government was rocked by corruption charges during the past several months in a country already overrun with corruption, a quiet elderly man in a white cap is the one to finally say “enough.”
Anna Hazare began his “fast unto death” on April 5, vowing not to eat until the government enacted a strong anti-corruption act it had long neglected.
Seated on a thin white mattress in New Delhi not far from Parliament, Hazare has already inspired a movement of thousands of young followers, myriad Bollywood celebrities and cricketers, and more than 150 people claiming to join him on his fast since he stopped eating two days ago.
Chain messages sent out about Hazare’s fast read: ”I support Anna Hazare. It’s time to wake up. We need to fight corruption. We need change. Sign your name below.”
Hazare, a social activist known for his development of a self-sustaining model village that won him the prestigious Padma Bhushan award, is already being called a “modern-day Mahatama Gandhi.” An earlier fast by Hazare led to the passage of a stronger Right to Information Act in Maharashtra within just one day of his fast.
The anti-corruption act Hazare is now fighting to enact is the Jan Lokpal Bill, a law that would establish an ombudsman who would have the power to deal with corruption in public offices. (“Jan Lokpal” means “citizen’s omsbudsman”.) The bill was originally proposed in 1972, but has languished in government ever since. Hazare says a draft of the bill that was made did not have any input of civil society groups and has been watered down by ministers.
The Hazare movement has already led to the resignation of Sharad Pawar, president of the ruling Nationalist Congress Party, from the Group of Ministers formed for reviewing the draft of the bill. But until the bill is enacted, Hazare will not eat.
Corruption has long been a serious problem within the Indian government. In 2008, The Washington Post reported that nearly a fourth of the 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, “including human trafficking immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape, and even murder.” In 2010, Transparency International found India to be the ninth-most corrupt country in the world, with 54 percent of Indians having paid a bribe in the past year.
But Hazare’s protest is particularly timely in a year in which three major corruption scandals rocked the Indian government, the scandals prompting even the stoic Supreme Court to ask: “What the hell is going on in this country?”
One person tweeted:
Have decided to go to Jantar Mantar in support of Anna Hazare and millions of INDIANS who are sick and tired of corruption in our country.:)
The people of India have had enough of the corruption within their government. “ We the People of India want Change NOW,” a suppporter wrote on Anna Hazare’s Facebook page .
The question is: Will it matter?