NEW DELHI — The fasting leaders of India’s one-year-long anti-corruption movement announced a major shift in their strategy Thursday when they said they want to explore the option of becoming political after they reached a deadlock with the government.
After eleven days of public fasting by four leading anti-graft protestors in New Delhi to pressure the government to act on the rising corruption scandals, the activists appeared to hit a wall with their failing health, dwindling crowds and an indifferent government.
Unable to achieve any tangible outcome from their repeated protests and hunger strikes, the anti-corruption crusaders have reached a point where they have to either accept defeat or raise the stakes.
“This government is deaf and mute,” said Arvind Kejriwal, a key activist. “All parties are corrupt. Ninety per cent of the people want us to provide a political alternative.”
Activists said they will end their fast on Friday and asked for a people’s referendum about the announcement through texts, tweets and e-mails.
Some people on Twitter, Facebook and television channels said they expected it all along; others said it was the right time for honest, ordinary middle-class Indians to enter the political fray, which is dominated by money and musclemen. But can the starry-eyed activists win the 2014 election or will they cut the votes of other parties and become also-rans?
The movement, which began last year as a massive outpouring of public anger against rising corruption, had lost much of their sheen. The leaders’ stubborn refusal to dilute their demands and their constant and selective barbs pushed the Congress party-led government to stop engaging with the activists.
This week’s protests drew a few thousand people but it was a huge drop from the heady days when hundreds of thousands of Indians, many of them the upwardly mobile middle-classes, came.
“I will not enter politics,” Anna Hazare, the 74-year old veteran leader of the movement, said. “Choosing the right candidate is important. Candidates will be scanned, they need to have the spirit of service, must be patriotic, and non-corrupt.”
India’s information and broadcasting minister, Ambika Soni, welcomed the announcement.
“Some of us always felt that they were inching toward joining active politics,” Soni told reporters. “It is the right of everybody to fight elections. Why not them? It's best they come out and be part of the same system they abuse always.”
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