When that did not work, and Hazare denounced the government’s version of the law as “toothless,” the government and the ruling Congress party went on the offensive, first accusing his nonprofit group of misusing funds, then arresting him this week hours before he was due to begin a second hunger strike. Hazare denied the charges and said the government was defaming him.
As India erupted in outrage, the government was forced to backtrack, and Hazare emerged from jail on Friday to continue his fast in a park in central Delhi. The veteran Gandhian activist, who has already lost 6 1
2 pounds in four days since he began the fast, was cheered and showered with petals by thousands of supporters as he led them in chants of “Hail Mother India” and “Long live the revolution.”
“You have lit a torch against corruption,” Hazare told the crowd. “Don’t extinguish it until India is free from corruption.”
The bigger question
The government has introduced legislation in Parliament to establish an independent anti-corruption ombudsman, but Hazare says the bill is “good for nothing” because it excludes the prime minister, the judiciary and much of the bureaucracy from the ombudsman’s jurisdiction. He has drawn up his own version of the legislation and threatened to fast until it is introduced in Parliament.
But the bigger question, perhaps, is whether he will try to bring about a wider social transformation in India, to make bribe-giving as well as bribe-taking socially unacceptable, the sort of grand social change that his guru Mahatma Gandhi once attempted.
The novelist and youth icon Chetan Bhagat said this week that it was becoming “cool to be clean” among India’s urban, middle-class youth, although many of those attending Friday’s protests admitted that even Hazare’s proposed new law would not put a stop to endemic corruption. Several dozen people interviewed in recent days confessed to having given bribes, and only a few pledged never to do so again.
“I encounter the demand for corruption all the time. What do I do? If I want quick service, I will pay,” said Govind Patel, a 27-year-old exporter who has complained about corruption on his Twitter page, Facebook and other online discussion forums. “But I am standing here today to fight the real fight. I stand here and see that everyone under this tent feels the same anger as me, they have experienced the same helplessness as me. It gives me courage.”
Dipankar Gupta, an author and expert on India’s middle classes, predicts that Hazare’s movement will peak soon, but that the broader effort against corruption was just beginning. Like many social movements in history, he said, it could years or even decades to bring fundamental change.
“These things do take time, but this is an important input into the system,” he said. “When the next election comes around, how to handle corruption will be a central issue, and that is progress.”