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Indian Protest Icon Breaks Hunger Strike After Anti-Graft Compromise

  • Kurt Achin

Children wearing traditional Indian caps bearing the words: "I am Anna", offer coconut water and honey to veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare (C) after he ended his fast at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi, August 28, 2011

Children wearing traditional Indian caps bearing the words: "I am Anna", offer coconut water and honey to veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare (C) after he ended his fast at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi, August 28, 2011

Elderly Indian social activist Anna Hazare has agreed to end an anti-corruption hunger strike that fueled mounting protests nationwide. He halted his fasting campaign after the government agreed to some of his demands to discuss key components for a strong anti-corruption law.

Thousands watched Anna Hazare take sips of coconut water and honey handed to him by children - a first step to consuming nutrition after staying off food for 13 days on a hunger strike.

Crowds at a New Delhi public gathering place swelled to thousands day by day as Hazare publicly vowed he would starve himself to death if the government did not take credible action toward passing robust anti-corruption legislation. The 74-year old's refusal to eat was causing widespread concern about his health, and about the mood of the crowds of people who have gathered to support him.

In an earlier fast in April, Hazare and his supporters pressured the government into promising a "lokpal" bill, named after the agency it would set up to oversee anti-corruption efforts. Hazare resumed his fast about two weeks ago, in dissatisfaction with the bill which he says is watered down.

Hazare supporters want an anti-corruption body to have sweeping investigative powers over virtually every level of government, including the prime minister. At first he vowed to fast unless his version of the anti-corruption bill was passed. He relented after parliament members made a show of unity that India's democratic structures must be allowed to operate normally and not be coerced by crowd tactics.

Hazare ended his fast after the government agreed to discuss three of his demands that would lay the basic groundwork for a more robust anti-corruption framework. The movement he started is widely seen as a watershed in the harnessing of people power to pressure government.

Arvind Kejiriwal, one of Hazare's principal aides, says this struggle has helped Parliament become more of a tool of the people and not just the governing party.

Hazare says a parliamentary discussion alone is not enough to fix India's endemic corruption. He is now setting his sights on electoral reform, farmers' rights, and education for poor children.

He says the fight to achieve all this has begun with the Lokpal Bill. “I have ended my campaign now,” he says, “but I have not given up the struggle - just postponed it. Till all this is achieved, he says, my struggle will continue.”

Hazare is being taken to a hospital for a few days of observation, and will slowly be introduced to soft foods again.

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