News / Asia

Indian Activist Ends Hunger Strike

Indian activist Anna Hazare, 73, drinks lime water offered by a child as he breaks his hunger strike in New Delhi, India, April 9, 2011
Indian activist Anna Hazare, 73, drinks lime water offered by a child as he breaks his hunger strike in New Delhi, India, April 9, 2011

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Kurt Achin

A social activist whose Gandhi-inspired hunger strike was fueling a nationwide wave of people power demonstrations has reached a deal with the government in his demands for anti-corruption legislation.

A party atmosphere prevailed near the iconic India gate in downtown New Delhi Saturday, hours after a respected social activist announced he was ready to end a hunger strike in a standoff with the nation's government.

Anna Hazare and hundreds of supporters sipped lemon juice following the Indian government's formal pledge to form a joint committee aimed at passing tough new anti-corruption legislation.

Hazare told supporters, all brothers and sisters of the nation from various religions and cultures have to be united to fight for our nation.  If this government does not pass the anti-corruption measure, he says, he will take India's three-color flag and join the people again for a renewed struggle.

Frustrated by decades of failure by India's government to pass anti-corruption legislation, Hazare, 72, began a "fast unto death" last Tuesday.  

The tactic is lifted straight from the non-violent playbook of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the architect of India's independence from Britain.  Hazare called his campaign against corruption a "second battle for India's independence."  

Hundreds of sympathizers joined the hunger strike, and support gatherings were held in major cities nationwide.  Prominent Bollywood actors and other Indian luminaries voiced their public support, and an avalanche of social media messages praised Hazare's efforts.

As part of the deal to end the strike, India's government has pledged to form a committee headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to discuss giving civic groups and ordinary citizens a greatly enhanced role in naming and punishing corrupt officials at every level of Indian society.

Many Indians see corruption as the country's greatest national crisis.  Their anger has been fueled by headlines of multi-billion dollar scams presided over by senior officials.

In a statement Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was happy that the government and representatives of civil society were able to come to an agreement.  Mr. Singh aims to bring anti-corruption legislation before the parliamentary session scheduled to begin June 30.

Hazare's Gandhi-inspired struggle has been a source of embarrassment for Mr. Singh's Congress Party-led UPA government. The Congress Party was established by Gandhi himself, and his closest associates and relatives.

The Indian Prime Minister says his party is committed to cleaning up government.

"The UPA government is making every effort to deal with the menace of corruption in public life," said Sing.

Hazare is telling supporters the real battle lies ahead in ensuring the government lives up to its promises.

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