'New Gandhi' Still Fasting; India Moves Toward Deal

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    (Photo: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta)
    A supporter of veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare shouts pro-Hazare slogans during a protest against corruption in Jammu August 25, 2011. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to Hazare to end his public hunger strike and proposed that parliament debate his demands after an apparent breakdown in talks with the self-styled Gandhian activist.
By R. Leigh Coleman, Christian Post Reporter
August 25, 2011|8:38 pm

Hopes of an end to Indian activist Anna Hazare’s hunger strike were dashed on Thursday and it remains unclear if the “new Gandhi” will call off his 10-day fast.

India’s Parliament addressed Hazare's demands on Thursday by agreeing to consider his proposed legislation to create a national anti-corruption agency. He has vowed not to break his fast until the government accepts his legislative proposal in full.

Anna Hazare, 74, a longtime anti-corruption activist in the state of Maharashtra, came to New Delhi to begin the hunger strike in an effort to clean up India's government.

Dressed in modest plain white cotton clothes and a cap, Hazare portrays a Gandhian image, announcing he would fast until the Indian government agreed to a new law ending widespread corruption.

Recent news coverage has reached past the boundaries of India across the world as this seemingly humble man dared to take on an entire regime.

Shocking most, there are now thousands of people in India and other countries joining him in his campaign. Many supporters are from the middle class, usually alienated from politics.

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“This is for the whole of India, for the people of India,” said Amar Singh, 22, a college student from India tweeted about India's events. “This is not political. He doesn’t belong to any political party. All political parties are corrupt.”

Political analysts say Hazare’s public protests and the popular outpouring in India are now being compared to the uprisings in the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring refers to the current crop of pro-democracy uprisings currently sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. The "spring" is in contrast to the "winter" of oppression that many of these countries have experienced in the past.

“It is the middle class who is worst affected by corruption,” Asha Bhardaaj, a woman who traveled more than 30 miles from the suburbs to join a rally, told reporters.

“The upper class is not affected. The upper classes can get what they need by paying money.”

The Times of India reports the prime minister raised everyone’s hopes by offering to bring the Jan Lokpal Bill, or the new agreement for better laws, as drafted by Team Anna, for discussion in Parliament.

“This was rebuffed by Anna Hazare who insisted on an assurance that the three sticking points of the bill – inclusion of lower bureaucracy in Lokpal, setting up Lokayuktas in all states, and bringing a citizens' charter for public services – be incorporated in the new bill after a debate,” The Times reported today.

Hazare is expected to lead a hunger strike and mass protest in central New Delhi until the government agrees to the entire proposal – not just a portion of it as they did Thursday.

Hazare is a longtime social activist who has campaigned against corruption for nearly two decades. He reportedly lives off a military pension and financing charitable work through donations.

His clothes evoke the memory of the well-known Mahatma Gandhi, India’s founding father. So do his ways of protests and his tactics of nonviolent hunger strikes and peaceful marches.

The New York Times reports that Hazare and his advisers – a group of prominent lawyers and social activists nicknamed Team Anna – have spent months campaigning across the country.

“His aides distribute a flurry of daily e-mail updates to journalists, and his close advisers have used social media to connect with young followers,” The New York Times reported today.

Early Thursday, one adviser, Kiran Bedi, used Twitter to announce breakthroughs and negotiation updates with Indian authorities.

Bedi is India’s first and highest ranking woman police officer. In a tweet obtained by The Christian Post, she said, “Anna as I heard will end his fast only if Resolutions on three issues are passed by Parliament."

She also tweeted an update on Hazare’s health today, something many have worried about since his hunger strike began.

“Anna is under close and good medical attention. And he is exercising his right to protest. As Gandhi ji did,” Bedi tweeted again.

Concerns are mounting that Hazare’s health is deteriorating because of the extended fast. Indian police have the right to forcibly take him to a hospital if his life was believed to be in danger, according to laws in India.

Hazare has already asked his followers to peaceably block police from entering the grounds if they try to take him to a hospital, reports The Times of India.

He has already lost more than 13 pounds yet he has refused the advice of his doctors to accept a glucose drip.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to Hazare on Thursday to call off his fast. He also addressed leaders in Indian parliament.

“I have a public life in the service of this country for 41 years,” the prime minister said. “Of these 41 years, 20 years in parliament, I have tried to serve this country to the best of my ability.”

The Times also reports that doctors say Hazare’s "vigor parameters were stable and will allow his supporters to press their protest further."

Although it also gives the government some leeway as it need not act under the apprehension that Hazare’s health is precarious, it is handicapped by the resolve of the Hazare group. They will not allow government officials or the police to intervene in Hazare's hunger fast.

The Times of India also published an opinion about Hazare’s fight against corruption.

Although they credit him for the movement going national and praised him for the fact that the government has made many concessions it never would have if it were not for Hazare.

However, publishers want his fast to end.

“One of the beauties of India is its democracy, imperfect as it may be. And one of the cornerstones of our democracy is the parliamentary process,” The Times publishers wrote today.

“It would be dangerous to try and short-circuit that process, or to hold it to ransom. We believe Anna should acknowledge the PM's gesture and call off his fast. Of course, he can resume his protest later if government's response is inadequate.”

 

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