Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare ended his 13-day hunger strike yesterday, triggering wild celebrations among supporters after parliament agreed to consider his demands.
Hazare’s fast at an open-air venue in New Delhi attracted tens of thousands of people every day as a nationwide protest movement emerged to back his cause, leaving the government appearing badly out of touch with public opinion.
Hazare, who looked energetic and alert, took sips of coconut water mixed with honey handed to him by two young girls before delivering a speech broadcast live on national TV.
“The parliament in Delhi had to bow down to people’s power, but our fight does not end here,” he said. “We want to bring about a change in the country, but within the framework of the Constitution.”
“It is a matter of pride that such a big people’s movement happened without resorting to any sort of violence,” he added. “We have taught the world how to conduct a peaceful agitation.”
On Saturday, parliament agreed in principle that all state and central government officials would come under proposed anti-graft legislation being drafted by lawmakers and to a new citizens’ charter promoting transparency.
India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had struggled to respond to Hazare’s fast, which tapped into an issue of deep resentment among many Indians who must often pay bribes for everything from marriage certificates to hospital care.
The site of the protest, the Ramlila grounds in central New Delhi, became a gathering point for company professionals, rural laborers and students keen to see Hazare, who lay on a raised stage giving regular rousing speeches.
The 74-year-old activist appeared to be in good health despite losing 7.5kg in muggy monsoon conditions.
He drank water during his fast and left the stage each day between the evening and mid--morning. Organizers said he was being taken to hospital to recover and undergo a full health check.
After a day-long debate in parliament on Saturday on the stand-off with Hazare, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said lawmakers had agreed to many of the campaign’s conditions for the new law in principle.
Hazare, who modeled his image and tactics on Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, had captivated the country, but polarized opinion.
Many see him as a moral leader who exposed the government’s apathy and forced lawmakers to commit to passing tough new anti-corruption legislation that has been more than 40 years in the making.
However, critics see him as an autocrat who used sensationalist methods to impose his views on parliament and gave false hope that a law can end endemic corruption in Asia’s third-largest economy.
“The man who has become the hero of urban, middle-class Indians is ideologically almost Marxist in his hatred of the rich and almost anarchist in his contempt for democracy,” columnist Tavleen Singh wrote in the Sunday Express.
After initially attacking Hazare, the administration accepted that his campaign has helped vocalize simmering anger over corruption that pervades all levels of Indian life.
Singh’s left-leaning government has itself been beset by graft scandals over the last 12 months, from the over-budget Commonwealth Games in October last year to the flawed sale of telecoms licenses that cost the treasury up to US$39 billion.