Yesterday saw the return of Indian anti-corruption champion Anna Hazare to his home village in Ralegan following his second hunger strike in under a year. Hazare has been hugely successful, forcing both houses of the Indian parliament to promise big changes in India’s fast growing anti-corruption movement.
Four months ago we wrote about Anna Hazare’s demand that the Indian Government pass the Jan Lokpal Bill (People's Ombudsman Bill). The Bill is designed to tackle the rampant corruption in India, which is costing the country billions of dollars and threatening to derail growth by introducing an independent ombudsman with the power to investigate and prosecute all politicians and bureaucrats without requiring government permission.
Following his 98-hour hunger strike in June, the government agreed to the formation of a joint committee to draft the Bill... and now Anna is calling for the bill to be revised after amendments that noticeably excludes the Prime Minister and senior judiciary from its scope.
After months of debate and discussion, the government tabled a bill at the start of this month that only incorporates 34 of the 40 principles set out by Hazare and other activists. Sparking widespread condemnation from millions of activists and supporters, Hazare branding it a “cruel joke” and promised to go on hunger strike again until stronger legislation was introduced.
Within a day of the government’s endorsement of the bill, more than 10,000 people had sent faxes directly to the government demanding a stronger bill through campaigning organisation Avaaz.
On Tuesday, 16 August, Hazare and his team were arrested three hours before he was due to begin the new campaign. Despite being released from judicial detention after 24 hours, they refused to sign the bail bond, which placed strict conditions on Hazare’s ability to proceed with the fast, resulting in their detention at Tihar Jail. After nationwide protests erupted, Hazare was released on Friday 19 August with a police promise that he may fast for 15 days, ending today. Two days ago Anna broke his fast at 12 days after after MPs expressed support for proposed changes to anti-corruption legislation. He was admitted to hospital to rest a recover, and yesterday arrived home on a tour of his home and neighbouring villages amid lively celebrations.
Thousands of supporters joined Hazare in Delhi and across India and many more are showing their support across Mumbai and other cities.
There has, however, been some criticism by influential people of the Jan Lokpal Bill as being the best method to tackle the corruption in India. In an article for The Hindu, Arundhati Roy branded it as draconian, pointing out that, in order to tackle the corruption of one bureaucracy (the State), the Bill proposes to introduce a second massive bureaucracy, centralising the powers of investigation, surveillance and prosecution in the hands of a few chosen people.
This criticism aside, Hazare and his team (or Team Anna as they've become known) have managed to launch a movement across an entire country demanding their government stamp out corruption. We find it inspiring to have seen this movement gather pace at such an incredible speed, and, whilst sending a clear and firm message to their government that the public will not tolerate corruption in the government any longer, remain completely peaceful, and it is this support that has forced the government to concede not to Anna’s demands but those of their people as a whole.
At the Global Poverty Project, we know that corruption is one of the major barriers to seeing an end to poverty, and where it happens it's the poorest people who pay the ultimate price, often with their lives. If we are to see an end to extreme poverty within a lifetime, we must see an end to corruption, and we must see more movements such as this, led by the people themselves demanding their rights.