Indian Officials, Anti-Graft Crusader End Deadlock

Aug 29, 2011
Originally published on August 29, 2011 5:46 am
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In India over the weekend, a political deadlock that had been gripping the nation was finally broken. Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare ended a two week fast. He and the government reached an agreement on ways to crack down on bureaucrats and elected officials who demand bribes. Elliot Hannon filed this report from New Delhi.

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ELLIOTT HANNON: It was a party atmosphere in the Indian capital on Sunday morning, with tens of thousands showing support for Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. Amidst the song and dance, two young girls quietly handed the 74-year-old a cup of coconut water and he put an end to his 13-day-fast.

After a dramatic special session of parliament on Saturday, the political stalemate between Hazare and the government ended in compromise. For protestors, like Biyush Bansal, it was a victorious compromise.

Mr. BIYUSH BANSAL): So it is just a beginning, which Anna has started and we all have to get together and take it forward.

HANNON: Hazare and his supporters launched their protest two weeks ago demanding that they government create an independent investigative agency to combat corruption. Hazare began fasting and said he would continue until the government accepted his demands. He wanted a strong agency that could investigate anyone, from the prime minister to the lowest levels of the Indian bureaucracy.

Despite its populist appeal, there were concerns on all sides about the constitutional implications of the investigative agency, as well as its impact on the democratic process. Rahul Gandhi, secretary of Indias ruling Congress Party, addressed parliament on Friday.

Mr. RAHUL GANDHI (Secretary, Congress Party): A process diverse from the machinery of an elected government that seeks to undo the checks and balances created to protect the supremacy of parliament, of this house, sets a dangerous precedent for our democracy.

HANNON: Throughout the week, demands for government action against corruption grew louder. Concerns about Hazares health also added pressure to find a compromise. On Saturday, both sides relented.

Opposition leader Arun Jaitley spoke to Indian news channel NDTV about the process.

Mr. ARUN JAITLEY (Opposition leader, India): There are a lot of things that in the course of our dialogue with the Team Anna, that they also saw a lot of reason. Therefore between the political establishment and them, I think the dialogue yielded much on both sides. Both gave up some and both agreed to some.

HANNON: Breaking the stalemate, a nonbinding resolution was passed. It allows for investigation of lower levels of bureaucracy and establishes oversight agencies in each state, but excludes the prime minister and judiciary.

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HANNON: As the fast ended, the outcome was celebrated. But that wasnt the only victory. Vikas Choudary is an MBA student at the rally.

Mr. VIKAS CHOUDARY (Student): Now, I think, we have a scope. We have a hope that everything should be done in the right manner in our country. I think this kind of rally, or this Anna Hazare, especially this rally work as the generation awakers(ph).

HANNON: At the rally, protestors, like journalist Honey Chadha, had a new appreciation for their political power.

Mr. HONEY CHADHA (Journalist): The politicians are corrupted. So I politely request from them, please dont mess with us because we are dangerous, because we are Anna's.

HANNON: Chadha says hes confident the government wont mess with Anna Hazare and his followers when it comes to following through with its promises.

For NPR News, Im Elliot Hannon in New Delhi.

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