How a 'new Gandhi' turned India upside down

Anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare, backed up by throngs of demonstrators, staged a public showdown with the government... and won

A supporter of Indian activist Anna Hazare protests the arrest of the 74-year-old Gandhi devotee.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder)

After the Tuesday arrest of a popular anti-corruption activist, Anna Hazare, sparked massive protests, India's government is facing its biggest crisis in years. Hazare, hailed by some as India's "new Gandhi," had been preparing to launch a hunger strike, possibly "unto death," when he was hauled in by authorities. His arrest prompted a bizarre standoff during which tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of cities across India, banging pots and holding candlelight vigils to support Hazare. How will this all end? Here, a brief guide:

Who is Anna Hazare?

He's a 74-year-old former soldier, and born-again devotee of Mohandas Gandhi, whose philosophy of nonviolence and civil disobedience fueled India's drive for independence, which it achieved in 1947. Hazare is following Gandhi's example in a quest to stamp out graft in India's government.

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How did he hope to do it?

By staging an indefinite hunger strike to increase pressure on Indian government ministers to tackle the problem. To end a showdown during which Hazare refused to leave his New Delhi jail cell as protests grew more intense, police agreed Thursday to let him stage a limited 15-day public fast to call attention to corruption.

Is corruption a big problem in India?

Yes, the country's middle class, which has grown rapidly over a decade of rapid economic growth, is becoming increasingly angered by widespread corruption, poor government services, and red tape. There's actually an informal price list for bribes required to get routine government services, and just about everyone has a story about having to pay off someone to get an electric meter installed, or a deed recorded, or a traffic cop mollified. Several recent scandals in the telecommunications, defense, and sports industries — involving tens of billions of dollars — have raised the anger to new heights.

What happens next?

After spending one last night in jail, Hazare and his supporters will set up a base camp at Ramlila Maidan park in central Delhi on Friday. The police have agreed to let them gather as many people as the space will hold — about 25,000. But fellow campaign leader, Kiran Bedi, eased the tension somewhat by saying Hazare would not fast until death, as he had previously threatened. Under the agreement, Hazare and any others who fast will be examined by doctors three times a day. "He will fast as long as he can sustain it," Bedi said, as quoted by The Washington Post. "He will fast as long as there is no threat to his life."

Sources: Telegraph, Guardian, LA Times, AP, NDTV, Wash. Post

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