Indian people gain major anti-corruption measure led by Anna Hazare's fast, India, 2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
April 4
2011
to
August 28
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
India
Location City/State/Province: 
New Delhi
Location Description: 
Anna Hazare's fast took place in a public park in New Delhi called Ramlila Maidan
Goals: 
The goal of Hazare's fasting campaign was to gain for India a strong and independent ombudsman's office that could investigate charges of corruption. His vision included the power to investigate low ranking government officials, members of parliament accused of taking bribes to vote or ask questions in the parliament, the prime minister, and senior judiciary officials. He also demanded separate ombudsman for every state.
 

According to the World Bank, about $1 trillion (USD) is paid in bribes annually worldwide; in India, alone, the economy is estimated to have lost half a trillion (USD) to corruption since her independence, and more than half of the country is estimated to have first-hand experience paying bribes or influence peddling.

For nearly half a century, citizens of India have been trying to combat corruption with everything from demonstrations, candlelight vigils, and protest marches to proposed legislation. The bill most favored by anti-corruption advocates, the Jan Lokpal Bill (the citizens' ombudsman bill), was proposed ten times since 1968 without success.

In late 2010 to early 2011, Indian citizens received a flurry of corruption revelations, among them a cash-for-votes scandal leaked by Wikileaks which revealed bribery of MPs to support a 2008 vote of confidence that the government narrowly survived; a multibillion dollar telecommunications licensing scam; a scam involving retired senior military officials and relatives of senior politicians taking apartments intended for war widows in Mumbai; substantial financial irregularities related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games hosted by India; and a multibillion dollar mining scandal in the state of Karnataka. Then, in early March of 2011, the head of India’s anticorruption watchdog was forced to resign amid corruption charges of his own.

As frustration over corruption increased across the country, the government set up a committee of ministers to draft an anticorruption bill. But prominent social activist Anna Hazare, 72, was not satisfied. He decided to travel to New Delhi, and, on 4 April 2011, held a press conference to voice his disappointment that the prime minister had not included leading civil society members on the committee.

More importantly, Hazare announced his intention to go on a hunger strike until the government enacted anti-corruption legislation, a fast that began on 5 April, the following day.

On 6 April, supporters held a candlelight vigil in Delhi, and another group of anti-corruption activists held a sit-in at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Lucknow. The following day, dozens of protesters marched in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore to call for reform. Within two days, almost 200 people had joined the fast with Hazare at the Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, and various high profile Indians voiced their support of his cause, including Bollywood star Aamir Khan, retired police officer Kiran Bedi, social reformist Swami Agnivesh, and former cricketer Kapil Dev.

By 8 April, over 2,000 supporters had flocked to the observatory, and the government announced that it would agree to Hazare’s demands that the draft committee be composed of a 50-50 split between politicians and activists, with co-chairs rather than an individual politician in charge. On Saturday, after 96 hours, Hazare ended his victorious fast with a sip of lemonade.

Two months and seven meetings later, the two sides of the committee appeared deadlocked, with the civil society members reporting that the politicians were seeking to severely limit the power of the Lokpal (ombudsman). As a result of this stalemate, Hazare announced that he would resume his fast on 16 August.

In early July, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that the government would be proposing an anti-corruption bill for the next session of Parliament, which would begin in August. However, as details began to emerge about the proposed law, civil society members became dissatisfied. The government was refusing to include the prime minister and senior judiciary officials under the purview of the ombudsman, and, as a result, Hazare referred to the bill as a “cruel joke,” and again insisted he would recommence his hunger strike in August.

On 4 August the Indian Parliament took up the anti-corruption bill, but numerous online polls revealed that thousands of Indians preferred Hazare’s version of the ombudsman bill to the government’s proposed bill. In addition to including the prime minister and senior judges under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, Hazare’s bill also proposed to allow the ombudsman to investigate low ranking government officials (the government wanted to limit investigations to senior officials), called for separate ombudsman in every state (the government argued the states’ are already able to do so at their discretion), and would enable the ombudsman to investigate members of parliament accused of taking bribes to vote or ask questions in the parliament (the government said such investigations can only be done by parliamentarians themselves).

The day before Hazare was set to resume his hunger strike, Prime Minister Singh warned that the strike would be unhelpful in fighting corruption, and the police announced it would impose twenty-two conditions on the protest, including a three day limit to the fast and a limit of 4,000 to 5,000 supporters at JP Park (the planned site of the fast), arguing that it was an issue of law and order.

Hazare made clear that he intended to defy the prohibitions, and, just hours before his fast was scheduled to begin, he was arrested and detained for allegedly breaching the peace.

As news of his arrest spread, thousands of supporters across India came out to protest the arrest, with 1,300 activists eventually being arrested by police in Delhi. Officials planned to hold Hazare for a week, but within hours of his arrest, the government offered to release him. However, he decided to go on hunger strike in the prison and refused to leave until the police guaranteed his fast against corruption. The day after his arrest, 17 August, the government was widely condemned by the Indian press for the detention, and tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, and elsewhere to show their support for Hazare, while hundreds more held a candlelight vigil outside of his prison.

The next day, the government capitulated, agreeing to allow Hazare and his supporters to strike in public for fifteen days. On Friday, 19 August, Hazare met thousands of supporters at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi to begin his fast, while protesters across the country demonstrated in support, including all 5,000 dabbawallahs (tiffin carriers) who went on strike for the first time in their history.

(Note on tiffin carriers: Tiffin is an old-fashioned English word for lunch, and these carriers deliver freshly cooked lunches from workers’ residences to their offices, and then return the empty boxes back to the customers’ residences. Their efficiency and logistics are so renowned that American business schools, including Harvard, have researched their business model. Their reputation for unparalleled reliability, which has garnered them recognition from Forbes Magazine, the Guinness Book of World Records, the BBC, CNN, and others, is what makes their decision to strike so significant.)

By 22 August the government agreed to enter discussions with Hazare and his team, but on the 25th talks broke down and a disappointed Hazare urged supporters to protest at the Prime Minister’s house.

Three days later, after nine hours of debate, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced a “sense of the House” resolution had been adopted by Parliament, demonstrating the MPs support for Hazare’s proposals. Though the actual Jan Lokpal Bill did not go to a vote, Hazare was given assurances of support by the government, and he subsequently decided to end his hunger strike after twelve days.

The momentum of mass participation in the campaign, inspired by Hazare's fast, continued after the direct action campaign was largely completed. According to the Press Trust of India, the Lokpal bill was one of the most widely discussed and debated bills in India in recent times. Time Magazine called the campaign among the "Top 10 News Stories of 2011."

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill of 2011 was passed by Parliament's lower house soon after Hazare discontinued his hunger strike, 27 December. This bill was a watered-down version of the campaigners' preferred bill. It was then referred to the upper house where enormous resistance arose even to this compromise version. The upper house finally passed the bill on 17 December 2013, which was then ratified by the lower house the next day.

The journey begun in 1968 to create a people's ombudsman to attack corruption finally got its result with formal governmental assent on 1 January 2014.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Anna Hazare has drawn great influence from the nonviolent actions of Mohandas Gandhi, who also, famously, carried out hunger strikes.TTh

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Additional Notes: 
Ongoing Campaign (Oct. 2012)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Thomas Fortuna, (01/12/2011), updated by George Lakey 8/20/14.