Indian anti-corruption activist ends hunger strike

August 28, 2011 - 1:25 AM
India Corruption Protest

Congress party leader Vilasrao Deshmukh, right, presents a letter by the Indian Prime Minister to India's anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare with assurance that both houses of Parliament passed a resolution supporting three points raised by him on the 12th day of his hunger strike against corruption in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. India's Parliament expressed non-binding support for a series of anti-corruption proposals on Saturday in the hopes that would be enough to persuade the reform activist to end his hunger strike.(AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian reform activist whose protest galvanized the nation's anger against corruption ended his 12-day hunger strike Sunday after forcing Parliament to throw its weight behind his crusade.

Seventy-four-year-old Anna Hazare accepted a glass of coconut water and honey from a 5-year-old girl as thousands of supporters cheered him on, waving Indian flags, chanting "long live India" and singing patriotic songs.

"This is your victory. This is the fruit of your work in the last 13 days," Hazare told the crowd, filled with supporters wearing the white cloth caps, reminiscent of India's independence leaders, that have become the protests' signature.

Hazare was expected to be hospitalized later in the day.

Hazare began his fast Aug. 16 demanding Parliament pass his sweeping proposal to create a powerful anti-corruption ombudsman to police everyone from the prime minister to the lowest village bureaucrat.

The government, miscalculating the popularity of his anti-graft message, briefly arrested him to quash his protest, a move that sent tens of thousands of his angry supporters pouring into the streets across the country.

Hazare, who claims inspiration from liberation icon Mohandas K. Gandhi, eventually was given access to a fairground in the capital, New Delhi, which attracted tens of thousands of protesters from India's growing middle class fed up with paying bribes for everything from getting a driver's license to enrolling a child in nursery school.

"People are suffering from corruption and there seems to be no end," said Prabhat Tiwari, a 25-year-old businessman who came to the protest ground every day for a week.

As the protest dragged on, and Hazare's weight plunged, government ministers and protest leaders haggled over how to end their standoff.

Officials said Hazare's draft bill — which would put the prime minister, judiciary and state bureaucrats under the ombudsman — was unconstitutional and branded his methods as parliamentary blackmail. The protesters complained that the government's own bill was toothless and would do nothing to battle corruption.

In the end, Parliament held a nine-hour debate Saturday that ended with a nonbinding "sense of the house" expressing support for some of his demands: committing to greater transparency and including low-level bureaucrats and state officials under the watchdog's purview.

Just before Hazare broke his fast Sunday, one of his aides led the gathered crowds in a pledge: "I take an oath that in my life I will never take a bribe, nor will I give a bribe."