What are India's Anna Hazare protests all about?
Mr. Hazare wants his proposed anticorruption agency to have police and prosecution powers over the entire government. The government wants it only to be advisory.
Thousands of protesters converged in New Delhi and other Indian cities Tuesday demanding the creation of an independent and powerful agency to prosecute corruption. The cause appears to be gaining momentum, posing a significant challenge to the weakening government.Skip to next paragraph
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Leading the charge is Anna Hazare, an elderly activist who began an "indefinite" fast today. The government detained him along with thousands of his supporters, many of whom voluntarily boarded police buses.
“This is a revolution. This is a new beginning. These people in government are burglars,” says C.P. Thakur, a lawyer who joined the street marches, which included young and old, mostly middle class Indians.
Some of the activists are ambitiously reaching for the mantle of the Arab Spring or Mahatma Gandhi’s independence struggle. But the debate hinges on ideas that would be more at home in the Federalist Papers, such as separation of powers and checks and balances.
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Mr. Hazare wants the proposed anticorruption agency, known as Lokpal, to have police and prosecution powers over every level and branch of government. The government wants to restrict Lokpal to making recommendations, and to exempt judges, parliamentarians, and the prime minister.
Hazare’s vision not only unnerves officials, but also some academics and activists concerned with the amount of power it would invest in an unelected body.
“When you have to deal with a local policeman, he has a stick to beat you. Now you have a bigger guy with a bigger stick to watch over him – but now you have to deal with him too,” says Usha Ramanathan, a legal researcher. “I don’t want to give anyone that kind of power.”
The street protesters, however, clearly want a little more stick applied to the pervasive problem of corruption.
Examples of frustration
One protester, a retired colonel named J.P. Bhatia, gave an example from his own life. A faulty electricity meter at his home is overcharging him by more than $100 every month. He complained to the government engineer, who confirmed the problem and ordered it fixed in April – but it remains broken.
“Everywhere there is bureaucratic delay to extract money,” he says.