Anna Hazare's anticorruption fast forces legitimacy crisis for India's government
Anticorruption activist Anna Hazare’s apparent willingness to fast indefinitely, puts a literal deadline on the issue of corruption in India and pressure on India's government to act.
In Pictures Anna Hazare protests
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Talks between Mr. Hazare’s team and the government broke down Wednesday night. Under normal circumstances, delay would help the government given the usual tendency for street protests to die out. Successive Indian governments have avoided passing Lokpal (ombudsman) anticorruption bills for four decades now.
But Hazare’s fast puts a literal deadline on the issue. As long as Hazare is willing to die, his declining health will force the government to arrest and feed him or – worse – be blamed for his death. Either way, the Indian government would face a legitimacy crisis given Hazare’s mass support.
IN PICTURES: Anna Hazare protests
Most protest fasts are not this powerful. One protester against a draconian police law in northeastern India has been “fasting” for 10 years as the government has been force-feeding her. Another protester died while fasting to fight pollution in the holy river Ganges before receiving much notice.
The right stuff for a movement
“There are three factors in a democracy to get mobilization: Money, membership, and legitimacy," and Hazare’s movement has all three, says Ashok Swain, professor of peace and conflict research at Sweden’s Uppsala University. “That is what has made it, with the combination of Anna’s charisma.”
Most Indians are upset with corruption, so the movement has legitimacy.
The leadership also includes the right membership for mass appeal. Another anticorruption crusader Baba Ramdev failed to draw widespread support because of his circle’s links to right-wing Hindu groups. Hazare’s lieutenants, by contrast, are mostly nonpolitical leaders who have developed followings after years of activism and social work.
And as for money, says Professor Swain, the movement’s middle class following ensures funding.
'He has made his point.'
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government appears flustered by the tens of thousands of protesters and the pressure tactic of the fast.
“He has made his point. It has been registered with us,” Mr. Singh said before Parliament today. “I applaud you, I salute you, and his life is much too precious. And therefore I would urge Sri Anna Hazare to end his fast.”