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Anna Hazare breaks fast, renews faith in people power [VIDEO]

Mr. Hazare broke his fast Sunday after India's Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution supporting new anticorruption legislation. The victory is boosting the hopes of citizen activists.

By Staff writer / August 28, 2011

A child, Simran, wearing a traditional Indian cap bearing the words: "I am Anna", offers coconut water and honey to veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare to end his fast at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi, Sunday.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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New Delhi

After successfully forcing the Indian government to support sweeping anticorruption legislation, activist Anna Hazare broke a 12-day fast Sunday that expanded the space for citizen participation in the world’s largest democracy.

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On a stage before tens of thousands, Mr. Hazare drank from a metal cup of coconut water and honey held by two children. The crowd at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds erupted in cheers, music played, and victory marches touched off across the country.

“This is your victory. This is the fruit of your work,” Hazare said.

Hazare agreed to eat food after Parliament passed a nonbinding “sense of the house” resolution Saturday night supporting his team’s three key demands. Lawmakers expressed their support by thumping their desks – not voting individually. A lot of wiggle room remains in the process of bringing this bill into law, which is why Hazare wants demonstrations to continue.

Citizen activists inspired

Regardless of the final outcome of the anticorruption law, Hazare has shown the tens of thousands of Indians who turned out to demonstrate peacefully that they can have a strong voice. Citizen participation in India’s democracy has heretofore been mostly limited to periodic voting and political party sloganeering.

“This has been the first time when people in such large numbers come out on the streets. Until now, if ever, only parties have been able to bring people out,” says Anil Bairwal with the Association for Democratic Reforms, an electoral reform group that also supported the anticorruption movement.

“We have to wait and see how many of these people will continue to be a part of this movement,” he adds.

Some of the demonstrators at Ramlila say they intend to stay involved.

A village medicine man named Ram Krishna Tripathi says he will go village to village to teach people about the pending anticorruption law.

How the 'Lokpal' bill could make a difference

The Lokpal (ombudsman) bill will set up an independent agency that can receive citizen complaints about corrupt officials.

“I will not only tell people in every village how to use the Lokpal [proposed independent ombudsman body] as a weapon against corruption, but I will also try to mobilize young people in village to help other register their complaints,” says Mr. Tripathi.

Such grassroots activism has been seen before after the passage of the Right to Information Act in 2005.

Activists have taught many ordinary citizens how to file applications to get information from officials. That uncovered much petty corruption, especially the pocketing of welfare money by officials.

But helplessness also crept in: Just having the information wasn’t enough to fix problems. The Lokpal would become an ombudsman agency to redress those wrongs.

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