India in uproar after anti-corruption activist detained

16.08.2011 - New Delhi - Radio Netherlands

Hundreds of Hazare supporters gathered outside the building as he was driven away in an unmarked car, shouting slogans of support for him and his campaign to pressure the government into strengthening a new anti-corruption law.

In a pre-recorded message that predicted the day’s drama and exhorted Indians to join his peaceful cause, he asked: *”Will this movement be stopped by my arrest? No, not at all. Do not let it happen.*

*”This fight for change which has begun, we will take it forward on the path of non-violence as long as there is life in the body. Thank you. Victory to Mother India!”* he concluded.

Police said they had detained hundreds of other activists including Kiran Bedi, a former senior female police officer who is a key backer of Hazare.

Supporters said Hazare, a devotee of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, had begun his fast while in detention but police declined to confirm the reports.

*”We are holding Hazare in preventive detention until this evening and then we shall decide what to do with him,”* police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP.

The political opposition accused authorities of an *”absolutely undemocratic”* act and the arrest sparked furious protests in the national parliament, which was adjourned for the day.

Corruption has crept up the agenda in fast-developing India after a series of scandals, notably a telecom licence scam that is thought to have cost the country up to $39 billion in lost revenue.

In June, police halted another anti-corruption hunger strike in Delhi when officers broke up a protest by yoga guru Swami Ramdev that had attracted national headlines.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Washington counted on India *”to exercise appropriate democratic restraint”* when handling of anti-corruption protests.

India rejected the statement as *”needless”* and said its constitution guaranteed freedom of expression.

Zoya Hassan, a politics professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, told AFP that Hazare’s detention was a *”violation of basic liberties”*.

*”It’s a bumpy road ahead,”* she predicted. *”The civil society activists have significant middle-class support and they have ample media support. The detention will cause a lot of unrest.”*

In April, Hazare staged a 98-hour hunger strike that led to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government allowing him and his supporters to help draft a new anti-corruption law, called the “Lokpal” bill.

The bill, since introduced in parliament, creates a new ombudsman tasked with investigating and prosecuting politicians and bureaucrats, but Hazare wants the prime minister and higher judiciary to come under scrutiny.

Arguing that his recommendations had been ignored, Hazare had planned to begin a second hunger strike on Tuesday.

Police banned the protest, saying that the park was available for only three days and that Hazare had not given an undertaking to limit his fast to that time and ensure no more than 5,000 supporters attended.

Information Minister Ambika Soni said Hazare should have accepted conditions set by the police. *”No one is above the law,”* she told reporters.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist group that leads the political opposition in India, described Hazare’s detention as an *”instigation to aggression”*.

*”It’s a bizarre and thoughtless act on the part of the government. It is absolutely undemocratic,”* party spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy told AFP.

Hazare, a life-long bachelor who wears simple, white home-spun cotton, is a social conservative who dreams of an India centred around self-sufficient villages — much like his hero Gandhi.

The strict traditionalist has also adopted the hunger strike, used to great effect by India’s father of the nation against the British colonial leaders, as his weapon in campaigns to pressure officials.

Categories: Asia, International, Politics


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