Crusader Forces State Ministers to Resign
RALEGAN SIDDHI, India (AP) _ Surviving on a glass of fruit juice a day, social activist Anna Hazare sat down on a cotton mat in a spartan Hindu temple and quietly went to war.
Just over a week later, the retired soldier savored the first victory of his campaign against corruption in government. Two ministers of the state government of Maharashtra announced their resignations Thursday, pending an investigation into Hazare’s allegations of bribery.
But Hazare, 59, wasn’t satisfied with the result of his fast, which began Nov. 20. ``It’s not a question of two ministers. It’s about the system that needs to be improved,″ he said.
On Saturday, he told a large group of supporters who have thronged to this village 135 miles southeast of Bombay that he will begin a state-wide corruption crusade on Dec. 6 _ by ambulance if needed.
This is the third time since 1991 that Hazare has gone on a hunger strike to win concessions from the government. His efforts to help the local people have given him more credibility than the distant state government.
Since 1975, Hazare has worked in this drought-prone region of western India teaching farmers water management and soil conservation methods. He has helped 70 villages and the government hopes to involve 300 more villages.
``Everyone is talking about him. If he asks me to take his protest to the streets or roam the villages with him, I will,″ said homemaker Manju Jadhav, 39, who traveled 60 miles to pay tribute to Hazare.
Hazare himself likens his protests to those of Mahatma Gandhi, whose peaceful resistance led to India’s independence 49 years ago. He even wears the simple Indian wrap, or dhoti, made famous by Gandhi.
``I want to remind people of their dreams. Once again, the time has come to sacrifice and go to jail,″ he told The Associated Press.
Led by crusaders like Hazare and an increasingly active judiciary, scandals and corruption are being exposed and prosecuted at every level of government, including the federal cabinet.
In New Delhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, India’s prime minister for five years until May, faces three criminal trials. Dozens of former cabinet ministers, state government officials and senior bureaucrats have been indicted for bribery and illegal foreign currency dealings or are under investigation for alleged swindles of hundreds of millions of dollars from public projects.
In Bombay, Hazare has submitted documented allegations of 400 cases of corruption by the right-wing coalition government of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena party.
Among other charges, he alleges that Shashikant Sutar, the agriculture minister, and Mahadev Shivankar, the irrigation minister, took bribes from $1,400 to $10,500 to transfer government officials to lucrative posts.
During his latest hunger strike, more than 10,000 people have streamed into Ralegan Siddhi to support Hazare and touch his feet in an ancient Indian gesture of reverence.
The public support for Hazare clearly worries the government. ``We are in a fix,″ said Prakash Jawadekar, a government emissary. ``The masses seem to be listening only to Hazare.″