Why India's Corruption Fight Is Just Beginning

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Manan Vatsyayana / AFP / Getty Images

Anticorruption activist Anna Hazare breaks his fast on the 13th day of his hunger strike in New Delhi on Aug. 28, 2011

Antigraft activist Anna Hazare broke his hunger strike Sunday morning after the Indian government conceded to his demands. Hazare, a veteran advocate for social justice, was campaigning for a strong anticorruption (Lokpal) bill with three specific components. On Saturday evening, 12 days into the high-profile fast, the Indian Parliament unanimously passed a resolution accepting each of his requests, sparking celebrations across the country. Thousands of people gathered to witness Hazare breaking his fast, cheering as the 74-year-old sipped coconut water. Looking jubilant and surrounded by equally elated-looking aides, Hazare said his movement has "created a faith that the country can be rid of corruption."

Hazare's fast has indeed captured the imagination of thousands of ordinary Indians, uniting people to fight for, rather than against, a law. By initially arresting the activist, the government only fueled the people's passion for his cause. Even as Hazare's supporters celebrate, however, it's clear this is only the beginning of what promises to be a long, complicated campaign. "A lot of factors go into the making of corruption, therefore what is required is a long, painstaking multilevel addressing of the issue," says Yogendra Yadav, a senior fellow with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Indeed, while the government has promised a legislation within one month, federal Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said categorically in his opening statement that, while Hazare's demand were important, they would be weighed for their "practicability, implementability and constitutionality" by a parliamentary committee. Team Anna is wary of their resolve. "We are not convinced about the intent of the government," says Prashant Bhushan, one of the architects of the movement and a close Hazare aide. "We hope they have understood that there is enormous public sentiment behind the Lokpal bill."

If and when the bill passes, the matter will then move to the state level, where public pressure may be equally intense. "Whichever state defies the legislation or goes against the common man's interest is likely to face an opposition, is likely to face civil society, is likely to face a people's movement," said Kiran Bedi, another Hazare aid. "Any delay in its implementation will certainly galvanize people again." Observers like Yadav say the debate could be good for Indian democracy. "We might actually witness something of a competition among political parties to demonstrate that they want a stronger bill and that indeed will be a very healthy competition," Yadav says.

Activist Aruna Roy, whose version of the anticorruption bill is also under review, had called Hazare's version of the bill "impractical and complicated." In an editorial in the Hindu, author and activist Arundhati Roy called Hazare's version of the bill "draconian." Others note that India already has anticorruption laws, as well as several government bodies charged with implementing them. Ultimately, cleansing the country of corruption may take more than a new law. "There are no simple solutions," said Rahul Gandhi, acting head of the Congress Party. "To eradicate corruption demands a far deeper engagement and sustained commitment from each one of us."