Police in India Make Arrests to Halt Anna Hazare Hunger Strike

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Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. India's leading anti-corruption activist was taken to jail today. Anna Hazare was later ordered released, but he refuses to leave. Hazare was arrested this morning just as he was about to start a well-publicized hunger strike against government corruption in India. And his campaign has caught on with Indians who are fed up with back to back scandals. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder is in Delhi.

Sanjoy Majumder: Well, for several months now Anna Hazare has been campaigning very hard on the issue of corruption. Now, this is something that many Indians identify with, from the smallest service to some of the biggest scandals everything in this country involves paying a bribe. Whether it's trying to get a drivers license, a new passport, the amounts could be small, the amounts could be spectacular if it involves a massive government contract. The fact is almost everyone has experienced it, which is why the scent of disgust is so high. Now, Mr. Hazare has been campaigning for new legislation to make it much difficult or much tougher for people to be corrupt, especially those holding high office. And the governments refuse to concede this point. They've tried to bring in new legislation, but Mr. Hazare says whatever they're trying to do is simply not strong enough.

Mullins: He kind of postures himself as sort of a modern day Gandhi, he was arrested just before going on a hunger strike. He wears this white shirt, hat and glasses. Is this kind of an intentional parallel that he's drawing?

Majumder: Well, even if it is not intentional I think it's a parallel that has already been made and that he's quite aware of. It's not just the way he looks, but also the method in his protests. Gandhi was the one who started hunger strikes and passive non-resistance, that was his tool against the colonial British empire. That is exactly what Mr. Hazare has tried to do. There were a lot of demonstrations that took place, not just here in Delhi, but across the country. Many people were arrested, but no one was throwing rocks at the police, no one was resisting arrest forcefully.

Mullins: Sanjoy, one more thing, what's the Indian government doing when it's arresting those people who are suspected of corruption and those people who are against corruption? I mean, what does it have to gain?

Majumder: Well, the sense that most people get is that the government is panicking. The fact that the government's attempt at arresting him was to try in some ways to nip it in the bud before it got out of hand has already backfired because every time Mr. Hazare takes a march out in public he's able to garner widespread public opinion. A lot of the people have come out you know, not necessarily as big supporters of Mr. Hazare, they're just ordinary Indians -- young people, old people, people from middle class communities, people from poorer communities, and a lot of women. It's a cross section of Indians who just believe that what happened today was shameful and they're making sure the government has heard them.

Mullins: All right, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi. Thank you very much, Sanjoy.

Majumder: Okay, thank you.