Indians look to model village for anti-graft inspiration

Mon Jun 27, 2011 4:11am EDT
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By Paul de Bendern

RALEGAN SIDDHI, India (Reuters) - Clad in white home-spun garments and living in a spartan room of his village's Hindu temple, Anna Hazare is an unlikely thorn in the side of the government hundreds of miles away in New Delhi.

And yet for millions of Indians, he is a 21st-century Mahatma Gandhi, inspiring a rare wave of protests against the spiraling corruption that has tarnished the up-and-coming image of Asia's third-largest economy.

Like Gandhi, who led India's independence movement through peaceful resistance, Hazare plans to go on a hunger strike -- unto death if necessary -- to press his cause. He says his fast from August 16 will continue until the government passes a tough anti-graft law that has already been decades in the making.

Hazare rose to fame for lifting Ralegan Siddhi, a once-obscure village nestled in the hills of the western state of Maharashtra, out of grinding poverty.

The question for many is whether his activism will grow from its humble beginnings across the fast-urbanizing nation of 1.2 billion people whose middle class is fed up with constant bribes, poor basic services and unaccountable leaders.

All the signs are that it will. Spontaneous protests have mushroomed across the country in recent months and, unusually, they have been driven by young and old, rich and poor.

Indians of all walks of life are tired of reading news reports of officials with meager salaries caught with bags full of cash or registered as owners of multi-million-dollar homes.

"When people exhaust their capacity for tolerance, then you should take it that it is a beginning of some kind of revolution," 73-year-old Hazare told Reuters in an interview from his village, shaking a raised index finger.   Continued...

<p>Veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare clasps his hands together as he greets supporters after arriving for his hunger strike at Rajghat in New Delhi, June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash</p>