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Anti-corruption Campaign Grows Wider

NEW DELHI, Aug. 16 (UPI) — India’s government faced a dilemma Wednesday as the arrested leader of a popular anti-corruption campaign refused to leave the New Delhi jail, authorities said.

Social activist and Mahatama Gandhi follower Anna Hazare, 74, arrested Tuesday morning before his planned hunger strike to seek a tougher “Jan Lokpal,” or citizens’ ombudsman bill against graft, stayed in jail overnight even though capital police had decided to release him and several of his other supporters.

The Hazare anti-corruption movement has gained nationwide support as the coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been hit by a number of huge corruption scandals and allegations of high-level graft, even as the economy faces serious problems including high inflation and rising food prices. Singh personally, however, has not been affected by any of these allegations.

Proceedings have been seriously disrupted in the Indian Parliament, where several critical economic and other reform bills are pending.

It is in this environment the movement led by the simple, austere Hazare has gained momentum among masses irate over what they see as government’s failure to crack down on various social ills. Hazare was taken to New Delhi’s Tihar Jail but the government, facing rising public protest, changed its mind late Tuesday, leading local police to decide to release him.

Various reports said Hazare, who had begun his hunger strike in the jail, refused to leave unless he was allowed to continue his fast in a capital park.

“The need of the hour is to avoid any confrontation and the unnecessary law and order problem,” a senior ruling party official said while commenting on the decision to release Hazare, the Hindustan Times reported, adding the government was trying to make the best of the situation.

The Calcutta Telegraph reported the panicked government was groping for options amid a determined political opposition and an emboldened anti-corruption upsurge.

The Washington Post said with the arrest of Hazare and hundreds of his activist followers, the public debate now is not so much about corruption as the right to protest in the world’s largest democracy, with senior government officials private conceding the Hazare issue had been mishandled.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

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