India anti-corruption activist Hazare holds symbolic fast

AP , Sunday 11 Dec 2011

A popular anti-corruption activist ramped up pressure on India's government for strong measures to fight graft by staging a brief symbolic fast in the capital

Anna Hazare
Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, 74, sits at a day long fast, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011.(Photo: AP)

Surrounded by thousands of flag-waving supporters, Anna Hazare was holding a seven-hour fast to demand sweeping legislation to end India's culture of corruption, in which bribes are paid for everything from health care to marriage certificates.

"My fast has begun. I will not speak much now," Hazare told his cheering fans gathered around the stage where he sat with about a dozen politicians discussing the bill. Later, he told the politicians they could take protests "to the streets" if the government rejects their suggestions in drafting a strong bill.

"The people are here with us," he said. "We will ensure that no jail in the country remains empty, such will be our campaign."

The governing Congress Party did not send a representative to join Hazare's on-stage political meeting, and instead it questioned the wisdom of debating legislation outside Parliament.

"Laws cannot be made" at a New Delhi protest site, Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi said, adding that Hazare had made his views known and was now "insulting Parliament." Critics have called Hazare's campaign intolerant of dissenting views.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, has called an all-party meeting for Wednesday aimed at reaching a political consensus before introducing an anti-corruption bill Dec. 19, but so far Hazare and the main opposition have criticized the government's working draft as too weak. They want the bill to put low-level bureaucrats as well as the prime minister under an anti-graft watchdog.

"The government has given nothing substantial," Hazare aide Kiran Bedi told the protesters Sunday.

Hazare — a former army truck driver who now fashions himself after pacifist freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi — is seen by many as India's greatest hope for confronting official corruption. His 12-day hunger strike in August drew tens of thousands of adoring supporters and forced a seemingly remote Parliament to put the issue on its agenda.

He has called his campaign a second freedom fight in a country where top officials are regularly embroiled in scandals even as hundreds of millions of people are trapped in poverty. He also held a five-day fast in April that forced the government to include him in a committee drafting a bill.

But Hazare has also drawn critics and skeptics who say his populist campaign unfairly vilifies elected officials while holding them hostage to his demands. They have also questioned Hazare's pacifist commitment given his advocacy of corporal punishment for alcoholics and his recent call that the agriculture minister receive "just one slap."

"His methods are not Gandhian," the liberation icon's great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, told Press Trust of India, noting that there is talk "about beating up and hitting people."

Before beginning Sunday's fast, Hazare visited Gandhi's memorial in New Delhi to meditate, surrounded by clamoring TV reporters and rolling cameras.

Hazare has threatened an indefinite fast if legislation is not passed by the end of the parliamentary session on Dec. 22.

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