India parliament debates flagship anti-corruption law

AFP , Tuesday 17 Dec 2013

Indian Parliament
An Indian national flag flutters on top of the Indian parliament building in New Delhi (Image: Reuters)

India's parliament began debate Tuesday on a long-delayed law to combat graft, with both main parties backing the bill after the stunning showing by a new anti-corruption party in its electoral debut.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the government was "hopeful" of finally passing the bill, which has won rare support from both the governing Congress and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"We are hopeful that the bill will be passed by parliament today," Nath told reporters outside parliament in New Delhi.

The flagship legislation passed the lower house of parliament back in 2011 after a mass movement against India's endemic corruption spurred the ruling Congress-led coalition government into action.

But the bill failed to pass the upper house amid political divisions and chaos, in a major blow to Congress, itself embroiled in a string of graft scandals, and keen to signal its intentions to fight corruption.

Under the so-called Lokpal Bill, an independent ombudsman would be created with powers to investigate and prosecute public officials including ministers for graft.

"We want it (Lokpal Bill) passed after discussion. We are for the Lokpal," said BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad after a parliamentary party meeting.

MPs from Samajwadi Party, a regional party and an ally of Congress, walked out of the parliament in protest, saying they opposed the bill.

Renewed support for the bill comes after civil servant turned corruption fighter Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party trounced Congress in state polls in Delhi this month in a key test ahead of general elections due by May.

Kejriwal pushed Congress into a distant third place, and even deprived the BJP of a majority in Delhi, underlining his potential to damage both of India's main parties when the country goes to the polls next year.

Kejriwal, who campaigned on a promise of cleaning up dirty politics, was a key member of the grass-roots movement that demanded the tough law back in 2011.

The campaign was spearheaded by activist Anna Hazare who led countrywide protests that tapped into a rich seam of public anger at India's corruption and caught Congress unawares.

Hazare was Tuesday into the eighth day of a hunger strike to push for the bill's passing, a successful move back in 2011 when his 12-day fast led to its introduction into parliament.

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