India’s PM: Hazare’s Hunger Strike Undemocratic

Posted August 17th, 2011 at 3:50 am (UTC-5)
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has dismissed the hunger strike undertaken by a leading anti-corruption activist in a New Delhi prison as an unacceptable attempt to undermine the country's democracy.

In a speech to parliament Wednesday, Prime Minister Singh said Anna Hazare's protest may be inspired by high ideals, but that Hazare cannot be allowed to force lawmakers to sign his own version of anti-corruption legislation.

Indian police placed Hazare and over 1,000 of his followers in “preventative custody” on Tuesday, after they refused to stop a planned protest and hunger strike in a public park aimed at convincing India's government to pass tougher anti-corruption laws.

On Tuesday night, police allowed Hazare to leave, but he refused, saying he would continue his indefinite fast behind bars until authorities allowed the event to take place without restrictions.

Police had banned the protest, saying Hazare would not agree to limit the participants to 5,000 people or limit the strike to three days.

The 74-year-old Hazare wants India's parliament to adopt tougher anti-corruption legislation. Earlier this month, Mr. Singh's ruling Congress party introduced an anti-corruption bill in parliament that would create a civil organization, or lokpal, with the powers to investigate ministers and bureaucrats.

But Hazare rejected the bill and called for parliament to pass his own version, saying it would do more to hold the prime minister and judicial branch accountable.

In a statement released after his detention, Hazare vowed to continue the protest movement, telling supporters that the “second freedom struggle” had begun. He also urged them to keep the movement non-violent.

Hundreds of Hazare's supporters have gathered in protest outside the prison, as well as in towns across India.

Popular outrage over corruption in India has grown steadily over the past year as reports of one high-profile corruption scandal after another have made headlines in national media. They include the sale of telecommunications licenses at below market value and numerous financial irregularities in India's hosting of last year's Commonwealth Games.