Indian PM Defends Anti-Graft Bill Despite Activist’s Hunger Strike

Posted December 27th, 2011 at 1:10 pm (UTC-5)
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India's prime minister is defending a landmark anti-corruption bill, in the face of heated debate in parliament and ever-growing public frustration.

Critics say the legislation does not go far enough to weed out India's rampant corruption. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cast aside those concerns, saying the bill “lives up to the promise” lawmakers have made to the Indian people.

Anti-corruption activists are pushing for the creation of an oversight agency to investigate and prosecute politicians suspected of graft. But Mr. Singh warned that officials with such an agency may themselves not be accountable to anyone.

Earlier, opposition leader Sushma Swaraj charged the proposed corruption watchdog would be under the control of the government.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, thousands of protesters gathered to cheer on veteran Indian activist Anna Hazare as he embarked on a fresh public hunger strike to protest the legislation.

Hazare has called the legislation “toothless,” saying it will not do enough to tackle rampant corruption. The 74-year-old Hazare insists the country's federal police – the Central Bureau of Investigation – need to be placed under jurisdiction of the watchdog agency.

Despite the objections, India's Congress-led government says it has enough support to pass the bill during the three-day extended session of the lower house of parliament (the Lok Sobha).

Hazare, who claims inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi, held a similar 12-day fast in August to protest an earlier draft of the legislation. The strike helped stoke public anger against what is seen as widespread corruption in Indian society, bringing millions of Indians onto the streets across the country.

Rishi, an organizer of the latest fast, says his group is preparing for tens of thousands of protesters to show solidarity with Hazare in Mumbai.

“The preparations started two days ago. The carpeting area in the front can accommodate 15,000 people who will come here to support it.”

Hazare's critics say his methods go outside the bounds of India's democratic system, saying he is forcing his political views on parliament.

“It is the job of the parliament to make the legislations. We had several rounds of discussions with Shri Anna Hazare and his team,” says India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, “We know their viewpoints, but it is for the parliament to decide what would be the final shape of the legislations.”