Indian activists report no progress on anti-corruption law

August 24, 2011

India’s anti-corruption campaigners reported no progress toward crafting a strong anti-graft law after meeting with government officials Wednesday, even as an activist entered the ninth day of his hunger strike.

Anna Hazare, 74, is fasting to force the government to create a powerful ombudsman to curb corruption.

“Unfortunately, we have to report that we are back to square one,” said Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer and activist involved in the meetings. “We will have to start virtually from scratch again if discussions are to be resumed.”

After the talks with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, another aide of Hazare’s, Kiran Bedi, said the government’s attitude had changed.

“Yesterday they were listening to us respectfully,” she said. “Today, they were angry.”

Earlier Wednesday, Hazare spoke before thousands of restive, flag-waving protesters at a park in New Delhi, where he is fasting.

“If they take me away, I want you to protest outside Parliament, surround lawmakers, get arrested,” he said. “All of you must fill the jails.”

Doctors attending Hazare said his blood pressure and heart rate were stable.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government introduced a bill in Parliament this month authorizing an ombudsman. But Hazare called the legislation weak and set an Aug. 30 deadline to replace it with a new bill drafted by anti-graft activists.

The government has sent the activists’ draft to a parliamentary panel for review, but it has not withdrawn its own version. Officials said they also plan to create a new bill and have asked for input from the activists.

The anti-graft campaign snowballed into a massive movement after a string of big-ticket corruption scandals that have come to light since October. Several politicians and businessmen have been jailed in connection with the scandals.

The campaign also has triggered a wider debate in India about protesters using blackmailing methods that undermine Parliament’s power to enact laws.

Dozens of protesters interviewed in recent days have argued that they want a deeper engagement with democracy and want to go beyond voting in elections.

But critics warn that this is a slippery slope.

“If you are dissatisfied with Parliament, the solution is not to assume the role of lawmaker,” said A.P. Shah, a retired judge. “If the government accepts Hazare’s demand today, what stops another charismatic leader from doing the same on other laws tomorrow? It sets a very dangerous precedent for our idea of democracy.”

Rama Lakshmi has been with The Post's India bureau since 1990. She is a staff writer and India social media editor for Post World.
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