India’s leader urges Anna Hazare to end hunger strike


Doctors check on the health of India's anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare on the eighth day of his hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (Saurabh Das/Associated Press)
August 23, 2011

Indian PM urges Anna Hazare to end hunger strike

On the eighth day of anti-corruption demonstrations, the Indian prime minister urged an activist to end his hunger strike and offered to request a parliamentary panel to discuss stronger legislation against graft.

In his first overture to Anna Hazare, the leader of the nationwide uprising against corruption, Manmohan Singh wrote in a letter that they shared the same goal but differed in their methods. Both wanted to “reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the scourge of corruption,” Singh wrote.

The letter was hand-delivered to Hazare, who is fasting in a large park in New Delhi. The park has become the epicenter of the expression of public rage at rising corruption.

After a series of backroom meetings Tuesday, Singh appointed Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the chief negotiator with Hazare’s aides.

After the first round of talks with Mukherjee, activists said that the discussions were inconclusive and that more meetings will be held Wednesday.

“Unless there is a written commitment or a direct commitment from someone in the government, Anna is not going to relent. I wish we had started these talks two or three days ago,” said Kiran Bedi, an associate of Hazare.

Singh’s government introduced a bill in Parliament this month to establish an independent anti-corruption ombudsman. But Hazare called the legislation “good for nothing,” because it denies the ombudsman the power to act against the prime minister, the judiciary and much of the bureaucracy. The protesters have demanded that the government introduce their version of such a bill, which gives sweeping powers to the ombudsman.

Hazare and his aides had set a deadline of Aug. 30 for the government to introduce their bill. In his letter, however, Singh emphasized “parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters of legislation,” indicating that legislative procedures cannot be bypassed. But he offered to refer Hazare’s bill to the parliamentary panel examining the issue and assured that the process can be fast-tracked.

The campaign against graft snowballed into a massive movement after a string of big-ticket corruption scandals came to light since October. The ombudsman legislation has been pending for 42 years and has been introduced in Parliament several times but has never been passed.

“The ice has been broken. Deadlock has been broken. Talks have begun. We are all concerned about Anna’s health,” said spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who heads the Art of Living Foundation and supports the anti-corruption campaign.

Singh expressed “deep and abiding concern” for Hazare’s health, as alarm grew Tuesday after his aides said the activist had lost more than 12 pounds since beginning the hunger strike.

Doctors have advised that Hazare be hospitalized or be administered a glucose drip. But he refused both and appealed to the protesters to prevent the government from taking him to the hospital by force.

“Today is the eighth day, but there is nothing to worry. I have lost 5.5 kilograms, but there is no other difficulty,” a tired-looking Hazare said in his morning speech to thousands of cheering protesters. “I will consider myself fortunate if I lose my life in the service of the nation.”

by Rama Lakshmi

On the eighth day of anti-corruption protests, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged a 74-year-old fasting activist on Tuesday to end his hunger strike and offered to request a parliamentary panel to discuss a stronger legislation to end graft.

In his first overture to Anna Hazare, the leader of the nationwide uprising against corruption, Singh wrote in a letter than they both shared the same goal but differed in the method of achieving the goal.

“I have maintained that your and our object is identical, viz. to reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the scourge of corruption from this country. At worst, our paths and methodologies may differ, though I do believe that even those differences have been exaggerated,” Singh wrote in the letter that was hand-delivered to Hazare at the large park in New Delhi where he is fasting, which has become the epicenter of the expression of public rage at rising corruption.

After a series of secret backroom meetings Tuesday, Singh appointed India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the chief negotiator with Hazare’s aides.

Kiran Bedi, one of Hazare’s associates, tweeted a few minutes before arriving at a meeting with Mukherjee late Tuesday: “Talks are sensitive. No one knows results. Just pray Govt is sincere this time and is sensitive to peoples aspirations and impatience.”

Earlier this month, Singh’s government introduced a bill in parliament to establish an independent anti-corruption ombudsman. But Hazare called the bill “good for nothing,” because it denies the ombudsman the power to act against the prime minister, the judiciary and much of the bureaucracy. Instead, the protesters have demanded that the government introduce their version of a bill, which gives sweeping powers to the anti-graft ombudsman.

Hazare and his aides had earlier set a deadline of Aug. 30 for the government to introduce its bill. In his letter, however, Singh emphasized “parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters of legislation,” indicating that legislative procedures cannot be bypassed. But he offered to refer Hazare’s bill to the parliamentary panel that is examining the issue and assured that the process can be fast-tracked.

The campaign against corruption snowballed into a massive movement after a string of big-ticket corruption scandals came to light since October. The ombudsman legislation has been pending for 42 years and has been introduced in parliament several times but has never passed.

“The ice has been broken. Deadlock has been broken. Talks have begun. We are all concerned about Anna’s health,” said a visibly relieved spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who heads the Art of Living Foundation and supports the agitation.

Singh expressed “deep and abiding concern” for Hazare’s health, which raised alarm on Tuesday when his aides said that he had lost more than 12 pounds since he began the hunger strike.

Doctors have advised that Hazare be hospitalized or be administered a glucose drip. But Hazare refused both and appealed to the protesters to prevent the government from taking him to the hospital by force.

“Today is the eighth day, but there is nothing to worry. I have lost 5.5 kilograms, but there is no other difficulty,” a tired-looking Hazare said in his morning speech to thousands of cheering protesters. “I will consider myself fortunate if I lose my life in the service of the nation.”

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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