The Indian anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare has begun a new hunger strike to add pressure to his persistent demands for a tough law to deal with endemic corruption in the country.
Hazare and his supporters are also seeking special investigations into allegations of corruption they have made against more than a dozen of India’s federal government ministers, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — accusations the government denies.
A 75-year-old former army driver, Hazare galvanized the nation last year with his use of fasting to demand a strong citizen ombudsman to tackle official corruption. The attention his protest generated brought huge political pressure to bear on Singh, who agreed in August to Hazare’s demand for the new anti-corruption agency.
The resulting legislation, however, has become bogged down in parliament. A protest Hazare organized in Mumbai in December to press lawmakers to act drew fewer people than expected, suggesting the momentum behind his campaign might be waning.
But thousands of people turned out in New Delhi on Sunday when the veteran activist commenced his new, open-ended fast, adding his clout to a similar protest that three of his supporters had started Wednesday.
Hazare told the crowds that his agitation would continue until the government accepted his group’s version of the bill to establish a Jan Lokpal, or citizen ombudsman.
Government legislation to create the agency is still pending in parliament, but Hazare and other activists say it is too weak to tackle widespread graft around India, the world’s second most populous country after China. “I want to tell my supporters that I will not die until the Jan Lokpal bill is passed,” Hazare said Sunday.
India’s coalition government, led by the Congress party, has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals in recent years. Last year, a former government minister was among a dozen defendants charged in a multibillion-dollar telecom scandal.
Andimuthu Raja, a former telecommunication minister, is accused of being involved in a scheme involving the underselling of cell phone licenses at the height of India’s lucrative telecom boom. He denies any wrongdoing. Congress suffered a crushing electoral defeat earlier this year in the key state of Uttar Pradesh in a vote that was considered a litmus test for Singh’s government ahead of national elections due in 2014.