Government seeks compromise as Hazare fasts

Aug. 24, 2011 at 12:36 AM
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NEW DELHI, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- A 74-year-old anti-corruption crusader in India began his ninth day of fasting Wednesday as the government scrambled to meet his demands.

The campaign of Anna Hazare, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, has galvanized tens of thousands of people across the country, drawn attention around the world, and raised concerns of a team of doctors attending him as he vowed to continue the hunger strike he began Aug. 16 -- first in Delhi's Tihar jail, where he was taken under preventive custody, and later on the Ramlila grounds where thousands and thousands of supporters kept vigil.

The campaign in the world's largest democracy has become a huge challenge for the Congress Party-led coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which convened an urgent meeting Wednesday as Hazare's health deteriorated.

Hazare is insisting on a tougher "Jan Lokpal," or citizens' ombudsman bill against graft, than the one before Parliament placed by Singh's government.

The Hazare movement comes as the government has been hit by a number of huge corruption scandals and allegations of high-level graft, and as the economy faces serious problems including high inflation and rising food prices. Singh personally has not been affected by any allegations of impropriety.

Proceedings have been seriously disrupted in Parliament, where several critical economic and other reform bills are pending. The masses are irate over what they see as government's failure to crack down on corruption and other social ills.

The Hindustan Times reported the government was likely to tell the all-party meeting Wednesday it is ready to bring the prime minister under the ambit of its bill, one of the demands of the Hazare campaign.

In a letter Hazare, Singh said Tuesday the government would request the lower house of Parliament to "formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill to the standing committee," which would then consider all versions, including that of the government and the Hazare team.

Some reports said the Hazare team during a late night meeting with the government's representatives had agreed to India's judiciary being covered under a separate bill, provided it is approved along with the ombudsman bill in the current session of Parliament.

In a defiant speech late Tuesday, a frail Hazare told his supporters not to allow authorities to take him to a hospital while insisting all of their activities should be non-violent and peaceful.

"Doctors told me today that my kidney can be damaged. I told them, no worries, I can get a replacement from any of the supporters here in front of me," Hazare said.

Doctors said he needs to be put on intravenous drip to provide him glucose and essential electrolytes.

"We discussed hospitalization with him today, but he refused to consider it," Naresh Trehan, heading the team of doctors, was quoted as saying. "The next 24 to 48 hours are sensitive as his health needs to be tracked more closely."

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