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Asia-pacific

Indian parliament debates anti-corruption bill

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-08-27

India's parliament edged closer to an agreement on Saturday on an anti-corruption bill that could end a damaging standoff with the hugely popular campaigner Anna Hazare, who is now in the 12th day of a hunger strike.

AFP - Indian lawmakers moved nearer to an agreement on tough anti-graft legislation on Saturday as they sought to end a high-stakes standoff with a hugely popular anti-corruption hunger striker.

Lawmakers from all parties stressed during a special parliamentary debate that strong measures were needed to combat India's "cancer of corruption" in response to a 12-day anti-graft fast by 74-year-old activist Anna Hazare.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee asked lawmakers to "seize the moment and demonstrate the commitment" in dealing with corruption which is "gnawing at the vitals of our polity".

The world's largest democracy "was at the crossroads," he said.

Hazare has been staging his protest in a large open-air venue in central Delhi, where tens of thousands of supporters have gathered every day to cheer on the man who has become a symbol of national dissent.

The parliament was expected to pass a resolution late Saturday expressing its support for stringent legislation to combat India's widespread culture of corruption.

Hazare has demanded that parliament adopt his own, tough version of a proposed anti-graft law, but critics have said they fear his demand for an independent "people's ombudsman" to monitor politicians and bureaucrats could undermine parliament and create a "police raj".

Ruling Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit said Saturday that the government was agreeable to "reasonable changes" on contentious issues and it was "a matter of dialogue and design" before agreement was reached.

The breadth and depth of support for Hazare's campaign, especially among the middle class, has shaken Premier Manmohan Singh's Congress government, whose own anti-corruption credentials have been tainted by multi-billion-dollar scandals implicating top officials.

"It's high time every one of us said no to any kind of corruption," said Bollywood star Aamir Khan, who delighted Hazare supporters by turning up at the sprawling, muddy field where the self-styled Gandhian is staging his fast.

"Our actions will determine whether India becomes a corruption-free country or not," Khan told the crowd at the Ramlila Maidan.

But legislators insisted that the constitution must be upheld in drafting anti-graft laws.

"We should not compromise any tenets of the Indian constitution," said Arun Jaitley, upper house leader of the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The lawmakers' debate came as doctors voiced worry about Hazare's condition, saying he had lost over seven kilos (15 pounds).

But in a speech to thousands of flag-waving supporters, many of them wearing caps declaring "I am Anna", Hazare insisted he was ready to continue his fast on a large stage set up in a muddy field in the capital's heart.

"I'm still healthy, I can continue fasting," declared the former army truck driver, adding he was "overwhelmed by the kind of support that my countrymen have shown" for his campaign.

The common man is the "master" of MPs, Hazare told his audience.

People need to keep a watch on their "servants, and if they do not perform, they should be thrown out," he urged.
 

Date created : 2011-08-27

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