By Anjana Pasricha
In India, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has begun a hunger strike calling on the government to redraft an anti-graft bill that lawmakers began debating Tuesday. The bill was introduced following a year-long campaign by civil society activists, but anti-corruption campaigners and the political opposition have slammed it as ineffective.
Both inside and outside parliament, there were calls for sweeping changes in the scope and shape of the anti-corruption, or “Lokpal Bill” introduced by the government.
In the business hub of Mumbai, the populist anti-corruption crusader, Anna Hazare, launched a three-day hunger strike calling the bill “toothless,” and asking for stronger legislation.
The bill seeks to create an independent ombudsman with powers to investigate corruption charges against bureaucrats and politicians.
But civil society activist Hazare charges that the proposed ombudsman will be controlled by the government, making it ineffective in tackling rampant corruption.
Hazare told his supporters that the government’s anti-graft legislation is an attempt to fool the people of the country.
Civil society activists are concerned that the proposed ombudsman will have no authority over the country’s top investigative agency, which probes corruption cases. They want the ombudsman to have independent powers of investigation.
Following the protest in Mumbai, Hazare has threatened a wider civil disobedience campaign starting Friday in which activists will voluntarily go to jail if their demands are not met.
He called on his supporters to fill jails throughout the country.
However, Hazare’s protest in Mumbai attracted smaller crowds compared to a hunger strike staged in New Delhi in August. That campaign provoked the massive public response that pressured the government to introduce the bill.
Inside parliament, the debate was acrimonious. The leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Sushma Swaraj, denounced the Lokpal Bill as flawed.
She says the proposed ombudsman will be firmly under the government’s influence, and will not be independent.
The government says the proposed law is a fine piece of legislation and will be instrumental in fighting corruption.
Telecoms Minister, Kapil Sibal, accused the opposition BJP of not being serious in the fight against corruption.
“You do not want to fight it [corruption], in fact you want to embrace it when you are in power,”Sibal stated.
The government extended the parliament session for the debate on the anti-corruption bill and says it hopes to pass the landmark legislation by Thursday. But its fate remains uncertain with opposition parties expected to seek many changes.
Successive governments have been promising to enact an anti corruption law for the last five decades. But the current bill was introduced by the government after a series of multi-billion-dollar graft scandals involving top politicians triggered a wave of public anger.