By Ritu Sharma
Tens of thousands of people today gathered in Mumbai in support of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare who is mounting his third fast this year in protest against the draft of an anti-graft bill.
Hazare’s protest started as Indian MPs began a three-day debate of the bill.
The 74-year-old, who will be hunger striking for the duration of the debate, began his fast at the Mumbai metropolitan region development authority in the country’s commercial capital.
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum, said the response to the latest fast has been good, with around 50,000-60,000 people gathering to express their support for Hazare.
Hazare is protesting after the federal government ignored one of the demands of his negotiating team to have the country’s top investigating agency in the bill’s purview.
He had earlier accused the government of trying to introduce a weak bill.
Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, a founding member of the India against Corruption campaign which supports Harare’s movement, said parliamentarians are becoming too political regarding the debate, which is not helpful.
“Team Anna is only trying to put pressure on the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, some Christian leaders in Mumbai have spoken out against Hazare’s latest fast.
“Hazare is going over the top this time. He should show patience while the bill is being debated in parliament,” said Virginia Saldanha, executive secretary of the Office of Laity of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
Saldanha, who is based in Mumbai, said Hazare should protest only if parliament is unable to come up with a strong anti-graft bill.
Dias said his organization is not participating in the campaign as “we don’t want a rushed, half-baked bill which would serve no purpose in fighting the menace of corruption.”
He also criticized Hazare for allowing extremists to have a voice in the anti-corruption movement.
Hazare’s detractors allege his movement is supported by Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh (the national volunteer corps), the umbrella organization behind groups allegedly striving to make India a Hindu nation.
Hazare launched his anti-corruption campaign in April with a four-day fast to pressure the government into enacting a bill that gives wider powers to an ombudsman to fight corruption. He also held a 13-day hunger strike in August.