New Delhi: Anti-graft activist Anna Hazare, whose hunger strike against corruption is drawing growing support, rejected on Friday an offer of talks saying the government was ignoring the wishes of the people.
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Thousands held demonstrations across the country for another day on Friday in support of Hazare, who is demanding a tough anti-corruption law.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said she was sure the government would pay heed to the views of Hazare, who is in his early 70s, as she appealed to him to end his four-day fast.
Social activist Anna Hazare rests near microphones of news channels during a ‘fast-unto- death’ campaign in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters
Cabinet minister Kapil Sibal offered to meet protest leaders but wanted them to withdraw a demand for their nominee to head a team to draft a new anti-graft law.
Hazare rejected the offer.
“They disregard the people’s voice and then they claim to be the servants of the people,” a defiant Hazare said to applause from hundreds of supporters gathered at his protest site at Jantar Mantar in central Delhi.
From morning, all sorts of people including students and businessmen came to see Hazare who has been camped out since Tuesday.
His supporters shouted anti-graft and anti-government slogans and hailed a call from a protest leader to offer themselves for arrest and to fill up jails.
“I don’t care about what the Bill contains, I just want corruption to go and this is how it will go,” said businessman Vikram Mathur, at the protest with his wife and two-year old son.
Other protesters held up banners that read: “It’s the talk on the streets, my leader is a thief”.
The government has promised anti-corruption legislation in the Lokpal Bill.
But Hazare and his supporters have demanded the bill be strengthened to give the ombudsman police-like powers to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats, including judges and members of the prime minister’s office.
The campaign has drawn comparisons to Mahatma Gandhi’s protests, which included hunger strikes, that helped end British colonial rule. Hazare has termed the movement against graft a second freedom struggle.
“1857 revolution, 1947 freedom, 2011 lokpal,” read a slogan on a banner, referring to a 19th century revolt against British rule and the year India got independence.
Word about Hazare’s movement has spread through television, text messages and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, gathering support from diverse groups.
Demonstrations of support in other cities, including Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai, drew several thousand people in all, residents said.
Hazare’s fast, which he has said he will not give up until his demand is met, comes after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been hit by a raft of corruption scandals which have tarnished his and his Congress party’s image, eroded public support and worried investors.
Singh has been reprimanded by the Supreme Court for not acting quickly enough against former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja who has been accused of violating rules during a 2007-08 telecom licence grant that may have lost as much as $39 billion in revenue.
While Hazare’s movement does not seek to overthrow the democratically elected government and has stayed away from seeking political support, it adds to rising voter anger against the Congress party.
“The kind of public anger and disgust that it brought out ... has put pressure on the government and other parties too,” political analyst B. G. Verghese said.
Sonia Gandhi appeared to offer sympathy with the aims of the protesters in a statement late on Thursday, in which she also appealed for Hazare to end his fast.
“I am sure that Anna Hazare’s views will receive the government’s full attention as we move forward to fight this menace,” she said.
India ranked 78th on the Transparency International’s corruption index, a worse ranking than Asian rival China.