Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Critics round on hunger striker

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare acknowledges his supporters as he stands in front of a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi(AP)

Criticism is growing against an Indian activist's hunger strike, with public figures saying it threatens democracy, even as thousands echoed his demands for stronger anti-corruption legislation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - whose government has been beset by scandal - appeared to dismiss Anna Hazare's demands, saying "there is no magic wand that can solve the problem in one stroke."

But the diminutive 73-year-old Hazare remained undaunted. Encouraged by TV cameras and thousands of chanting supporters, he has vowed to fast indefinitely until authorities pass his version of a bill - instead of the government's draft - creating a powerful anti-corruption watchdog.

He has faced little criticism since beginning his fast last Tuesday, but prominent activists have begun speaking out as his message gains traction in public debate.

"The props and the choreography, the aggressive nationalism and flag waving ... signal to us that if we do not support The Fast, we are not 'true Indians,'" Arundhati Roy, one of India's best-known writers and activists, wrote in The Hindu newspaper.

She bashed Hazare's bill as "so flawed that it is impossible to take seriously," saying that it ignores other prominent institutions like corporations and the media.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands carrying signs saying "I am Anna Hazare" have protested across India to support the hunger strike. TV channels were giving 24-hour news coverage including urgent updates on Hazare's weight, and TV anchors have declared "India is One."

Hazare - styling himself after Indian freedom fighter Mohandas Gandhi - has touched a nerve in a country wearied by rampant corruption. Everyone from poor rural farmers to urban middle-class professionals complain of having to pay bribes for basic services, including health care, school admission and registration of death.

No one disputes Hazare's essential message that corruption is harming India. But critics questioned his demand to give the proposed watchdog authority to investigate and prosecute top judges and the prime minister. In many democracies, judges and top elected officials have immunity while in office to protect them from politically motivated prosecutions.

Others said Hazare's demands smacked of demagoguery and trampled democratic institutions.

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