NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Social activist Anna Hazare on Tuesday began a “fast unto death” demanding the government enact a tough anti-corruption law that would lead to prosecution of officials and lawmakers.
In the capital, flag-waving protesters converged near the historic Jantar Mantar monument to join 72-year-old Hazare and other leading activists like Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal in demanding greater probity in public life.
Thousands joined the protests in different cities including Mumbai, Lucknow and Jaipur with activities ranging from hunger strikes to candlelit vigils.
The Congress-led coalition has been hit by a series of corruption scandals in recent times, leading to calls for adoption of the Lokpal bill which aims to bring the prime minister’s office and lawmakers under the purview of an anti-corruption ombudsman.
Activists reject the current draft of the bill which suggests the Lokpal (or ombudsman) be a recommending authority without prosecuting powers.
They have come up with an alternate draft, the Jan Lokpal bill, which gives the Lokpal punitive powers and makes completing investigations within a year mandatory.
“We are demanding the formation of a joint committee, with half the members from the civil society which will formulate the Lokpal bill,” said Aswathi Muralidharan from ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, which is organising the protests.
Hazare, a social reformer and a right to information crusader, said he decided to undertake a hunger strike after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not form a joint committee for the Lokpal bill as demanded by activists.
“We need to change the system. We need to get corruption under control,” Hazare said.
Several corruption scandals, from the Commonwealth Games to the multi-billion telecoms scam, have damaged the government’s credibility and people from all age groups came together on Tuesday to demand accountability in public life.
“This protest is for welfare of the general public,” said Archana, a protester in New Delhi.