NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Anna Hazare, who led India’s largest street protests against corruption in decades, said on Tuesday he plans a hunger strike against the ruling Congress party during state elections in Uttar Pradesh next year if the anti-graft Jan Lokpal Bill is not quickly passed.
Millions of mainly middle class Indians supported a near two-week fast in August by veteran self-styled Gandhian campaigner, forcing the centre-left government to bow to many of his demands for tougher laws to fight graft.
The 74-year-old Hazare said he would campaign against Congress before the polls in Uttar Pradesh if the government does not approve his anti-graft proposals.
The state elections are a stepping-stone before the general election in 2014 and a major test for possible prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi, the emerging leader from India’s most famous family dynasty who is personally leading the Uttar Pradesh vote campaign.
Several states go to the polls next year in a series of challenges for the ruling coalition led by the Congress party, the popularity of which has plunged on anger at the government’s inability to crack down on endemic corruption.
“If they don’t pass the Jan Lokpal (anti-graft) bill in the winter session, I will start my three-day fast from Uttar Pradesh right before the state elections,” Hazare told supporters in his home village in Maharashtra.
The Uttar Pradesh election will be hard for Congress to win. The current chief minister, Mayawati, has a strong base among Dalits or “untouchables”.
After his last hunger strike, the government partially agreed to Hazare’s demand that an anti-corruption agency should have the power to investigate the prime minister, judges and civil servants.
A spokesman for the Congress party said the bill will be tabled in the next parliamentary session, along with many other proposed laws. For much of the year, opposition parties paralyzed legislative activities to protest corruption scams.
Hazare said he will also lead a series of political rallies against the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, home to about 200 million people, if the bill is not passed in the winter session, due to start in November.
He said he will change his anti-Congress party stance if the bill is passed.
Hazare’s August protest exposed the Congress party as riven by a lack of leadership, indecision and poor judgement, and has helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rise in opinion polls.
“I have received letters of support from BJP and other parties but not from the Congress party. The government is reluctant to pass the Jan Lokpal bill,” Hazare said.
He dismissed as “mentally unfit” critics who say his drive against graft in the public sector favours the Hindu nationalist BJP.
The Congress party has ruled for most of India’s history since independence in 1947. The party still hopes support for its rural welfare programmes will allow it to gain ground in Uttar Pradesh and win a third consecutive term in 2014.
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jonathan Thatcher)