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Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare begins fast as Lokpal Bill debated

Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Indian anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare started a three-day fast two hours late on Tuesday, as the country’s parliament started a debate on the so-called “Lokpal Bill”, the government’s beefed-up anti-graft legislation.

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Hazare’s closest supporters had expressed doubts about whether the fast should go ahead, because he had been suffering from a viral infection. But doctors declared that the 74-year-old did not have a temperature after he arrived at a park in Mumbai.

There were smaller crowds on Tuesday than those that greeted him in New Delhi in August when his 12-day fast forced the government to redraft its anti-corruption bill.

But Hazare, supported by opposition MPs, says the revised bill is still not tough enough and has called for a civil disobedience campaign to change it.

The bill proposes a Lokpal (ombudsman) to lead the anti-graft fight but limits jurisdiction over the prime minister and stipulates that any criminal probes will be run by the government-controlled Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Hazare and several opposition parties want the ombudsman’s office to have its own, independent investigation team.

In the Lok Sabha opposition leader Sushma Swaraj dubbed the bill “weak and bureaucratic” and “fraught with deficiencies”.

“Accept our amendment or withdraw the bill … send it back to standing committee for further discussion,” Swaraj, a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, said.

But Personnel Minister V Narayanasamy, who moved it, pointed out that the bill proposes the confiscation of property of those found guilty of corruption and hit back at extra-parliamentary pressure from Hazare and his supporters.

“We need to bow our heads this House only and not before anyone else,” he said.

Other government supporters accused the opposition of opposing the bill in an attempt to reap political capital in forthcoming state elections.

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