India’s parliament was to debate measures to fight rampant corruption yesterday as the government struggled to end a high-stakes fast by a 74-year-old social activist whose health was weakening.
Doctors said they were worried about the condition of Anna Hazare as his hunger strike entered its 12th day, saying they would soon decide whether the self-styled Gandhian reformer should continue his protest.
“Today is the 12th day of his fast, his weight has gone down further and there is considerable weakness,” said Naresh Trehan, head of the medical team monitoring Hazare’s health.
“The weight loss is slightly more than 7kg. That’s why we’re worried,” Trehan said.
However, in a speech to thousands of flag-waving supporters in a large open-air venue, Hazare insisted he was ready to continue the water-only fast he is staging in front of a huge photograph of independence icon Mahatma Gandhi.
“Nothing will happen to me,” declared the former army truck driver turned anti-corruption crusader, adding that he was “overwhelmed by the kind of support that my countrymen have shown” for his populist campaign.
The corruption issue has snowballed into a full-blown crisis for the Congress-led government, with massive protests across India in support of Hazare’s campaign.
Hazare has said he would fast until parliament adopts and passes his tougher version of a new anti-corruption bill that would create the post of a national ombudsman to monitor senior politicians and bureaucrats.
The parliament was due to discuss the legislation on establishing an ombudsman yesterday in the hope of bringing Hazare’s hunger strike to an end.
“House hopes to send Anna home,” the Times of India said in a banner headline.
The giant groundswell of public support for Hazare has startled the government, which was already on the defensive over a series of multi-billion-dollar scandals that have implicated top officials.
In recent days, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to reach out to Hazare with conciliatory gestures aimed at ending the hunger strike.
On Friday, Indian Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi, widely seen as India’s prime minister-in-waiting, warned Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign posed a threat to India’s democratic “life force.”
Breaking his silence on the standoff, Gandhi, 41, praised Hazare’s campaign, but challenged the activists efforts to force his version of a new anti-graft law on parliament.
“We must not weaken the democratic process,” Gandhi said, arguing that allowing any campaign — no matter how popular its target — to dictate legislation to parliament would set the country on a slippery path.
“Tomorrow the target may be something less universally heralded. It may attack the plurality of our society and democracy,” he said.