Thu, Dec 15, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Indian leaders meet in bid to agree on new anti-graft bill


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh aimed to meet political leaders yesterday to broker an agreement on an anti-corruption bill, with activists threatening to revive protests if lawmakers fail to enact the measure this month.

Singh called the gathering of ruling coalition and opposition party chiefs after sparring over powers of the graft-fighting agency, called the Lokpal, that the legislation is set to create.

Anna Hazare, a 73-year-old social activist, drew focus to the issue with a 13-day fast in August, contributing to a slump in support for Singh’s administration.

“The government is rapidly running out of time to meet Hazare’s deadline,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, a policy research group.

“It is going to be embarrassing if they fail to pass the bill. It will again highlight the weakness of the government,” he said.

Singh is trying to avoid another political reversal after he last week suspended a decision to let foreign companies into India’s retailing industry, an opening that spurred criticism from opposition parties and some allies. The Dec. 7 suspension prompted the biggest three-day drop in the BSE India Sensitive Index of stocks since July, 2009.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said yesterday that the ruling Congress party and its coalition partners had reached an agreement on the powers of the anti-graft body and would present the proposal at an all-party gathering yesterday.

Hazare has threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike starting on Dec. 27, should Singh fail to pass the Lokpal legislation in the session of parliament that ends next week. Hazare and his supporters last week rejected recommendations made by a panel of Indian lawmakers that would exclude junior bureaucrats, politicians and judges from the scope of the proposed agency.

Political parties must also decide whether they support Hazare’s call to include the office of the prime minister and the country’s federal investigating agency under the Lokpa’s authority.

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