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Anna Hazare agrees to end fast on Sunday

Indian government agrees to his demands for tougher laws against rampant corruption

  • Anna Hazare (second right) and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (right) listen to Shanti Bhushan
    Anna Hazare (second right) and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (right) listen to Shanti Bhushan (second left) as BoImage Credit: AP
  • Anna Hazare (second right) and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (right) listen to Shanti Bhushan
    A supporter of Anna Hazare, portrait at right, blows a conch as he along with others gather at the Ramlila MaiImage Credit: AP
  • Anna Hazare (second right) and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (right) listen to Shanti Bhushan
    Supporters of Anna Hazare wave Indian flags and shout slogans during 12th day of Hazare's fast against corImage Credit: AP
  • Anna Hazare (second right) and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (right) listen to Shanti Bhushan
    Veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare (left) speaks with Bollywood actor Aamir Khan on the 12th day of HaImage Credit: Reuters

New Delhi:  A self-styled Gandhian activist, whose campaign against corruption united millions of Indians, agreed on Saturday to end his 12-day hunger strike after the government agreed to his demands for tougher laws against rampant graft.

Anna Hazare, 74, told tens of thousands of supporters in New Delhi on Saturday evening, flanked by members of the ruling Congress party, that he would end his hunger strike on Sunday morning.

"For 12 days the country's people have stood here - it is their victory," Hazare told thousands of flag-waving supporters in a sprawling muddy public venue in central New Delhi.

Hazare's agitation has tapped a groundswell of public anger against endemic corruption, uniting the country's bulging middle-class against the hapless government and underlining voter anger at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Earlier, A Team Anna member said: 'It is not possible for Anna to break his fast today [Saturday]. He will break his fast tomorrow [Sunday]. And he only will announce the time."

'Annaji will make this announcement after he receives the copy of the resolution that will be passed by parliament,' the member said.

The government has agreed to adopt by a voice vote the resolution on corruption and the Lokpal Bill following the debate at a special session of parliament called on a weekend. Hazare, 74, fast entered the 12th day on Saturday.

India's finance minister warned lawmakers Saturday to uphold the constitution as they tried to resolve an impasse with a reform activist who has been fasting to force them to pass his version of anti-corruption legislation.

Parliament held an unscheduled Saturday session to debate the broad outlines of a Bill that would create a government watchdog aimed at combating the endemic corruption plaguing India.

Government officials hoped the debate, though well short of Anna Hazare's initial demands, would persuade him to end his hunger strike, which has drawn tens of thousands of sympathisers to his protest camp in the capital.

The government has brushed off Hazare's demand that it withdraw its own limited draft Bill and, by August 30, pass his plan to create a watchdog that would oversee the prime minister, judiciary and the millions of public servants across the country.

Critics say his Bill would be unconstitutional, and have slammed his demands as an attempt to short-circuit democratic debate. Instead, lawmakers discussed Saturday a few of his proposals and whether to pass a nonbinding resolution expressing their support for them.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee opened the debate by warning lawmakers they were bound by oath to act "within the constitutional framework, without violating supremacy of Parliament".

"Perhaps this is one of the rare occasions when the proceedings of this house is drawing attention of the entire nation and perhaps even outside the nation, because the largest functional democracy of the world is at a very crucial stage," he said.

Mukherjee also repeated the government's request that Hazare end his fast. After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered Thursday to have lawmakers debate several proposed drafts of the Bill, including Hazare's, the activist appeared to soften his stance.

He said that if lawmakers passed a resolution backing some of his demands - pledging greater transparency and including low-level bureaucrats and state officials under the watchdog's oversight - then he would begin eating.

Saturday's session of Parliament was expected to extend late into the evening, with members of all political parties expected to speak.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party expressed dismay at the government's proposal for the anti-graft law, which does not include the prime minister and judiciary in its purview. But its senior lawmaker Arun Jaitley told the assembly that "nobody can dispute that Indian Parliament is supreme when it comes to law making."

Weight loss

Hazare, who has lost more than 7kgs, appeared in front of thousands of cheering supporters and told them that despite his 12-day fast, he was feeling "energised" by their support.

"It is not me who is doing all this. God has chosen me to do this work. It is he who is doing all this," he said.

Doctors said they were concerned about his health, but that they would monitor him every hour.

Hazare's hunger strike has brought into sharp focus the anger ordinary Indians feel about the corruption that touches every aspect of life and politics in this country of 1.2 billion.

The government has appeared to be flailing through most of the hunger strike as protest organisers used social media and India's breathless 24-hour news channels to spread their message.

On Friday, the government pushed to regain control of the debate as Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the country's most famous political family, praised Hazare's initiative in giving a voice to citizens angry with corruption. But he said that demanding legislation through a hunger strike "sets a dangerous precedent for a democracy."

Gandhi is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers and has been heralded as a possible future prime minister himself.