Ailing India anti-graft activist cuts short hunger strike

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 28, 2011 7:03 AM
Ailing India anti-graft activist cuts short hunger strike

By Kaustubh Kulkarni

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian anti-graft activist Anna Hazare, 74, on Wednesday cut short a three-day hunger strike campaign calling for stronger legislation to combat corruption as concerns mounted over his health.

"We have decided that I will end my fast today," Hazare said after his doctors advised him to start eating again in the second day of his fast, citing low blood pressure and concerns about his kidneys.

India's lower house of parliament passed a landmark bill on Tuesday to create an anti-corruption ombudsman - a post Hazare campaigned to have created during a two-week-long hunger strike this summer.

He ended that fast after assurances the government would pass such legislation before the end of the year.

But Hazare has opposed the ruling Congress party's version of the bill now before parliament's upper house which can delay the legislation by sending it back to the lower house to advise changes. The government lacks a majority in the upper house.

He started the latest hunger strike on Tuesday hoping that the legislation would be amended.

He also called off plans to court arrest by picketing at senior politicians' homes, including Congress party head Sonia Gandhi over the New Year.

Hazare's support, numbering tens of thousands in the summer, has faded in recent months, though his call for a stronger ombudsman will figure prominently in the upper house debate where a vote is expected on Thursday.

Junior minister V. Narayanasamy said the government was negotiating with coalition allies and the opposition to ensure the upper house passes the bill.

"We are working with our allies and other parties to ensure that we muster a majority," he said.

The Lokpal bill was first proposed in 1968 to create a strong anti-corruption ombudsman but it languished until Hazare's relentless campaign forced the issue on the political establishment.

(Writing by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Ed Lane)