Indian PM appeals to Hazare to end his fast

Meeting between India's law minister and a senior member of Mr Hazare's campaign was the first sign of progress in resolving the dispute.
Anna Hazare's fast to demand strong anti-corruption legislation has won the support of hundreds of thousands across India. Saurabh Das / AP Photo
Anna Hazare's fast to demand strong anti-corruption legislation has won the support of hundreds of thousands across India. Saurabh Das / AP Photo

NEW DELHI // The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, yesterday appealed directly to the social activist Anna Hazare to end his fast against corruption that has triggered mass protests of support across the country.

"I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality," Mr Singh wrote in a letter to Mr Hazare released by the prime minister's office.

A meeting between India's law minister, Salman Khurshid, and Arvind Kejriwal, a senior member of Mr Hazare's campaign, was the first sign of progress in resolving a dispute that has brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets and put Mr Singh's graft-tainted government in a tight political corner.

"There has been no progress on the contentious issues. We just had general discussions," Mr Kejriwal told reporters after the meeting.

"We met them to get information, understand their viewpoint," Mr Khurshid said. "There was no agenda."

Mr Kejriwal said the government had nominated the finance minister, Pranab Mukherkjee, to take forward a formal dialogue and the campaign would choose its representative after discussions with Mr Hazare.

The meeting came on the eighth day of the 74-year-old activist's fast, which is focused on anti-graft legislation known as the "Lokpal" (Ombudsman) Bill.

Mr Hazare insists the current draft is toothless, and is demanding the government adopt and pass his own, more aggressive, version by August 30.

Blindsided by the groundswell of national support for Mr Hazare, the government has struggled to find a compromise while insisting that parliament cannot be dictated to on matters of legislation.

Mr Hazare has permission to stage his public fast until September 2, but has made it clear that he would continue refusing food until his version of the bill is passed.

Mr Singh has called an all-party meeting on the crisis today but faces an uphill struggle in building a consensus with opposition parties, who have accused him of misjudging and mishandling Mr Hazare's populist campaign.

Pressure has grown on the government to find a way out of the impasse amid mounting concerns over Mr Hazare's health, with aides saying he has lost 5.6 kilograms.

"We are worried about his health," said Kiran Bedi, a close aide. "Every hour is crucial now. We are worried that his health might suffer."

For all those concerns, a feisty Mr Hazare was in defiant mood when he spoke to cheering supporters earlier yesterday at the open-air venue in central Delhi where he is staging his public fast.

"It would be my good fortune to die for the country," he said. "My demands will not change. You can cut off my head but not force me to bow down."

He is attended by a team of doctors, who regularly check his blood pressure and monitor other vital signs.

On Monday, Mr Singh said his government was "open to a reasoned debate" on the pending legislation but stressed that there was no single solution for eradicating corruption.

Published: August 24, 2011 04:00 AM

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