Hazare ready 'to die', Indian PM seeks solution

Singh invited all party leaders to meet to seek to hammer out a consensus to deal.

Afp August 23, 2011

NEW DELHI: Fasting activist Anna Hazare said Tuesday he was ready "to die" for India as the government called an all-party meeting to try to break its damaging standoff with the anti-corruption campaigner.

Hazare's hunger strike has captured the public imagination in India, triggering huge protests and boxing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's graft-tainted government into a tight political corner.

With the fast entering its eighth day and concerns over Hazare's health mounting, Singh invited all party leaders to meet Wednesday to seek to hammer out a consensus to deal with his demands for stronger anti-corruption laws.

"It would be my good fortune to die for the country," the 74-year-old Hazare told thousands of supporters at the open-air venue in central Delhi where he is staging his public fast.

"My demands will not change. You can cut off my head but not force me to bow down," he said.

Hazare's protest is focused on anti-graft legislation known as the "Lokpal" (Ombudsman) Bill. He 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 unprecedented groundswell of national support for Hazare, the government has struggled to find a compromise while insisting that parliament cannot be dictated to on matters of legislation.

Hazare seemed in good spirits Tuesday, but aides say he has lost 5.6 kilograms (12.3 pounds) and his health is a matter of concern.
He is attended by a team of doctors, who regularly check his blood pressure and monitor other vital signs.

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 by parliament.

On Monday, 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.
"I feel the complexity of the task is not adequately appreciated," he said in a speech in Kolkata.

"The creation of the Lokpal as an institution will help, but it will not solve the problem," he said, arguing that it had to be backed up by judicial reforms and a thorough revamp of government procedure.
Singh faces an uphill struggle in building a consensus with opposition parties who have pilloried the prime minister for misjudging and mishandling the challenge thrown down by Hazare's populist campaign.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said that Hazare's stand had gained "rousing support".
"The government should negotiate with him. We believe that his demands and his actions are legitimate," he told AFP.

Both sides have said they are open to talks, but neither seems willing to make a formal move, relying instead on a number of go-betweens to relay their respective positions.

The focus of Hazare's campaign poses particular problems for Singh's government, which has been rocked by a succession of multi-billion dollar corruption scandals implicating top officials.