An Indian reform activist has agreed to end an 11-day hunger strike after parliament expressed non-binding support for parts of his anti-graft plan, ending a drama that had deeply embarrassed a government plagued by corruption scandals.
Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, told parliament on Saturday after a nearly nine-hour debate that the “sense of the house” was in support of a series of policies demanded by Anna Hazare.
Supporters of Hazare had wanted a vote on the proposals but appeared satisfied with Mukherjee’s statement.
“Now at least the parliament has had to take cognizance of the people’s wish, and that is to wipe out corruption from this country,” said Medha Patkar, a protest organiser.
Hazare’s aides said the 74-year-old activist has agreed to end his 11-day hunger strike on Sunday morning.
“It’s only a half victory. Total victory is yet to come,” Hazare told thousands of cheering supporters at a protest ground in New Delhi.
The debate took place as the government of Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, struggled to address the concerns of Hazare whose strike – now in its 12th day – has seen tens of thousands of people joining him to express their solidarity.
Hazare, 74, has become increasingly frail, drinking only water to stay alive, as the months-long anti-graft movement he leads gains momentum.
“The largest functional democracy of the world is at a very crucial stage,” said Mukherjee in a cautious statement that fell short of fixing a time-frame to reach a resolution.
“[We must] try to find a solution within the constitutional framework without compromising the parliamentary supremacy in the matter of legislation, and at the same time to ensure that we can resolve this impasse.”
Taken by surprise
Several scandals linked to the government, including a bribery scam involving the sale of telecom spectrum that may have cost the state up to $39bn in lost revenues, led to Hazare’s latest protest.
Hazare has demanded that the bill includes bringing civil servants under the proposed agency’s authority, ensures similar agencies at a state level and creates a citizen’s charter.
The Congress party, criticised for not doing enough to curb graft, faces a bellwether election this year in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s biggest, and is keen to get the issue off the headlines. A general election is to be held in 2014.
Singh – along with senior ministers taken by surprise by the scale of the public unrest – has abandoned a hardline approach to Hazare.
The initial poor handling of the issue has led Congress to turn to Rahul Gandhi, the youngest elected official in the Gandhi family political dynasty, to try and reach out to Hazare in a speech to parliament this week.
“We are all aware that corruption is pervasive. It operates at every level,” Gandhi told parliament on Friday.
“In the last few months, Anna has helped the people to articulate this same sentiment [against corruption]. I thank him for that.”
Critics say his bill could be unconstitutional, and have slammed Hazare’s approach as an attempt to short-circuit democratic debate.