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India's anti-corruption movement gathers steam

Thousands rally in support of anti-corruption activist's protest fast
HazareEnlarge
Indian youths shout slogans during a rally in support of social activist Anna Hazare in Mumbai on August 21, 2011. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been left floundering by a national swell of support for Hazare's campaign, with many Indians saying years of anger at corrupt officials had reached boiling point. (PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of people rallied across India in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare over the weekend, as the prime minister and his cabinet sought in vain to engage the leader of the mass movement in negotiations.

In New Delhi alone, police estimated that as many as 100,000 supporters gathered at an open area used to stage dramatizations of the Ramayana each year, according to the Times of India.  Similar protests took place in Mumbai and in other cities across the country.

Some protesters came from as far away as the United States to participate in the rally, the paper said.

Hazare has called for a powerful anti-corruption law to be enacted, setting up a national ombudsman called a "Lokpal."  Although the government earlier capitulated to the movement's demands that its representatives be included in the process of drafting the law, the truce broke down over the question of whether the prime minister and the supreme court should be answerable to the ombudsman.  Hazare's group argues that the ombudsman should have supreme authority.

Even as the protest movement gathered momentum Sunday, telecom minister Kapil Sibal and senior bureaucrats from Hazare's home state of Maharashtra met with the popular leader to try to come to some sort of compromise, the Times of India reported.  But Hazare reportedly said that the draft of the Lokpal bill presented to him in the closed door meeting did not include any substantial changes and remained unacceptable.

Hazare and his supporters have demanded that Parliament pass its version of the Lokpal bill by August 30, threatening massive nationwide protests if their deadline is not met.  The turnout over the weekend will likely convince policy makers that Hazare can make good on his threat.

For his part, Hazare moved his protest to the prime minister's residence and made the implications of failure to make progress on the anti-corruption law clear.

"Lokpal bill lao ya jao," chanted supporters: Bring the Lokpal bill or go. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/indias-anti-corruption-movement-gathers-steam