India MPs debate graft bill amid fasting protest

India’s parliament was to debate measures to fight rampant corruption on Saturday as the government struggled to end a high-stakes fast by a 74-year-old social activist whose health was weakening.

Doctors said they were worried about the health of Anna Hazare as his hunger strike entered its 12th day, saying they would soon decide whether the self-styled Gandhian reformer should continue his protest.

“Today is the 12th day of his fast, his weight has gone down further and there is considerable weakness,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, head of the medical team monitoring Hazare’s health.

“The weight loss is slightly more than seven kilos (15 pounds). That’s why we’re worried,” Trehan said.

The veteran activist is staging his water-only fast in a large open-air venue in New Delhi where huge, flag-waving crowds have gathered each day to show their support.

The corruption issue has snowballed into a full-blown crisis for the Congress-led government, with huge protests across India in support of Hazare’s campaign.

Hazare has said he will fast until parliament adopts and passes his version of a new anti-corruption bill that would create the post of a national ombudsman to monitor senior politicians and bureaucrats.

The giant groundswell of public support for Hazare has rocked the government which was already on the defensive over a series of multi-billion-dollar scandals that have implicated top officials.

In recent days, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to reach out to Hazare with conciliatory gestures aimed at ending the hunger strike.

On Friday, Rahul Gandhi, widely seen as India’s prime minister-in-waiting, warned Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign posed a threat to India’s democratic “life force”.

Breaking his silence on the standoff, Gandhi, 41, praised Hazare’s campaign, but challenged the activists efforts to force his version of a new anti-graft law on parliament.

“We must not weaken the democratic process,” Gandhi said, arguing that allowing any campaign no matter how popular its target to dictate legislation to parliament would set the country on a slippery path.

“Tomorrow the target may be something less universally heralded. It may attack the plurality of our society and democracy,” he said.