Indian campaigner urges supporters to cause jail chaos

  • @AndrewBuncombe

An anti-corruption campaigner has vowed to emulate the tactics of Mahatma Gandhi and fill India’s jails with supporters if his demand for the introduction of an all-powerful ombudsman is not met.

While the cabinet has agreed to introduce historic legislation to establish an ombudsman, activist Anna Hazare and his team say the bill falls short of what his movement wants and that it is an attempt to “fool” the people. He will launch a three-day hunger strike from 27 December and then urge his supporters to court arrest and fill the jails.

“They say I have insulted parliament, that I don’t listen to parliament. But it is they who have insulted parliament,” the 74-year-old said this week. “They don’t trust parliament. What they are doing is cheating.”

The campaign by the social activist to establish the office of a national ombudsman with powers to investigate all has gripped a nation where corruption is rife. The government was initially stunned by the campaign, which earlier this year saw thousands of people take to the streets of the major cities.

Seeing the popular support for the demand, and the way Mr Hazare was celebrated by the poor and middle-classes alike, the government eventually agreed to such a move. But the movement has become bogged down in procedure and a row about details. Mr Hazare wants the nation’s federal investigation agency to be included within the remit of the ombudsman’s office, while in the legislation likely to be tabled later today it is outside.

Mr Hazare’s plan is to follow the tactics used so effectively against the British imperial powers by independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and try to cause chaos by filling the jails and courts with his supporters. He has said that after his fast – an act he has twice previously carried earlier out this year – he will encourage his supporters to seek arrest by committing such offences as refusing to pay toll charges.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress Party, which heads the ruling coalition, claimed the government was the victim of misinformation. “We are being criticised and attacked for not tackling the scourge of corruption,” she said. “This is deliberate and malicious misinformation.”