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Support grows for India's anti-corruption fast

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
Activist Anna Hazare sits on a platform in New Delhi on April 5 after beginning a "fast-unto-death" against corruption.
Activist Anna Hazare sits on a platform in New Delhi on April 5 after beginning a "fast-unto-death" against corruption.
  • Activist Anna Hazare's anti-graft hunger strike enters its third day
  • Hazare is seeking a citizen ombudsman with wide powers to tackle corruption
  • Campaigner tells PM Singh to "show courage to take unprecedented steps"
  • Candlelight vigils, marches are held in India over Hazare's hunger-strike

(CNN) -- Support swelled for an anti-corruption crusader in India, as his indefinite hunger strike seeking tough new graft laws entered its third day Thursday.

Hunger-striker Anna Hazare wrote a stiff letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after his office insisted in a statement that talks failed because activists demanded their version of a citizen ombudsman bill be accepted in totality.

"It is being said that the government wants to talk to us and we are not talking to them. This is utterly false. Tell me a single meeting when you called us and we did not come. We strongly believe in dialogue and engagement. Kindly do not mislead the country by saying that we are shunning dialogue," Hazare wrote to Singh in a letter which was released to the media.

Meantime, demonstrators showed their support for Hazare in the streets of New Delhi and several other cities. Protesters carried flags, candles and banners condemning corruption.

The 72-year-old Hazare began his "fast-unto-death" at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar observatory on Tuesday.

Hazare's campaign comes in the wake of a series of high-profile alleged scandals that have rocked Singh's administration and investor confidence in Asia's third largest economy.

The activist demanded that long-pending citizen ombudsman legislation, called the Lokpal bill, be widened in its scope.

Hazare and his supporters reject the government's draft of the bill because it does not empower the proposed bodies to prosecute corruption suspects.

"Dear Prime Minister, so far, every government has shown complete insensitivity and lack of political commitment to tackling corruption. Sixty-two years after independence, we still do not have independent and effective anti-corruption systems. Very weak versions of (the) Lokpal bill were presented in parliament eight times in (the) last 42 years. Even these weak versions were not passed by parliament," Hazare noted in his letter to Singh.

"This means, left to themselves, the politicians and bureaucrats will never pass any law which subjects them to any kind of objective scrutiny," he wrote.

"At a time, when the country has witnessed scams of unprecedented scale, the impatience of the entire country is justified. And we call upon you, not to look for precedents, but show courage to take unprecedented steps," he urged the prime minister.

The activist, who has refused politicians space on his platform, alleges corruption was all pervasive in India's overall political establishment with only few exceptions.

Last weekend, a former government minister in India was among a dozen defendants charged in a multi-billion-dollar telecom scandal.

Andimuthu Raja, a former telecommunication minister, is accused of being involved in a scheme involving the underselling of cell phone licenses at the height of India's lucrative telecom boom.

Police have questioned several high-profile executives in connection with the suspected below-price sale of radiowaves in 2008.

Politicians, bureaucrats, and corporate officials linked to the probe have denied any wrongdoing.

According to a government audit, the treasury lost as much as $31 billion from the 2008 sale of the second-generation wireless spectrum.

The damning audit report came on the heels of allegations of massive fraud in sports and real estate.

Two parliamentary committees are conducting separate inquiries into the case.

Investigators are already probing complaints of financial malfeasance in the Commonwealth Games that India hosted in October last year.

Several politicians, military officials, and bureaucrats have also been the subjects of a separate inquiry for allegedly taking apartments meant for war widows.