AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
MUMBAI: Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare on Wednesday called off his latest hunger strike but vowed to step up his campaign to turn voters against the "traitors" in the ruling party and government.
The 74-year-old's warning came after the lower house of parliament passed a contentious bill to tackle top-level graft, amid widespread disquiet at scandals including ministers and senior officials.
Hazare only began what was billed as a three-day fast in the financial capital Mumbai on Tuesday. He has been laid low with a virus since the weekend and heeded the advice of doctors to bring the protest to a premature end.
"Today I will break the fast," he told a smaller-than-expected crowd of several thousand supporters at the venue for the protest. "We will discuss the future strategy to launch our fight against corruption."
The lacklustre response to his latest fast has raised speculation that he is not the force he appeared to be earlier in the year when he marshalled tens of thousands during a 12-day hunger strike in New Delhi in August.
In a sign of his increasingly bitter battle with the ruling Congress party and the administration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he said he would tour five states holding elections next year to educate voters about corruption.
"We will tour all the five states and ask people not to vote for the traitors of this country," he said, adding that he would organise further protests in the capital on December 30 and January 1-2.
The Lokpal, or ombudsman, bill has has become a political albatross around the neck of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government.
The bill, creating an ombudsman to probe graft among senior politicians and civil servants, cleared its first hurdle in the lower house of parliament late on Tuesday after a fractious debate.
What form the legislation will take has dominated the political agenda for months, piling pressure on Singh's administration already under pressure over a series of high-profile corruption scandals.
The government had to redraft an earlier version in the wake of mass protests across the country in August, spearheaded by Hazare, who claimed the new law would be toothless and do nothing to curb endemic graft.
Hazare and opposition parties opposed the re-draft on the same grounds.
Despite the early end to his hunger strike, Hazare said he would continue to fight what he claimed was a government that was "acting like a dictator".
"If this continues, what can we do? We have to save the country. Every one of you should be ready to go to jail," he told supporters.
"The day the jails are full of people, the government will have to give in."
More than 170,000 people have signed up to court arrest and imprisonment by protesting outside the homes of government ministers and members of parliament, according to Hazare's India Against Corruption group.
The government's victory on Tuesday in passing the draft law in the lower house of parliament was tempered by its failure to get the two-thirds majority required to make the bill a more permanent constitutional amendment.
Singh described that as "a bit of disappointment" while observers saw the failure as a personal defeat for Rahul Gandhi, who is widely tipped as India's next premier, as he proposed the move.
There is also a strong chance that final passage of the bill could be delayed as Singh's ruling coalition does not have a majority in the upper house.
Some analysts said the vote would give the government a major boost after a series of legislative setbacks in recent months and repeated accusations of policy drift.
"The Congress has not just silenced the opposition but also the civil society members who were their biggest threat," said Anjana Mathur, a political science professor at Delhi University.