Indian hunger-striker defiant despite PM appeal

DVBP841 4 JW 0453 ZZZ /AFP-VC12 India-corruption-dissent Indian hunger-striker defiant despite PM appeal =(Picture)= NEW DELHI, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - Anna Hazare, the hunger striker whose protest against corruption has galvanised millions of Indians, on Sunday sounded a note of defiance after government calls for dialogue. Hazare, who has not eaten since Tuesday, is fasting at an open-air venue in New Delhi in front of tens of thousands of noisy supporters who back his demands for an end to the culture of corruption among Indian officials. Anti-graft protests erupted across the country over the last week and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been widely criticised for mishandling one of India's biggest social movements in decades. Singh on Saturday appeared to soften his hardline stance, saying there was "a lot of scope for give and take" over a proposed anti-corruption bill that Hazare's campaign wants replaced with their own stronger version. But Hazare told huge crowds gathered at the Ramlila grounds in central Delhi that "even if the prime minister comes here, I will not move from here until our bill is passed". Hazare was arrested on Tuesday to prevent him starting his public fast, in a move that provided his cause with a welcome publicity boost, while Singh used a parliamentary address to attack him as undemocratic and misguided. The activist was soon freed but he refused to leave jail until the ban on his public fast was lifted, and on Friday he was mobbed by adoring crowds as he travelled in triumph across Delhi to begin his protest at Ramlila. "I appeal to people to stand outside the houses of MPs and sing patriotic songs. We have to get the bill passed. Non-violence is our tool," Hazare told protesters on Sunday. Hazare often refers to pacifist Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi -- who used hunger strikes to protest against British colonial rule -- in his speeches, and also dresses in the same white cotton clothes and cap. But Hazare has also come under heavy criticism from some high-profile Indians for whipping up populist sentiments by arm-twisting the government through his media-savvy campaign. Nandan Nilekani, a software entrepreneur now working with the government on ID cards, said using a hunger strike to try and force the hand of an elected parliament was "extremely dangerous and completely wrong". "I am not a great believer that if you pass a law, corruption will miraculously vanish," Nilekani told NDTV news. The Indian media has been broadly supportive of Hazare's campaign, with the headline in the Sunday Times of India reading "Angry tide forces Manmohan's hand". bgs/rn/ac/slb AFP 210930 GMT AUG 11