India to Set Up Independent Agency to Probe Official Graft

Move seen as triumph for grassroots anti-graft campaign, but analysts warn of complacency

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Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Supporter of veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare shout slogans as they hold posters of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a protest against corruption in New Delhi Aug. 26, 2012.

India passed a bill Wednesday that will enable the establishment of an independent agency to investigate corruption among government officials. Many Indians hope the first-of-its-kind agency will bring much needed change to the graft embattled country.

The bill — known as the Lokpal Bill after the Hindi word for ombudsman — is the culmination of the long struggle of veteran anti-graft activist Anna Hazare, who led a mass movement in 2011 that forced the government to introduce the bill in parliament.

“People are lining up to take credit, but there is an old man who keeps fasting for the bill and appeals to our collective conscience,” opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Sushma Swaraj said, acknowledging Hazare’s role.

Hazare said there was no room for complacency. “People have to be vigilant. Only then will they benefit from this law,” he told reporters after the bill was passed. He called for “committees of retired judges and top cops” to monitor the bill’s implementation.

The Congress party, which took a tremendous drubbing in recently concluded state elections, and which has endured one too many graft allegations in the last few years, was keen to get the legislation off the ground before next year’s general election.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who had earlier appealed to political parties to support the bill, said “It is our responsibility to complete our unfinished fight against corruption.”

Delhi-based independent political analyst, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta told TIME that the bill was “not going to be a magic wand against corruption.” He warned: “When you have nothing, anything you get is a step forward. But this is a small step forward. The problem with India is not a lack of laws, but rather their proper implementation and loopholes.”