NEW DELHI, January 1, 2012 - As 2011 bids adieu, the important events for the year are pictures of popular unrest around the world from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.
India recently experienced a significant anti-graft campaign, which some called, “India’s second struggle for Independence.”
“Anna” Hazare, a 74 year old frail Gandhian with an iron will to fight corruption led the popular anti-corruption. He brought the mighty state on its knees with his 12 day Hunger strike in New Delhi in August. Kisan Baburao Hazare – popularly known as “Anna” or “elder brother” in the language of his native state of Maharashtra – changed the nature of political discourse in the country. His movement drew its moral authority from its lack of political affiliation and it came at a time when the nation’s conscience was hit by a scam culture. Speaking briefly to the media about himself after the launch of his fast at Rajghat, Hazare said: “I have nothing, except to get a plate of food and a bed to sleep. I do not have a bank account”.
His campaign garnered the support of millions of Indians, all across the country. Thousands of people gathered on the streets, chanting slogans “I am Anna” and “We want a corruption free India”. His following largely includes India’s youth and the growing middle class, which passionately identified itself with Hazare’s cause. Indian youth, often referred as “children of liberalization”, played an important role in the protests. They demonstrated to the nation that it is not merely a generation obsessed with social networking on their Smartphone’s but also one capable of getting street smart when it comes to asserting their rights. For the first time, corruption in public life became an issue at home and everyone decided to do something about it.
What is the root cause of this malady that plagues the country?
Corruption goes back to the flawed economic policies of the past that created an all-pervasive “permit raj,” where a citizen required a license to start a business, expand a business, import, or even invest. The average citizen was dependent on the government bureaucrats not only for licenses for his business, but for all other services for which the state was the only supplier, such as obtaining land record files, getting a driving license, a birth certificate for your child or a telephone connection.
High-level Bureaucrats quickly discovered that licenses could be bartered for favors, while politicians saw in the system an opportunity to seek funding for their electoral campaigns. With the growing greed to seek more and more, values departed from political life and governance became amoral.
With time, this corruption percolated down the entire bureaucracy from senior bureaucrats and politicians to lower-level government employees who would not do what they were supposed to do unless bribed.
Economists claim that such “rent-creating” corruption is quite expensive for the economy and decelerates growth. Some, like Kaushik Basu, have made such radical suggestions as to make bribes legal in India to at least create a structure where victims would have recourse if the bribe does not bring the promised result.
The Anna team came out with a draft of a strong Lokpal Bill with the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation under it to investigate all cases of corruption at various levels of governance.
Unnerved by the growing support for Hazare’s protest, the government finally succumbed and agreed to an anti-corruption law. However, in a recent U-turn, the lower house of Parliament passed a Lokpal Bill, a toothless bill which has no investigative powers or any inquiry wing of its own. It can merely refer cases to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), an agency that works under political influence of the ruling party.
Anna Hazare and his team, unhappy with the government’s version of the bill, started fresh protests in Mumbai, however the Gandhian had to call off the fast this time as his deteriorating health did not allow him to continue the Hunger strike.
Amidst this continued tussle between the government and the civil society activists, the Parliament has become a political theatre where it seems the interests of all parties converge when they agree to disagree and keep the bill hanging between the two houses for various amendments. None of them seem committed to creating a strong and independent Ombudsman that would be a panacea for corruption. All those trying to block an effective anti-corruption bill show that it is true that power corrupts; however the prospect of loosing power corrupts absolutely.
As a noted journalist Mr. M.J Akbar said “Anna Hazare and his youth are not demanding the fall of a Pharaoh; or an abolition of parliamentary democracy. They insist on a cure for a cancer eating at the body politic. Parliament is in question only because it has not been able to pass a Lokpal bill in 43 years, or indeed been able to debar criminals from contesting elections for ever. When a quarter of MPs have a criminal record, indifference is the preferred strategy of the establishment. The streets are screaming against this indifference”
While the fate of the bill still remains a mystery, 2011 will salute the Gandhian for bringing the issue of corruption to the national center stage, and giving voice to the millions of anonymous Indians seething with anger against corruption that made money the sole presiding deity of life. Under his leadership, the campaign showed the Indian ruling class that arrogance of power has to be replaced by performance and that if political corruption can make a democracy dysfunctional people will gather to legislate from the streets to wake them up from the deep slumber.
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