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Fighting Corruption: Anna Hazare's Protest

With corruption being an undesired symptom of a systemic problem, a comprehensive approach will have to be taken and in a step by step fashion, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
72-year-old Anna Hazare during a hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

Indian masses’ anger and frustration against corruption reached its peak when one man, Anna Hazare went on a ‘dharna’ (sit-out) at New Delhi’s famous astronomical observatory, the Jantar Mantar, April 5.

The veteran social activist’s ‘fast unto death’ was in support of a long pending demand for an impartial and effectual anti-corruption mechanism in the form of a watchdog bill and in keeping with the demands of the civil society.

What started as an individual effort by some crusaders soon took mammoth proportions with people, from all regions and walks of life, joining in this movement.

Finally on the fifth day of agitation the government had to relent and concede to drafting of a new Jan Lokpal Bill, giving equal representation to members of civil society in the joint drafting committee of the Bill.

The main propelling factors of this peaceful Gandhian agitation lay in the pent up disappointment, anger and frustration of the citizens with their elected representatives, unethical and slothful governance of bureaucracy and an unhindered incipient corruption that has failed India at every step.

Problems lie in not just a failure of incorporating correctives and a “chalta-hai” (anything goes) attitude but also in excuses related to ‘coalition compulsions’ being cited by political incumbents.

As a go between the two important cricket seasons, the Cricket World Cup 2011 and IPL, the civil protest captured the nation’s energy and enthusiasm to become a massive nation wide movement and a rallying point.

The climate was right as food prices and unemployment touched never heard before peaks and elections in various provinces were in the offing.

The victory of the entire saga lay in the fact that the premise that ‘the corrupt can escape and therefore are invincible’ was quashed.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
Anna Hazare seen here at a rally. Also seen is Kiran Bedi (l).

Going by the sheer helplessness of a common man in seeking recourse to any redressal against all sorts of webs of graft that entangled him/her in its viciously long tentacles it was surprising how a mass consciousness against an evil combined to raise voice in unison.

In absence of any inspirational leader for once individual voices conjured into a chorus and Hazare could be praised for presenting the beacon of hope aptly needed at that moment.

Ever since, critics have tried to liken the agitation to a mere one-off situation, that would die a premature death.

Of course dividends can percolate only if the movement is maintained and accelerated, and synergy of diverse socio-economic strata sustained and reasserted at appropriate intervals.

Already the joint drafting committee of the Bill has been facing scathing attacks, character assassinations, conspiracy and intrigue from some sections in the form of recorded CD of Amar Singh purportedly having conversations of Bhushan fixing graft being let out in the public domain and furore over Hazare’s praise of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s development of the state and questioning of integrity of voters.

There are also dangers of the discontent of beleaguered people being manipulated and peoples’ movement being infiltrated and hijacked by vested interests.

The case in point is the Maoist movement that has become a vehicle of loot, political murder, ransom killing, etc.

It is also not entirely clear why the father and son, the Bhushans, have been included in the drafting committee when there could be representations from weaker sections and other regions.

Also, there are questions hovering around the effectiveness of the Bill and centralization of powers around the handful that will make the Bill.

Yet abandoning the fight for an intervention would only amount to accepting corruption.

Reports have come in that Hazare’s followers are attracting support in various regions of Maharashtra for a youth rally against corruption starting on May 1, 2011 at 6 p.m. at the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
A child offers a drink of water to Anna Hazare.

Mayank Gandhi, coordinator for ‘India Against Corruption’ in Mumbai, said that young professionals in huge numbers are expected to join this rally that is targeted toward strengthening the anti-corruption movement.

He added, “People want a very strong anti-corruption bill. Rallies will be held in 70 cities and towns all over India.”

In another incident 30 people have gone on indefinite fast at Azad Maidan in Mumbai protesting against corruption.

The reports also talk of an influential Indian lawmaker, Suresh Kalmadi of Congress Party (leading the coalition central government) being remanded to police custody by a special court in the capital after being arrested on charges of cheating, conspiracy and corruption in awarding of contracts for Commonwealth Games 2010 as chief organizer.

Also remanded are Surjeet Lal, deputy director general (procurement) of the organizing committee, and A.S.V. Prasad, joint director general (sport), in CBI custody.

In the midst of all this it is to be seen how far the clarion calls would replace or fix up corrupt systems.

Till date culpability has been an integral component in the growth of this menace and over-centralization of power, non-transparency and lack of accountability have provided sustenance.
This explains the failure of Jan Lokpal Bill having become a reality despite being introduced eight times in the Parliament ever since 1968.

With corruption being an undesired symptom of a systemic problem, a comprehensive approach will have to be taken and in a step by step fashion.

Any effective approach will require serious electoral reforms that should drain out money power from politics, police reforms that would free and strengthen the law enforcement machinery and liberation of investigative agencies from political control.

The idea is to have a real Lokpal rather than just another non-deliverable entity.

Priyanka Bhardwaj is a reporter with Siliconeer. She is based in New Delhi.


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