9 April 2011, 9:55 PM
The 100-hour mini-revolution inspired by Indian social activist Anna Hazare serves as a wake-up call to the Singh govt about surging public anger against rampant corruption
THE fast lasted for less than 100 hours, but in those four days, social reformer and anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare drew the spotlight on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s Achilles’ heel — corruption in high places.
Ironically, corruption has emerged as the bugbear for a government headed by Manmohan Singh, who till recently was considered one of the “cleanest” politicians in the country. But his inaction to counter corruption — especially within his own council of ministers — has sullied the economist-turned-politician’s image.
“The issue of corruption has grown and overshadowed the second term in office of the Congress-led coalition headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” commented the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd, a Hong Kong-based outfit, which a few days ago came out with a listing of corrupt nations in Asia. India ranked as the fourth most corrupt nation — among 16 in the Asia-Pacific region — behind Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
A series of scams involving top politicians has hit the government in recent months, crippling parliament and governance. Top of the list is the 2G telecom scam, which saw the then telecom minister A. Raja, of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, an important ally of the Congress, being sacked and later arrested.
The Congress party’s own lawmaker, Suresh Kalmadi, has been accused of being involved in corrupt practices in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games last year. The Congress also had to sack its Maharashtra chief minister, Ashok Chavan, after he was accused of backing dubious promoters of an illegal high-rise building on defence property in posh south Mumbai, after his relatives were given flats.
Anna Hazare’s campaign — of undertaking a fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, and demanding the enactment of a “people’s version” of the much-delayed Lokpal bill — struck a chord, especially among the vocal middle-class, drawing saturation coverage on television and also on social media.
It is a remarkable achievement for the 73-year-old diminutive who dropped out of school at Class 7 due to poverty and sold flowers for some time before becoming a driver in the army to feed his family in a village in Maharashtra. Of course, as happens with many of Hazare’s campaigns, a lot of riff-raffs also hopped on to the bandwagon, hoping to encash on the publicity. Some of the politicians who tried to worm their way into the inner-circle were booed by the crowds and prevented from hijacking the agenda.
However, Hazare berated the activists for turning away politicians who had come to lend support and also apologised to former BJP leader Uma Bharti, who had been heckled by the crowd.
The hundreds of supporters of Hazare, the modern day Mahatma, as his supporters fondly call him, at Jantar Mantar have also been criticised by politicians for trying to dictate terms to the government. Mohan Singh, the Samajwadi Party spokesman, accused Hazare’s supporters of trying to push their own version of the Lokpal bill — the Jan Lokpal bill — through fascist tactics. Many observers also went overboard, seeing in the demonstrations of the past few days the emergence of an Indian “Jasmine revolution”, and comparing Jantar Mantar to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
A significant number of the protesters comprised the urban middle-class, tweeting their messages or commenting on Facebook, besides joining in for a few hours at rallies across cities.
Critics point out that many of these protesters avoid turning out on election day, and later blame Indian polity for the ills of society.
However, Anna Hazare’s determined bid to get the government initiate action on the long-delayed Lokpal bill — in cooperation with prominent citizens — did set the alarm bells ringing in Delhi. UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s intervention and her appeal to Hazare to call off the fast, ultimately worked.
While government leaders steadfastly refused to allow “civil society” members to be part of the drafting team, many argue that the National Advisory Council — a sort of a super-cabinet that is answerable only to Sonia — has over the years been doing exactly that: drafting and vetting legislation, including the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Forest Rights Act and now the Food Security bill.
Singh’s ministers have often taken diametrically opposite views to those of the NAC members, leading to clashes and delays in enactment of crucial legislation. The UPA government fears that other so-called “civil society” groups will also start piling pressure, seeking a say in legislation.
This could ultimately lead to a chaotic situation, defeating the very purpose of swift enactment of laws. In fact, many NAC members are opposed to the provisions of the Jan Lokpal bill worked out by Hazare’s supporters, some of whom had also discussed the draft with controversial yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who is planning to enter politics. The NAC itself is believed to be working on two drafts to the Lokpal bill.
Hazare’s motley group has been warned by other prominent activists not to dally with all and sundry. They include veteran activists and Magsaysay award winners Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pande. “In this fight against corruption, we have to choose our allies with care and take those along who have the moral authority to stand with the masses and have struggled for peace, justice and democracy rather than pushing for a communal, casteist, patriarchal and divisive agenda and facilitated ecological corruption,” said the two representatives of the National Alliance of People’s Movements.
They also called for a more democratic and nationwide consultation process for important legislation such as the Lokpal bill.
Another activist, former judge Santosh Hegde, who is the Lokayukta in Karnataka (the Lokpal will be the national-level ombudsman to tackle corruption, while Lokayukta’s are state-level anti-corruption watchdogs; a few states already have Lokayuktas), felt that Hazare should have waited till the NAC submitted its recommendations on the bill to the government.
Hazare has in the past been let down by his close aides, forcing him to abandon his high-profile campaigns mid-way. Will the current anti-corruption campaign also end up in similar fashion? Only time will tell.
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