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A closer look at India’s anti-corruption hero Anna Hazare

It looks like the whole of India is out on the streets fighting corruption.  Marching, fasting, shouting  slogans. Exciting times no doubt.  And with our one billion-strong population, we can certainly produce crowds at  the drop of a  hat. Yet though a part of me is cynical, there is something electrifying about a few hundred thousand people, young, old, loads of women and children, in parks and squares, braving the monsoon rain to demand an end to corruption.

And, it’s nice to know the millions are out there for a cause, not rioting, not caught up in crime. The Delhi police are astounded. They say there have been 30 per cent fewer murders and violent crime in the capital since Anna Hazare started his fast. 

What motivated all these millions to come out and protest? Anna, a 74-year-old Gandhian, has ignited a spark that brings a whiff of the Freedom struggle back to a blasé middle class population.
The country has had enough of a series of mind boggling corruption scams involving politicians and businessmen. With cable TV bringing this into every urban home, the entire country is aware of – and disgusted by – the unbridled greed. The people of  India have definitely had enough.

Anna’s movement has put forward an anti-corruption proposal called the ‘The Jan Lokpal Bill’(or Citizen Ombudsman Bill). It proposes the creation of an independent authority that will make politicians (ministers), bureaucrats (civil servants and police officers) accountable for their deeds. The media loves the movement and it has garnered incredible public support.

Strangely, criticism has come from mostly liberal, social activist types. A look at Anna Hazare’s antecedents will reveal why. He’s done an impressive job of resurrecting his ancestral village, transforming it in a decade, from a poverty ridden area to prosperous, flourishing model agricultural centre. But he has done so in an entirely autocratic, non-democratic way.

Anna was an army man. So the village is controlled by his word which is law. Cable TV, smoking, meat and alcohol is banned  and people who defy the diktats can be flogged outside  the temple. Women are glorified as mothers who can produce wonderful sons. Muslims and dalits should know their place to earn acceptance in society.

Fairly right wing fundamentalist Hinduism is the flavour of Anna’s ideal village society. I’m not  sure how Christians or Buddhists fare in this scenario. But though his achievements are lauded and he has achieved awards and acclaim for them, there’s not much scope for individuals who  don’t toe the line. Flogging? Singing  Hindu religious chants at 5am? Army-style discipline? All these are no doubt good  for the body as well as the soul. I personally love Hindu bhajans (chants). I find them soothing and calming. But I dislike having anything shoved down my throat.

Activist Aruna Roy, who led India’s historic National Right to Information movement, summed up Hazare’s moral blackmail of the government as undemocratic and dangerous. ‘We must assert our  rights. But getting rid of democratic institutions would be a disaster for all the people of India,’ Roy pointed out. The Anna group are demanding that all constitutional and parliamentary procedure be dropped, to ensure their Lokpal bill is tabled by the  end of  the week.

Almost every ordinary Indian supports an anti corruption movement. It is most definitely a pressing need, and not just in India. But if you look closely at the demands of the Hazare group, you will see that they will not solve corruption. Nonetheless it has managed to capture the imagination of the media and the middle classes, who are vocal, powerful and  articulate. At least now corrupt politicians are being named and shamed,  so some good must come out of this. For India’s sake I sincerely hope so.

Read Arundhati Roy's take on Anna Hazare and India's anti-corruption campaign.

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