New Internationalist

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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  1. #1 onedaywonder 24 Aug 11

    Thank you for this sobering look at a man who succeeds in whipping the Indian middle classes into a frenzy. A mass Indian anti-corruption movement is long overdue as scam after scam is exposed (often by independent media like Tehelka). However, will it really be served by such an anti-democratic figure who had nothing but praise for the butcher of Gujarat?
    I suspect the Indian corporate media is having such a field day with this story because they know they can give people feelgood coverage while knowing this movement is compromised from the inside (thus won't harm their status quo).
    It is however alarming that Western coverage (as in the Independent a few days back) is verging on the admiring.
    Arundhati Roy has also written a strong piece on why she's not lining up to join Team Anna:

  2. #2 John Dahodi 24 Aug 11

    Annaji has demanded too much too soon and with no way to back out from his ill-feted Lokpal Bill which has no taker in the entire 540 members of Indian Parliament. Looks like he has been fooled by the opposition parties in giving him false promises about his Bill. Annaji must lower down his demands and accept whatever the best deal he gets from the Government at this stage; otherwise soon his health will be deteriorated and there will not be any way out but to abandon his dream. Gandhiji did not get freedom in one shot but it took more than half century. Annaji cannot become Gandhiji in one week. Corruption is worst than cancer and it will take years not months to eradicate. Hope, Annaji and his few team members will understand this fact.

  3. #3 nirupama 24 Aug 11

    Marie, at times the best way to draw attention is to make a noise. Whether the noise is made by the right person, supported by the right people is all irrespective keeping the common good in mind. A complex country, far too democratic, corruption at its worst - unfortunately headed by one of the best brains in India. China has no big brains but good hands and legs for execution and we have the best brains but not having the will to move hands and legs. While I agree absolutely with what you say, it is imperative that we make a beginning and create awareness and I think Anna has achieved the same. I do not subscribe to any religious institution or any specific individuals taking advantage of the situation to get a mileage but I think if this is the first step to a ’big leap’ then its welcome. The problem with our country is everybody has a opinion therefore implementation of anything becomes tough. The way a common man is getting looted, i think this kind of a mass agitation helps and I must congratulate the old man. Having said that, the next thing that should be fought for is that no discrimination would be done based on caste or creed be it for education, votes, diversity etc....a tough call but not impossible.

    I would go by your last statement.... for India's sake i sincerely hope so.

  4. #4 Beulah Kaushik 24 Aug 11

    Nice point of view, BUT where did you hear about the flogging and other dictatorial methods??? I personally feel he and the so called civil society are not open to any discussion and that smacks of dictatorship in its truest form!!!Every passing of a bill has to be discussed in parliament, has to have a standing committee!!! They dont want that. But you know Marie I am angrier with the govt for putting us through this saga....
    Beulah Kaushik

  5. #5 Sriman 25 Aug 11

    Definitely this will turn into (already) a people's movement and ignite spark in all common man's thought's and action to fight against corruption
    I personally think it is just a beginning and a long way to go to and let's arise and awake and not be a silent spectator's .
    Unity is strength and let's drive away the epidemic ’ CORRUPTION’ from our nation.

  6. #6 april 25 Aug 11

    Mari, wonderful article and agree with you 100%. As much as an independent body is much need to make all citizens, irrespective of status, class, occupation etc. etc. accountable, our democratic institutions must be protected and the normal constitutional procedures must be followed to uphold what our nation stands for. So I pray that wisdom, strength and courage prevails on all sides to do what is best for our nation.

  7. #7 Kurien Joseph 25 Aug 11

    Mari, you've put your finger on what's worrying many, many of us. Personally, I'm not sure that most of the demonstrators know what they are REALLY asking for, except the obvious and vague ’Corruption must go!’ It's more like one grand picnic where everyone feels complacent that they are there for a ’good cause’. [Meanwhile, at the Ram Leela grounds, pickpockets, eve-teasers and fleecing autorickshaw drivers are enjoying the picnic even more.] To my mind, the media, much as during the Mumbai terrorist attack, have again failed the country by ’joining the mob’ without any attempt (until recently) at educating the public with a balanced view. Your background of Anna is even more disturbing (I wasn't aware of this until I read it here). Of course the Government is being cussed - their version of the Bill is not just useless by negative. But does that make Anna's position right? I don't think so.

  8. #8 Kurien Joseph 25 Aug 11

    Mari, you've put your finger on what's worrying many, many of us. Personally, I'm not sure that most of the demonstrators know what they are REALLY asking for, except the obvious and vague ’Corruption must go!’ It's more like one grand picnic where everyone feels complacent that they are there for a ’good cause’. [Meanwhile, at the Ram Leela grounds, pickpockets, eve-teasers and fleecing autorickshaw drivers are enjoying the picnic even more.] To my mind, the media, much as during the Mumbai terrorist attack, have again failed the country by ’joining the mob’ without any attempt (until recently) at educating the public with a balanced view. Your background of Anna is even more disturbing (I wasn't aware of this until I read it here). Of course the Government is being cussed - their version of the Bill is not just useless by negative. But does that make Anna's position right? I don't think so.

  9. #9 Cynthia Stephen 25 Aug 11

    Yes, the crowds and slogans are electrifying. But no, I am not imporessed, 'coz I know for a fact that all the excellent statutes we already have are not implemented - whether it is the Child Marriage prevention act or the Ban Manual Scavenging act or the Prevention of Corruption Act. Much depends on the individual who has the responsibility - will s/he exreise it correctly? How can we be sure the Lok Pal will not become corrupt or autocratic? WE have seen for the first time, action to have a Supreme Cout Justice ’impeached’,And a High Court Chief Justice, even the formor Chief Justice has a cloud over him at this time. So who will help us if the fence eats the crop? What is needed is for people and isntitutions to reduce thier tolerance and acceptance of corruption - there will be a change soon, all over India. Laws have come and gone, but things have continued, even worsened over the decades. We all need to find our moral compass and follow it.


  10. #10 David John Munro 25 Aug 11

    Given ghandi´s legacy of peace, I find describing this kind of narcissistic charlatan ’ghandian’ rather unfortunate to say the least. A little more care with the language you use please... Otherwise, well done for the coverage.

  11. #11 subhash 25 Aug 11

    Why has it so far been a middle class movement. arent the poor affected by corruption??? how come nothing much has been said or done in Rural India?? I am a bit lost.
    But i still hope this movement catches on..

  12. #12 V.Vivekanandan 25 Aug 11

    Dear Mari,

    Overall, I am in agreement with you. I also believe that the Jan Lokpal is flawed. A single omnibus agency to deal with corruption from PM downwards to lowest functionaries in the Central Govt makes no sense. Perhaps, the NAC's version of the Lokpal is a much better thought out affair.

    Unfortunately, the snow-balling of support for Hazare's anti-corruption crusade means automatic support for the Jan Lokpal bill, even if the vast majority of supporters have no clue about the nuances involved. It is possible that even some of the intellectuals supporting the Jan Lokpal hope that there will be a final compromise when the bad parts of the Jan Lokpal will get rectified. Or that the Govt Lokpal bill will include all the good parts of the Jan Lokpal bill.

    However, I am less inclined to accept the criticism of ’moral blackmail’ and of ’undermining democratic institutions’. The current situation is entirely the making of the Govt, which, instead of coming up with a convincing Lokpal Bill, came out with such a pathetic offer that there was moral outrage across the whole country. With BJP still licking the wounds inflicted by the Yeddiyurappa crisis in Karnataka, the general public could be forgiven for being suspicious of the entire political class and for having no faith that Parliament will do justice to this matter without pressure from outside. After all, the Lokpal proposal is a 40 year old one with many versions drafted by the Governments of the day, but never making it to the Parliament.

    Regarding the criticism that parliament is being pressurised into enacting a Bill without due process, let us not forget that our track record in law making is not particularly inspiring. These are facts that we need to keep in mind:

    1. So many Bills hang fire and lapse without any debate or discussion.

    2. So many Bills have been passed, often in large batches, without any discussion by mere show of hands after the opposition has stalled Parliament for many days and finally makes a deal with the Govt to pass them en-masse on the last day of the sitting.

    3. Many of our important laws have been the result of extra-constitutional pressure. Let us not forget that Pandit Nehru was forced to accept and enact legislation for linguistic states only after Potti Sriramulu died in 1952 after fasting for more than 50 days.

    4. Party whips mean that even our Parliamentarians do not have the freedom to discuss all bills in a non-partisan manner and take the legislative process to a meaningful conclusion. Many laws in Parliament (and legislative Assemblies) get passed if a handful of persons decide that they should be.

    So, ’Parliamentary debate’ is is itself a debatable issue and it is often processes outside the Parliament that make things happen. So, instead of criticising Hazare, let us look at our law making process and see why it fails to inspire any confidence among the general public.

    The current crisis is an opportunity to look at all that is bad with our public life. However, it is an opportunity that is unlikely to be seized. In all probability, we will find some face saving solution and move on. The lack of statesmanship in the Congress party means that it will be the biggest loser in this battle. We are in a peculiar position that the Congress is losing ground without any alternative force being able to convince the country that it is in a position to provide better governance.

    A limitation of the Anna Hazare movement is that while it has generated wide ranging debate, it has the limited agenda of pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill without necessarily having any framework to resolve the larger governance crisis that we are facing. Corruption is both a symptom and cause of bad governance. It is also paradoxically something that has ensured that radical change, both good and bad, has not taken place in India. Perhaps, it is the instrument that ’tamed’ the BJP and made it just one more power hungry party. The gross inequities in our system ensure that corruption is both an aggravating factor and a safety valve.

    Since Aruna Roy makes the criticism of moral blackmail and the harm to democratic institutions, it is worth noting that the National Advisory Committee, in which she is a prominent member, is often criticised for being an extra-constitutional body that undermines both Govt and Parliament!

    Finally, an important issue in all this is the role of the media, particularly TV channels. Even if they do not necessarily create movements, they are in a position to pick and choose movements to support, drum up support for them and often distort the entire process. The larger process of ’Murdochisation of the Indian media’ that Frontline talks about, needs to make us wary of how a media seeking to make news a commodity can harm our democracy and its institutions.



  13. #13 Raju V George 26 Aug 11

    A very well balanced article on ’ Hazare Movement’ which is myophic and self-centred. This man is nothing but another wolf in sheep's cloth who is instigated by those disgruntled bunch of ’nuts’ around him !!

    It is impossible to get rid of corruption from the human society but u can restrain it to certain level. For my beloved country with its democratic views and large chunk of illiterate and emotionally charged mass, how far can this be effective ??????

    May living God bestow wisdom on those who lead us.

  14. #14 v 28 Aug 11

    Really interesting read.
    I hope the people who are out protesting on the streets understand they are there. As you said, crowds here can be produced at the drop of a hat, and it is an easy thing to be seen as the 'bad guy' when you don't agree with the popular opinion.
    The problem is if one doesn't agree with Anna, it is made to seem that one is indifferent to corruption.

  15. #15 Stephen de Silva 29 Aug 11

    I was not really aware of the sinister undercurrent of fundamentalism. However, there is a ray of hope. The symbolism of the two children, a dalit and a muslim, helping him break his fast is hard to miss. Common sense should prevail.
    However, the passing of one bill will not be the panacea to the ailment. It is self discipline, a cultivation of attitudes, that can can be taught by our parents and teachers schools.

  16. #17 Mari Marcel Thekaekara 09 Sep 11

    I received this by email from Chetan Bhagat:

    We've all had that one uncle who keeps reminding you how India is terrible. About how every government authority takes bribes- from the RTO to the ration shop to the municipality. How no government department does its job - the potholed roads, abysmal conditions at government schools and poor healthcare all examples to support your uncle's theory. It’s hard to argue, he is right. Things don't work. There is no justice. Power talks. Equality doesn't exist. All of this, even though uncomfortable to hear, rings true.

    However, uncle goes on: ’Nothing will ever change’. He is convinced our society is damaged irreparably, India is destined to live in misery. Uncle Cynic doubts almost everyone, assumes the worst in people, and brands anyone trying to improve the country as having a hidden agenda.

    This is where I think uncle gets it wrong, horribly wrong. It is one thing to point out problems, quite another to give up trying to fix them. Cynicism is not a counter-argument, it is an attitude. The fact is we still have good people in India: in society and even in government departments. Just that they are crushed.

    I don't want to give you reasons why you must support Anna Hazare. It is almost beneath Anna's dignity that he actually has to beg or make a case for support when he is fighting for you, against an abusive, corrupt regime. Still, let me do a quick recap of the facts.

    Anna did a fast in April, it became the nation's movement, spread virally. Concerned, the government agreed to make a good Lokpal Bill, in principle agreed to Anna's version, designed to truly check corruption. Since then, the government has insulted Anna's team.

    The draft the Government presented to Parliament cannot check corruption. Only 0.5%, or one in 200 government officials are under its purview. Your corrupt ration shop, RTO, passport office, panchayats or municipal authority will not be covered. State scams will not be covered- yes, the Adarsh society scam or the Jharkhand scams are all out of its purview. Ever heard of a corruption law in a democracy that only applies to a certain section of people?

    The government is throwing magic dust in your eyes- counting on India's illiterate to not know the difference. However, you reading this are educated. You know that while you have lived your life with corruption, you dont want your children to do the same. A bad Lokpal Bill may not affect you today- but tomorrow it will hit you when your child does not get a college seat, when your hospital gives shoddy treatment. We live in a poor country - poor not because we don't have what it takes to be rich, but because our leaders have let us down. We have given them too much power, and they consider our vote as a mandate to steal and be incompetent. They hate accountability. However, without accountability, our progress will stall. There are countries where the average income per person is 50 times more than in India. Don't we deserve the same?

    Thus, whatever your personal view on Anna, it is not him but his cause that needs support.. The government can crush a few activists. However, it cannot crush India on the streets. A peaceful, firm, decisive protest is every Indian's birthright, and must be exercised in times of need. Come Monday, and we Indians have a job to do. We have to save our country's future.

    A word for the government too. Just what exactly are you thinking when you are trying to shove an impotent law down people's throats? And what makes you feel that threatening, crushing or insulting Anna will take away people's need to rid India of corruption? Anna did not create an anti-corruption sentiment, he merely tapped into it. Crushing Anna will not take away that sentiment. It will just make it fester more. Right now, the movement is still controlled. By going back on your word, displaying arrogance and not listening to the people, you are risking the country's descent into chaos. Be careful. Accountability is much easier to deal with than anarchy. Fix the Lokpal Bill now, please.

    Finally, for the people of India, it’s time to prove Uncle Cynic wrong. There is a bigger truth than his 'nothing ever changes in India'. That truth comes from the Gita, which states ’Nothing is permanent’. The Gita also says, ’When the pot of sin overflows, something happens to restore order.’ Now, it is up to you to determine if the pot of sin has overflowed. It is for you to say what it means for Indians to act out their dharma. And you, and only you, will decide if it is time to come on the streets.

  17. #22 The Illusion Of Freedom 05 Jun 13

    Yes He Is The Undoubtedly the Leader of the Anti Corruption Bill.

  18. #25 Delhi Gang Rape 27 Aug 13

    This is probably the biggest public movement after the Independence where the huge amount of Peoples comes for the noble cause.

  19. #26 Debate on Indian Politics 01 Oct 13

    Oh Yes,I like your writing,Really The Anna Hazare is anti Corruption Hero.and no doubt that He is deserves this Tag.He has devote his whole life for the Anti Corruption Bill.

  20. #28 Parliament in India 08 Jan 14

    Really He is a really a great person,He is really a very great person,as he sacrifice his whole life for the Nation.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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