There is a social and political revolution in India at the moment, a seminal one, if the media and social networking sites are to be believed. Kisan Baburao Hazare, aka Anna Hazare, a Gandhian and social activist has been sitting on a ‘fast unto death’ since April 5th and has refused any offers to give it up at the time this article was written.
His target is corruption, a phenomenon that now seems to pervade society in India. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks India at a low rank of 87, which for a massive country with a booming economy, means a lot of the money finds its way up and down illegal streams, unaccounted for. There have been sufficient scams to tarnish almost every political party in the country; and the educated middle class have for long been disillusioned with the political process. The voter turnout has been a dismal 60% for most of the last few elections, with only the poor (and often illiterate) voters making up most of the numbers.
Amidst this disillusionment, Anna Hazare has decided to take up this battle. He calls it another “Satygraha,” and his methods are Gandhian: non-violence and civil disobedience to fight against a system that will be forced to care as the weight of public opinion builds up. His primary objective is the passing of an anti-graft bill, the Jan Lokpal Bill (or Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill) that will ensure that all, even men in power (i.e. the politicians and bureaucrats), can be prosecuted efficiently, without needing explicit permission from the government.
This is in complete contrast to the current government-drafted Lokpal bill, which is seen as many as a rather inefficient means to target the deep-rooted malaise of corruption that threatens the very core of development and progress in the country. The bill has been in the making for over 4 decades, and still isn’t close to implementation. With nominal powers and lack of independence for the anti-corruption bodies, the government’s proposal impresses few people.
And this is his primary demand: to include leading civil society members, along with senior untainted ministers, in a joint committee which will draft the Jan Lokpal Bill. But the cause has now attracted a lot of attention, for reasons that go beyond just this bill. The general frustration that the public has felt against an apathetic political institution has come out on the streets and on social networking sites. Thousands have joined him in solidarity, while many tens of thousands have signed petitions pledging their support.
This is shaping up to be one of the major social movements in recent history. Whether this actually leads to real change completely depends on the support of the public, which for long periods of time has been passive about most of these issues. They needed that push, and the sight of a 71-year old man, who with honest integrity is willing to die for this cause, seems to be sufficient fuel to drive the movement.
Whether a movement against a political system can transform the prevalent social norms of corruption in the country is, of course, up for debate. After all, any devil’s advocate can claim that the political institutions in a democracy are born of its social institutions, and just a creation of a system that effectively punishes all transgressers will not totally transform society into a corruption-free utopia. Nevertheless at the moment, it does seem to be a good enough start.
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