It is true that India is home to the largest number of poor people and is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It is also true that India has experienced some of the most extreme cases of sectarian and communal violence in human history. But still there is hope that India can get better, as there are common values that all Indians share. Occasions such as the Cricket World Cup 2011 and the recent anti-corruption movement show that India can still come together, despite its differences.
India’s victory in the recent World Cup after a hiatus of 28 years is indeed a phenomenal occasion. Many viewed this victory not only as a timely achievement for a strong performance – boosted by the support of a billion Indian people – but also as a reaffirmation of India as a rising star in Asia. Although the victory is remarkable, however, the government’s recent decision to accept the Indian people's demand for the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen's ombudsman Bill) – leading to the successful culmination of the anti-corruption movement after – is a titanic development which will always be written in golden letters in the history of Indian democracy. It is the context and potential impact of the latter that makes it such an unforgettable event.
When the Indian parliament introduced the Lokpal Bill in 1969 as an anti-corruption measure, it hardly knew what the fate of the bill would be. Since then, the bill has been introduced in the Indian parliament a total of 10 times without success – an indication of the level of collective resistance of the entire political system against any measure that attempts to curb corruption. In the course of last 42 years, the Indian parliament has welcomed many political parties and coalitions, but none of the governments could gather the political will, nor the moral confidence, to pass the Lokpal Bill.
In the absence of an effective anti-corruption law, corruption has crept into every strata of the political, economic, administrative, and bureaucratic structure of India. Nearly everything from education to the health-care, telecommunication, and petroleum ministries, from the judiciary to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), from the police administration to the armed forces has relished the taste of corruption in broad daylight.
The UNESCO’s International Institute of Educational Planning’s study on corruption in education found that teacher absenteeism in India is among the highest in the world, second only after Uganda.
Some of the glaring cases of corruption relate to heinous communal and criminal activities. While the Delhi Police staged the fake Batla House "encounter" killing innocent Muslim youth, the Gujarat police conducted the infamous Sohrabuddin Murder case. The state of Gujarat, including its judiciary and the police administration, has been found to be covertly involved in a planned genocide of nearly 1,000 Muslims and the displacement of tens of thousands. The involvement of on-duty Army personnel in plotting terrorist activities in perhaps the worst face of corruption and communalism in India.
Some of the recent high profile cases have exceeded even the norm for corruption. The latest 2G spectrum scam cost the nation approximately $39 billion, an amount that could have fed all the people living below the poverty line for a day. The Wikileaks disclosure has brought to the light the fact that the parliamentarians were bought and sold during the signing of the nuclear deal with the U.S. Buying votes in elections is a widespread practice in India.
The trend of corruption has not left the private corporate sector untouched either. Ramalinga Raju, the former head of Satyam Computers, illegally racked up a billion dollars right under the investors’ noses. According to a MDRA survey, 86% of respondents believe that corruption is a common phenomenon in corporate India. The acceptance towards corruption increases from lower management (83.4%) to middle management (88.1%) to senior management (90.2%). Some sources claim that Indians have amassed a wealth of about $1.4 trillion in the Swiss Bank to evade taxes. These provide only glimpses to the scale of Indian corruption.
Amidst these incidents, Indians have been feeling the dire need for an immediate redress. In January 2011, people marched against corruption in over 60 cities to demand an effective anti-graft Lokpal bill. The likes of veteran Gandhian leader Anna Hazare, Indian social activist Kiran Bedi, scholar Swami Agnivesh and lawyer Prashant Bhushan participated in the rally in Delhi. On February 26, Hazare called a press conference and in a dramatic overtone announced that he would fast until death starting on April 5 if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not make a decision on including civil society in drafting the Lokpal Bill.
The inevitable happened: On April 5, the 72-year-old frail Maharashtrian activist resorted to a “fast unto death” near Jantar Mantar, a place known for such activities, in New Delhi. Although Hazare was not alone, initially many people did not realize the potential impact of his actions; however, the stakeholders were quite alert. The second largest political party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lent its full support to Hazare. Many other politicians tried to persuade him to stop, but he was quite adamant: either accept the Jan Lokpal Bill or face the consequences. The Prime Minister was highly disappointed at the obstinacy of Hazare for his no compromise attitude. But Hazare stood firm in his position with some of his strongest proponents by his side.
Although the entire development was highly inspiring, some opinions about this anticorruption movement were rather cynical and quite pessimistic. When the country was beginning to stand with the movement, some of the responses to my blog post “Let's March Towards Jantar Mantar!” were: “Mr. Hazare is fighting for a lost cause," and "Chances are that we will indeed stand by and watch while this great man quietly passes away from our midst." Others had the arrogance of calling this great initiative, “The Anna Hazare Show: The comic revolution of an obsolete man.”
I agree that there can be diversity of opinion but possessing such a low opinion about such a great initiative which deserves all applaud and support is off base. These comments are indicators that we have given in to the corruption.
Setting aside these cynics, however there was a widespread support from all corners of society. Corporate giants voiced their support. Students and youth launched a Facebook revolution and joined in candlelight vigils. Common people wished their best and clerics prayed for both Hazare’s health as well as his mission to succeed. Within a short period, the movement gathered the support of 5.5 million people and received a staggering 60 million messages of support. The electronic media lent their support by covering the events as they unfolded. Villagers did their part by fasting along with Hazare, and Bollywood personalities gave him full support and lent their voice. The most prominent appreciation came from actor Amir Khan who said “Anna [Hazare] needs India’s support more than the Indian Cricket Team did.”
He could not be more correct. Although it took four days of fasting and some deterioration of Hazare’s health to move lawmakers, by the night of fourth day the Prime Minister agreed to meet all the demands of the protestors. The government agreed to work on drafting a joint Lokpal Bill that will incorporate and draw from the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by civil society.
Drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court Judge and present LokAyukta, or anti-corruption ombudsman, of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal (Right to Information (RTI) activist), the draft bill envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty will go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth will be confiscated. It also seeks to give power to the Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission. More information on the can be accessed from here.
Under popular demand and immense political pressure, the government of India has decided to accept a law that could potentially harm the majority of lawmakers. Their own initiative can very well turn against them. But this will reduce corruption and bring greater transparency in the country. This was a test for the government and challenge for the power of democracy, and the government has been courageous in accepting this bill. Indian democracy and the leadership's sanity came out victorious; otherwise, it could have been a bloody mess costing many lives.
Surely, one battle has been won but it remains to be seen how effectively the government is going to implement this bill. Although much remains to be done, for the time being, is it not enough of a reason to feel good about being an Indian?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons