A Broad Social Movement against Corruption – in India

Anna Hazare

Anna Hazare

Several times in the past – on 5, 9, and 12 April 2011 – I had written about the movement India Against Corruption [“The success of this campaign depends entirely on its volunteers – folks like you from all across the world who are willing to lend their time and their talents to free India of Corruption. You can choose your level of involvement based on the time commitment you wish to make” – more than 400,000 Internet Facebook users have clicked on the “Like” button of the Facebook site of this movement]. It is led by the Indian social activist Anna Hazare to get anti-corruption legislation enacted by the Indian parliament. In 2005, he had been instrumental and successful in pushing to establish a Right to Information Act, where such important issues as freedom of expression and the right to access to information were regulated.

Early in April 2011 he had initiated another campaign, declaring “to begin a fast-unto-death to press for a comprehensive anti-corruption bill. He had requested that the government agrees to form a joint drafting committee, comprising of government officers and of civil society persons to draft an anti-corruption bill, adding that “fake assurances will not be accepted.” To underline his determination, he set a deadline of 15 August 2011 by which such a law should be passed by parliament, and started a fast-unto-death which he stopped after over 97 hours, after the government published a notification about constituting a 10-member joint committee of ministers and civil society activists.

After having achieved what seemed to be a success, the struggle continued on different levels. On the one hand there was criticism that to accept such actions from a civil society movement – for which there is no precedent – would undermine the constitution, which reserves the right to establish legislation to the National Assembly and the Upper House. But the members of the joint drafting committee denied this: they did not intend to pass legislation, but only to come up with a draft, to be sent to the legislative bodies, as a reminder that those voting on laws have to live up to their roles as elected members, elected to represent the interests of the people. Such a reminder did not seem inappropriate in India, where anti-corruption drafts had been brought to parliament 8 times during the past 42 years, but never were adopted and made law. Social activists claimed to be legitimized in their agitation, not related to any political party, because the politicians had failed – for four decades, at all times, even when different parties held the majority in the legislative assemblies.

However, disagreements continued: the two sections of the drafting committee – five from civil society, and five government ministers – could not come to agreement on a draft, so two drafts were produced, but only the one proposed by the ministers was accepted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee to be presented to the National Assembly for a debate and a vote. The draft going to parliament leaves the prime minister and the high court judges outside of the proposed new anti-corruption legislation. Anna Hazare’s group suggested a different version – the “Jan Lokpal Bill” which is said to address loopholes in the government’s side draft.

Anna Hazare fasting

Anna Hazare fasting

This decision resulted in the present crisis: Anna Hazare had announced months ago he would start a fast-to-death on 15 August 2011, if strong anti-corruption legislation would not have been adopted by parliament by that date. But when he wanted to start his fast in a public place in the capital city, he was arrested by police, as the crowds gathering in his support would disrupt public order. His arrest draw big crowds gathering in front of the prison, and in many other cities in India tens of thousands of people participated in solidarity meetings.

Anna Hazare received an offer to be released from prison if he would promise not to fast more than three days – but he preferred to stay in prison instead. Finally, he was released with the understanding he would not fast more than two weeks. After his release, he went straight to Ramlila Ground, a large playground in New Delhi, which had been prepared for his public fast, where several thousand people greeted him, with the crowd reaching later an estimated one hundred thousand. The range of solidarity activities in many cities is visible in such a list:

  • The All Assam Students Union extended their support as they joined the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Contact Gautam – 9435548496
  • The students of IIT Guwahati joined the demand for a Jan Lokpal Bill extending their support to Anna. Contact Sayak Bhattacharya 9864840081
  • Mumbai fasted with Anna as for the first time in history the legendary Mumbai dubbawalas [Mumbai’s light lunch deliverers have impressed many management gurus worldwide with their ability to bring tens of thousands of people their lunches every day across the sprawling and congested city] did not deliver lunch. This is the first time in 120 years that these tireless tiffin carriers did not carry tiffins. 5000 of them gathered at Azad Maidaan demanding the Jan Lokpal Bill. There was also a rally in support of Anna Hazare in Thane West.
  • People in Jamshedpur are on an indefinite fast demanding the introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill. There is also a signature campaign in Jamshedpur for the cause. Contact Arti Bajpeyi Dubey 9993503232, Harish Khutiar (Jaishpur) – 94241 82442
  • The Indian Ex servicemen Movement (IESM) joined the demand for a Jan Lokpal Bill as they joined the call given by a former soldier of the Indian army – Anna Hazare. Contact Bill Maj Gen Satbir Vice Chairman 9312404269, Cmdr. Vibhuti – 986810277
  • There was a flower rally from Rajghat to Ramlila ground in support of Anna Hazare’s demand for a Jan Lokpal Bill. Contact – Abhimanyu 9873917110 and Arunima 9560786279
  • A candle march asking for a Jan Lokpal Bill and supporting Anna Hazare was held in Dimapur, Nagaland.
  • A candle march asking for a Jan Lokpal Bill and supporting Anna Hazare was held in in Dharmanagar in the state of Tripura as well. Support continues to swell in the North Eastern states.
  • There were rallies for a Jan Lokpal Bill and in support of Anna in Jammu. The rally was from Central Park to Gol market. Contact Amer 9796876680
  • There was a gathering of over a thousand non resident Indians at the Indian Consulate at Angelo Rosse Park in San Francisco – USA.
  • There will be a march in support of Anna and his demand for a Jan Lokpal bill in Connaught Place on the 20th of August 2011. Assembly point – K Block near Nirulas outer circle at 3pm. The March will proceed to Ramlila ground at 1 p.m.
  • There will be a rally in Kolkata in support of Anna and the Jan Lokpal Bill. The rally will proceed from The Metro Channel near Metro cinema at 5 p.m. on 20 Aug 2011.
  • There will be a candle march at the Indian High Commission in London between 6pm and 8pm London Time, 20 August 2011.
  • There will be a march in Los Angeles State Bank Of India pioneer boulevard on the 20th of August 2011.
Aruna Roy

Aruna Roy

Underlying such actions also other public debates about corruption and how to control its destructive forces continue. One voice in this debate, trying to suggest a way beyond confrontation which might lead to amendments in the draft before it is voted on, comes from another social activist – also not a “young radical,” similar to Anna Hazare himself – Aruna Roy, who has been involved with the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. She is criticizing the “Jan Lokpal Bill” proposed by social activists, trying to imagine the practical problems once a law would be passed. She criticized especially the centralization of power in the Jan Lokpal Bill where an 11-member body would have powers of investigation, prosecution, punishment, or dismissal. Instead of such a centralized structure prone to become dependent to centralized power, Aruna Roy hopes to see a system of checks and balances introduced that will operate from the district level right up to the highest administrative structures, having power on different levels, and setting up special “complaint units,” which will deal with citizens’ complaints, and not only cases of corruption in high places.

“If history and wisdom are anything to go by, then such a body, by its very nature, will invite corruption, which it is supposed to eliminate.”

“The bottom line of any good campaign should be the concerns of downtrodden people. Their interests and viewpoints can be incorporated in the bill only if the debates over it reach right down to the grassroots level.”

“All law, no matter how powerful, will be useless unless every member of civil society starts fighting corruption within and without themselves.”

Dr. Kiran Bedi

Dr. Kiran Bedi

Dr. Kiran Bedi, formerly India’s highest ranking woman police officer, is a supporter of Anna Hazare; she engages in public education about the problems involved:

There is a Central Vigilance Commission, but it works under the government. “The Central Vigilance Commission has an anti-corruption wing of 3,000 people… The government uses the Central Vigilance Commission for its own political reasons. In the Jan Lokpal Bill, we have demanded that the Central Vigilance Commission should be released from the government and made an independent investigating body.”

Bedi explained how white collar crimes were not treated as serious crimes in India. “I have been in charge of Tihar Jail for two years. There are only the poor languishing in the jail who cannot pay bail. All the big criminals easily get bail and are rarely punished.”

The questions were largely about the selection process of the members of the anti-corruption unit: how would they be selected, according to the two different drafts?

The care for the new legislation is actively extending also into schools. The Education Society of the State of Maharashtra is reaching out to make students aware:

Schools in the city of Pune have taken novel steps to educate students about the Lokpal Bill and the entire issue surrounding it. While some schools have invited experts to conduct special sessions on creating awareness on the bill, others have planned teachers’ training, who will further engage classes dedicated to the bill so as to make students aware.

“A session with the teachers explaining both sides of the bill will be explained by a panel of experts. The teachers will further educate the students.” By the end of August, the schools will be ready with the schedule and plan for the sessions.

Another School has asked students of higher classes to prepare a powerpoint presentation on what they understood about the Lokpal Bill. “The students of Class 9 and 10 will prepare presentations and explain their understanding of the bill at various sessions scheduled in the school. Based on the students’ understanding, further deliberations on educating them and spreading more information will be held,” said the principal of the school.

The teachers at a school in Jnana Prabodhini also spend ten minutes every day to review the situation and teach few points from the bill to students.

The students of another school took a pledge, prepared by the school director, on how India should be free of corruption. The students and teachers recite the pledge everyday at the assembly, said the principal of the school.

The situation in India remains tense: on the one side Anna Hazare is determined to continue his course – on the other, the established political leadership is more and more aware that the broad support for Anna Hazare cannot be rejected outright:

“From 31 August 2011, the country will witness an andolan (movement) like never before in Independent India if the government does not enact the (Jan Lokpal) bill. There will be no stopping the people because they have finally woken up. So, I warn the government to choose its path soon,” said Anna Hazare.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said Indian democracy was robust enough to accommodate larger sections of society in the lawmaking process. “We are now trying to accommodate larger parts of society, including civil society, in the conventional lawmaking process. We may not have succeeded today but we might succeed in the future if we can engage them in a disciplined manner,” he said.

= = = = = = = = = =

The creation of the Anti-Corruption Unit by the Cambodian government and the legislative bodies was also the result of a long process. And, as was reported in The Cambodia Daily on 10 August 2011, “the entirety of the Anti-Corruption Law, as well as all other legal articles on corruption, [came] into full effect under the new Penal Code.”

This includes also a “new law that makes all illegal payments to officials punishable by up to 15 years in jail for those who accept such payments, and up to 10 yeas for those who make payments.” No wonder that investors and legal experts said that implementing this new law would prove to be very difficult.
A survey, published some years ago, had found that 85% of the Cambodian population considered corruption to be a part of their regular experience. Unless something like the notion of Aruna Roy takes root in society, the reported opinion of investors and legal experts might be difficult to prove wrong:

“All law, no matter how powerful, will be useless unless every member of civil society starts fighting corruption within and without themselves.”

Flattr this!

1 Comment

  1. Atulekedia says:

    Must read for all!! Lage Raho Anna !! Lage Raho Sathiyo!!
    atule kedia

Comments are closed.