The hypocrisy of India’s anti-corruption movement

Being a staunch liberalist means that I was overjoyed when I watched the beginning of the current anti-corruption movement in India. The Lokpal Bill seemed a shining beacon of hope for the beginning of a new India. This apparent naïveté didn’t last long however.

The Anna Hazare movement is an apparent harking back to Gandhian principles, and his movement is carried out with absolute sincerity. Critiques of Hazare’s fast comment that he is blackmailing the Government. This may be so, but the Indian Government requires this kind of hard-line approach and the eyes of the international media to really stand up and take notice of its citizens. However, the assumption that ‘Team Anna’ speaks for all the people in India is a gross misjudgment.

The middle class, Hindu-centric followers which arrogantly believe they speak for all of India’s religions, factions and minorities (of which there are thousands) are hugely mistaken. The disgust for corruption which pervades the country does not necessarily translate to support for this specific Bill that Hazare is putting forth. As Tehelka points out, “Arvind Kejriwal, has never been known to be a supporter of Dalits or an admirer of Ambedkar. He did not even hesitate to declare that no reservation can be made for Dalits in the drafting committee for the Lokpal on the grounds that for formulating laws one needs specialisation.” The lack of inclusivity of the movement fails to take into account the varied nature of India’s citizens and the caste, class, locality (rural versus urban) problems that continue to be sustained today.

What of Anna Hazare’s followers? The media is speaking of the galvanization of the middle class – ‘the apathy of the middle class is over’- but is it really? How many people standing there in Ramlila Maidan had any idea of the difference this could, and may, make to our country? Pictures of the movement show groups of gormless teenagers surrounded by endless flashes, taking facebook ‘profile pictures’ to prove their political awareness. How many of them have ever bribed a police officer in the middle of the night for drunk driving? How many people have paid for their driving license to skip the endless queuing? How many have budgeted bribes into a proposed building project just to push it through faster? Kiran Bedi made an effort to explain the movement to the crowds, and perhaps that made an impact. The movement continues with the hope that the message really will sink in.

Corruption is, in so many ways, India’s biggest problem. It creates a ‘chalta hai’ (it’ll do) mindset which gives India it’s wonderful laid-back attitude, but unfortunately, leads people to believe that bribes are a normal part of daily existence. It is those people who take a step back, look at other countries and come to appreciate that the blatancy with which corruption occurs in India is perhaps somewhat ridiculous.

I know of no one (save perhaps those ministers, cops and politicians who reap the rewards of these bribes) who is against the movement. I only have a problem with the fact that it is being marketed as a “people’s” movement. The masses are not mobilising, the middle class is. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but how many people in villages living under the poverty line know why and what is happening, apparently on their behalf? Corruption is rooted so deeply in the government mechanism, in the Indian way of life that people find it difficult to imagine life without it. Part of the problem is that officials really do not receive a salary that they can actually live off of. The bribes become part of their calculated living costs. I don’t say this to excuse bribes, but to point out that there was once a reason for why corruption became so deep-rooted. The legacy of bureaucracy that the British left behind only helped to create the red tape behind which corruption became commonplace. It is time to finally life ourselves out of that tangled mess. I have heard from so many people: “I don’t agree with the bribe system, but what can I do? There’s no other way to get anything done in India.” Perhaps now, people will realise that there is another way.

The horror of the movement finally comes to light in a story in the Times of India yesterday, buried on page 15. A college student in Chennai lost his life for not taking part in an anti-corruption protest. “The student was chased into the Adyar River and allegedly left to drown by a group of fellow students.” The twisted mind that thinks it’s acceptable for someone to actually die for this movement worries me. Indian hearts are invested in this, but Gandhian principles of civil disobedience say nothing about innocent bystanders dying for the cause. The cold-blooded malice of the students who left him for death in a river is disgusting. Corruption may be a big problem; money laundering is rampant, as was demonstrated by the Commonwealth Games, but, an innocent life has been lost. And for what?

Anna Hazare’s non-violent movement should not be tarred with blood. It should remain true to the cause of purging corruption from the ranks of India’s higher officers without injuring an innocent audience. A democratic state should mean that people also have the right not to protest; Gandhi’s “Satyagraha” (holding firmly to truth) is pertinent to today’s anti-corruption movement but Hazare’s followers would do well to remember he also stood for “ahimsa” (non-violence).

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