Just when Indians everywhere are placing high hope on Anna Hazare who is touted as the new ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ to fight corruption … Here comes the bad news: -
Under pressure, Anna Hazare may tone down demands
Veteran social activist Anna Hazare raises his fist in front of a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi August 19, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Parivartan Sharma
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Supporters of Anna Hazare whose hunger strike campaign has galvanised millions of Indians appeared to reach out to the country’s embattled government on Sunday after coming under pressure to tone down their demands.
At least 50,000 people gathered on Sunday to support Anna Hazare, a 74-year-old self-styled Gandhian activist who was on his sixth day of fasting at an open ground in the capital, one of the biggest protests yet and a sign of his continuing deep popularity on the streets.
Protesters chanted “Anna, you keep fighting, we are with you,” and “Hail mother India”.
Hazare says the hunger strike, which involves not eating but drinking water, will continue until the government passes a tough anti-graft bill he champions.
But his insistence the government introduce this bill on Tuesday and pass it by the end of this month sparked criticism that his group was dictating policy to an elected parliament, and a leading member of Hazare’s team appeared to reach for a compromise.
“We are in favour of discussion,” Arvind Kejriwal told supporters on Sunday. “We want to ask the prime minister whom should we come to talk to, and when and where.”
His statement came after one of India’s foremost civil rights organisations, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), said it would introduce its own anti-graft bill.
“I think Anna-ji is ill-advised … anyone who says my view should be the only view is wrong,” Aruna Roy, a member of the NCPRI and one of India’s most famous social activists, was quoted by the local media as saying.
Hazare left jail on Friday to huge cheering crowds and widespread media coverage. He was briefly arrested on Tuesday, but then refused to leave jail until the government allowed him to continue his public fast for 15 days.
The activists’ supporters say he will not fast to the death but a medical team is on hand to monitor his condition. Hazare has carried out scores of hunger strikes to pressure governments over social issues in the last few decades.
Hazare’s campaign has struck a chord with millions of Indians, especially the expanding middle-class sick of endemic bribes, and has become a thorn in the side of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his government battles corruption scandals.
The Times of India on Sunday said that more than one million people had joined the newspaper’s online anti-graft campaign, and local media said there were more than 500 protests across India on Friday, the day Hazare stepped out of jail.
But criticism of Hazare, who has evoked memories of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, appeared to increase. �
“Team Anna’s rhetoric is stopping to make sense,” was the headline of the Mail Today on Sunday in an editorial that criticised Hazare’s rush to get his bill passed.
Hazare on Sunday remained defiant, telling supporters that “it’s time for another revolution”.
The criticism came as Singh, widely seen as out of touch, won some praise on Saturday for saying he was open to dialogue – the first time in a week that his fumbling government appeared to have taken an initiative over the crisis.
In another sign of moves for a compromise, a ruling party lawmaker has sent Hazare’s bill to a parliamentary committee for consideration, meeting a demand of the protesters.
Several scandals, including a telecoms bribery scam that may have cost the government up to $39 billion, led to Hazare demanding anti-corruption measures. But the government bill creating an anti-graft ombudsman was criticised as too weak as it exempted the prime minister and the judiciary from probes.
For many, the pro-Hazare movement has highlighted the vibrant democracy of an urban generation that wants good governance rather than government through regional strongmen or caste ties — a transformation that may be played out in 2012 state polls that will pave the way for a 2014 general election.
A weak political opposition means that the government should survive the crisis, but it could further dim the prospect for economic reforms and hurt the Congress party in elections.
The main Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is organising a nationwide protest against the government on Thursday, while a group of left parties is planning a national protest on Tuesday.
India corruption: ‘I paid a bribe for a death certificate’
“I was so ashamed,” the 24-year-old student said at a rally in support of hunger striker Anna Hazare, who has launched a hugely popular movement to rid India of graft and tapped into deep-rooted public frustration in the process.
“I want to fight corruption now,” Yadav added as the crowd roared its admiration for Hazare, 74, a social reformer whose fast for a tough anti-corruption law has cornered India’s Congress party-led government.
On a Bangalore-based website, ipaidabribe.com, Yadav’s tale is echoed by thousands of others who vent their anger and share experiences of graft in India where bribes and kickbacks are routine.
“Bribery has become a syndicated business, in every government department, in the private sector – it has become part of the system,” T. R. Raghunandan, a retired civil servant who coordinates the website, told AFP.
Contributors describe how they paid bribes to get driver’s licences, passports, birth, marriage and death certificates, building approval, property deeds, gas connections, school entry, pensions and even medical treatment.
“The municipal office said I’d never get my marriage certificate unless I paid them so I took money from my hard-earned savings and paid them 1,000 rupees ($20),” said one irate complainant.
Global anti-graft body Transparency International ranks India 87th – just below China – on its corruption perception index, which orders the cleanest countries first.
“Just as fuel is needed to start the engine of a car, in India, a bribe is the fuel to get work done,” said commodity trader Shanti Raman, who was among the crowd at the Hazare rally, many of them young and middle class.
While anger over corruption has simmered for a many years, emotions have been brought to boil by a slew of corruption scandals, notably an alleged $39 billion telecom scam, which has seen one minister arrested and another resign, and last year’s hugely over-budget Commonwealth Games.
Congress premier Manmohan Singh enjoys a rare reputation for honesty among India’s murky political establishment, but has been pilloried for failing to prevent the scandals that occurred under his nose.
India’s gross domestic product has quadrupled since economic liberalisation began in 1991, transforming the country into one of the big growth stories of this century, but the sums involved in graft have ballooned in parallel.
“There was always bribery but on a smaller scale. Now the greed has become excessive,” a senior government bureaucrat who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.
Investment house Goldman Sachs has cited “governance” – political and corporate – as India’s biggest challenge in attaining its economic potential.
Pratyush Sinha, recently retired as head of the Central Vigilance Commission, the government anti-corruption watchdog, said graft had become an “accepted” part of the social fabric.
“When we were growing up I remember if somebody was corrupt, they were generally looked down upon,” Sinha said. “That’s gone.”
As Indians have become more affluent, some citizens also are quite willing – and able – to pay bribes to get transactions done quickly.
“We’re not scared of offering bribes and people don’t hesitate before taking them. We should be ashamed,” said Anita Trehan who admitted she gave a 20,000 rupee bribe to receive a government permit to start a beauty salon.
“Some people don’t want to wait. They pay ‘speed money’ to get things done,” said Raghunandan, who helped found ipaidabribe.com last year to bring pressure on authorities to clean up the system.
“But there’s also fear if they don’t pay something might happen – their property deeds might get lost for example,” he said.
Anti-corruption activists say it is necessary to revamp administrative procedures, creating more competition for tenders and computerising records, to cut down on opportunities for graft.
On the ipaidabribe website, there is also a section for people to share stories of their surprise at not being asked to pay money.
“There are magnificent, good things happening too. They show there’s hope,” said Raghunandan.
Indian-Americans urge PM to table Lokpal Bill in Parliament
A group of Indian-Americans has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to meet the demands of social activist Anna Hazare by himself tabling the Jan Lokpal Bill in the parliament.
“We hope you will take the call and retain the faith in parliament by yourself going ahead with tabling the Janlokpal bill to end the deadlock. Whatever decisions you make today will be remembered in our history for generations to come,” said a petition submitted to him at the Indian Embassy here.
Holding their protest in support of Hazare for the sixth consecutive day, the group, including students from universities in and around Washington said corruption is the greatest hurdle in the progress of India.
“Since decades we have seen scandals after scandals, but no politician was ever punished or held accountable,” they said, “Anti-corruption activist Shri Anna Hazare has entered sixth day of his ‘anshan’ and there is still a deadlock between the government and the civil society members. There have been no positive developments in the past few days.”
“We along with Anna are quite clear what we want, but the government is still confused. Strong ‘political will’ to fight corruption is the need of the hour.
Government must come clean on it’s intentions and at least table the Jan Lokpal bill in the parliament. We do have faith in our parliamentary system and are proud of our vibrant democracy, so what’s the harm in at least tabling the bill? What’s there in it for the government to lose?” the petition said.
“This movement has moved beyond Anna and Jan Lokpal Bill. Middle class is rallying there for a cause which has been bothering them for decades. By placing a toothless bill, government ‘intent’ is exposed.
For days to come, we have to keep our finger crossed as a new history is in making!” said Vibhash Jha, a Ph.D student at the University of Maryland.