Protests took place at India Gate over the arrest of social activist leader Anna Hazare by police. Despite a constant drizzle, protesters demonstrated against his detention and shouted anti-corruption slogans. new Delhi, India. 16th August 2011
Thousands of people, mostly young, gathered at India Gate in New Delhi at 7 pm on Tuesday (August 16, 2011) to show solidarity with the detained anti-corruption leader Anna Hazare and some of his team members. The people shouted anti-corruption slogans, waved the Indian flag and took out a protest march under the watchful eyes of the police.
This protest march was one of the many rocked the Indian capital on Tuesday after the government did not allow Hazare, a Gandhian leader from Maharashtra, to stage a hunger strike against corruption and the framing of a strong legislation against corruption. Hazare has been leading the agitation since January 2011 with hunger strikes and sit-ins in the Indian capital. His supporters have been organising demonstrations across the country since the beginning of this year.
Hazare has been able to successfully build a massive anti-corruption movement across the country also because large sections of the people have voiced strong dissatisfaction with the way the country is being run. Price rise, corruption, almost little governance, poor accountability, land scams, depletition of forests and illegal mining has led to a poor image of the government since the beginning of 2010.
Many noted activists have joined Hazare in his movement for accountability. Some of these include the father-son lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan; former senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi and former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) official and Right to Information (RTI) activist Arvind Kejriwal. There are nany others who are at the forefront handling media, communications, the social media and coordination.
Corruption and misgovernance has dominated the Indian media for well over a year now. Some of the most memorable scams include alleged bungling and misappropriation of funds spent on the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2010; the construction of a multi-storeyed complex for war-widows but allotted to senior politicians, officials and bureaucrats in Mumbai; illegal coal mining in the forests of Karnataka by ministers; favouritism shown to select corporates and bungling in the allocation of 2-G spectrum; the issue of black money stashed away in Swiss banks and dubious land deals.
It was just weeks back that the Chief Minister of the south Indian state of Karnataka had to resign after being indicted by the anti-corruption official over illegal coal mining in the state's forests.
There was another major scandal that had rocked the government. Last year, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his office had been bugged. Dozens of chewing gums had been found glued in his office at various places. It was widely believed that the chewing gums had listening devices fixed in them and that it had been done at the behest of another senior minister. An embarrassed government denied that Mukherjee's office had been bugged.
It was just yesterday, August 16, 2011, when a woman RTI activist and a supporter of Hazare was shot dead in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Over the last couple of years, many RTI activists have been murdered across the country. Most of them have been investigating dubious land deals and cases of misappropriation of funds by bureaucrats and politicians.
May senior politicians are currently lodged in the central jail in Delhi over their roles in corruption scandals. These include Suresh Kalmadi who oversaw the funding and management of the Commonweath Games; former telecom minister A Raja and Member of Parliament Kanimozhi for their roles in the 2-G spectrum scam; several bureaucrats and executives for their involvement in the 2-G spectrum scam. Recently, the Union Minister of Textiles Dayanidhi Maran had to resign from the cabinet after allegations that he had forced a business tycoon to sell off his stake to a Malaysian company.
With all these cases coming to light and the courts also taking a pro-active stand against politicians and bureaucrats, people have been roused by Hazare's agitation. Hazare, who follows Gandhian ideals and his way of protest, has been demanding that the government frame an anti-corruption law which has the power of prosecuting, or taking action, against senior bureaucrats, ministers, judges as well as the Prime Minister.
Ever since Hazare's agitation, the government has been drying to denounce his movement, discredit his supporters and cast aspersions on their integrity. It was just two months back that the government had been able to successfully break a similar agitation launched by yoga guru Ramdev in Delhi using brute force. Ramdev was arrested and deported to his ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas. He had been pressurising the government to bring back money stashed away in Swiss Banks.
For the moment, Hazare has captured the imagination and the attention of a wide swath of people. But he has his share of critics too. Many within the civil society movement say that he is blackmailing the government by threatening to go on a fast to death. They also feel that Hazare is misusing the Gandhian way of protesting. But his supporters say that the Indian government is being obstinate over the issue of corruption in high places - which has spread fast and is now all-pervasive.
As the anti-corruption movement continues, both the parties will try to out-manoeuvre the other. As of now, Hazare has outwitted the government but the government, and indeed many of its ministers, has hardened its attitude towards Hazare. What it failed to read was the popular sentiment sweeping the country and the fact that it cannot govern the country the way it wants. We still await the last word on the issue.