India's Corruption Problem

Anna Hazare and India's Democracy

Late August is not customarily a time when India's aggrieved and long-suffering citizens gather in New Delhi's public parks to express their disenchantment with the government in office. The near incessant monsoon rains, the fetid humidity, and the enervating heat combine to dampen any desire to participate in mass protests. Yet the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is now bracing for a 15-day protest, including a fast, in the heart of the nation's capital.

At the center of this outpouring of popular sentiment are certain features of an anticorruption bill currently under discussion in the Indian parliament. The protesters and their principal leader, Kisan Baburao Hazare, an ascetic former army officer popularly known as Anna ("elder brother" in Hindi) Hazare, insist that the government's version of the bill is toothless. More specifically, they argue that any legislation must include both the office of the prime minister and the judiciary in its purview. As it is written now, the bill limits itself to civil servants and politicians and places a seven-year limit on investigations.

However, the government and its supporters -- including Nandan Nilkani, a well-regarded entrepreneur who is now head of the government's technology committee -- are equally adamant that they will not change the bill. According to them, the proposed legislation makes a good-faith effort. Moreover, they argue that Hazare and the protesters are resorting to tactics bordering on blackmail and undermining the supremacy of India's parliament, the country's elected deliberative body.

The merits of these particular questions aside, Hazare has caught the attention of Indians across the country by seizing upon well-worn Gandhian tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience and threats of fasts. He has, quite deftly, referred to his campaign as a quest for India's "second revolution," thereby invoking memories of the country's freedom from the yoke of British colonial rule.

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