Monday, September 12, 2011

Dr A S Ravindra Rao (Photo: Egils Dancis)

After the shame of high-level corruption around the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the remarkable success of Gandhian anti-graft campaigner Anna Hazare means that Indians can once again be proud, writes Ravindra Rao.

We Indians had to hang our heads in shame the last many months, as news channels bombarded the world with stories of one scam after the other, each running into millions of Rupees, and involving powerful people in or close to the seat of power. One of the most notorious which brought international shame was the Commonwealth Games last year in which the country had lost millions and its prestige. Every day we get reports of scams in the telecom sector, the defense, in land acquisition and so on. Several of our former ministers and sitting MPs are in jail charged with graft.

In response to the growing clamor in the media the Government introduced a toothless bill to combat corruption –a bill that was languishing in committees for 40 years. Many civil society activists organized protests which made some mark but no real difference. People felt helpless as the Government rejected a much stronger alternate bill drafted by the civil society. Their shame turned into anger.

An upright Gandhian, known for his integrity and dedication, Anna Hazare went on an indefinite fast pressing for the civil society version to be placed before the parliament. He became the symbol of the nation’s righteous anger. He was arrested and then something Government was not prepared for happened. Spontaneously people came out in protest in unprecedented numbers forcing his release the same day.

Most observers did not expect the magnitude or endurance of this protest against corruption –least of all the Government. Hundreds of thousands of people poured on to the streets of India –in big cities, small towns and even in many villages and it went on relentlessly for 13 days! The country had not seen anything like that before. They shouted slogans for a strong law and many went on fast themselves. Candle marches were held everywhere. Yet there was not a single incident of violence and no slogans of hate. The authorities, who had expected the crowds to dwindle, were totally lost as the numbers only grew day by day.

Finally the Government yielded and agreed to be place before the parliament the key points of the civil society draft. When the victory came, the gathered millions lead by a young leader of the ‘Anna Team’ raised their hands to take an oath never to give or take a bribe. There was jubilation but no mocking of the ones in power who had opposed their demand.

There are lessons in this.

  • Peoples’ tolerance of wrong doing by their leaders has a limit.
  • The persistence of civil society leaders helped mobilize people. This was the largest mobilization of public support for any cause after independence.
  • The movement was sustained because of one man of integrity, grit and persistence. Anna had very humble beginnings and was relatively unknown outside his state of Maharashtra, where he had won many a battle against the state government’s wrong-doing. But his sincerity and track record of service to his community was above reproach or suspicion.
  • When the Government tried to malign him, it boomeranged on them. The value of a life lived in selfless service and unimpeachable integrity will pay off when it is most needed. Such is the life of this man from a village in Maharashtra –a village which he has transformed from barren lands to bounty and a divided community to a united force.

Most heartening about the movement was the fact that there was no violence despite the scale and duration, and that the participants ended up with an oath to stop corruption themselves. The movement has given a new hope to the nation that they can claim the power to force the hands of an unreasonable government, no matter how strong the vested interests are. The role played by the media too was significant and decisive. One felt at last the hour of the people had arrived.

Gandhi has become relevant again!

Now I can walk tall as an Indian –even more than when experts predicted we would lead in economic terms or when our cricket team triumphed!

A.S. Ravindra Rao runs a dental practice in Bangalore, India. He was a member of the Initiatives of Change International Council and is on the governing board of the Indian MRA-IofC leagal body.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.