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Hungry for justice
September 7, 2011 3:10 AM   Subscribe

Democracy’s Saintly Challenger India is no stranger to protest movements, hunger strikes, and the mass mobilization of citizens for a popular cause. But the recent fast by the Gandhian leader Anna Hazare, culminating in an extraordinary Saturday session of Parliament to pass a resolution acceding to his main demands, marked a dramatic departure in the country’s politics.

The Anna phenomenon reflects a “perfect storm” of converging factors: widespread disgust with corruption, particularly after two recent high-profile cases of wrongdoing (in allocating telecoms spectrum and awarding contracts for the Commonwealth Games); the organizational skill of a small group of activists committed to transforming India’s governance practices; the mass media’s perennial search for a compelling story; and the availability of a saintly figure to embody the cause. It also raises important questions about civil society’s role in a democracy.
posted by infini (42 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Noted historian Partha Chatterjee weighs in here, arguing (with some echoes of the first link in the FPP) that the anti-corruption movement is inherently anti-political, as well as reflecting the middles classes' blindspots with regards to their own complicities in everyday corruption.
posted by col_pogo at 3:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Arundhati Roy's opinion piece in The Hindu puts this in a very critical light.
posted by progosk at 3:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


ignore Arundhati Roy on this matter. Anna Hazare has the support of a vast diverse base of people who're fed up with the government and the old self-styled intellectual elites aren't going to pave the way to India's future.
posted by the mad poster! at 3:43 AM on September 7, 2011


I knew nothing about all this (save the blast of confusing media from mom's desi cable channel) until I put this FPP together after the topic came up in a previous thread, but from progosk's eye opening link:

The campaign is being handled by people who run a clutch of generously funded NGOs whose donors include Coca-Cola and the Lehman Brothers. Kabir, run by Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, key figures in Team Anna, has received $400,000 from the Ford Foundation in the last three years. Among contributors to the India Against Corruption campaign there are Indian companies and foundations that own aluminum plants, build ports and SEZs, and run Real Estate businesses and are closely connected to politicians who run financial empires that run into thousands of crores of rupees. Some of them are currently being investigated for corruption and other crimes. Why are they all so enthusiastic?

Remember the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill gathered steam around the same time as embarrassing revelations by Wikileaks and a series of scams, including the 2G spectrum scam, broke, in which major corporations, senior journalists, and government ministers and politicians from the Congress as well as the BJP seem to have colluded in various ways as hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees were being siphoned off from the public exchequer. For the first time in years, journalist-lobbyists were disgraced and it seemed as if some major Captains of Corporate India could actually end up in prison. Perfect timing for a people's anti-corruption agitation. Or was it?


Ah, Coca Cola, you finally get your revenge against activists and NGOs.
posted by infini at 3:45 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nice; Tharoor's piece as the anchor on Team Hazare. In a hurry, so I'll make a quickie before heading back for any further discussion, but I was ambivalent, sympathetic even, with Hazare until I read about how badly the proposed bill was designed.

That I had to explain why I couldnt support something unconstitutional to rabid Hazare supporters on Facebook / other discussion fora only increased my antipathy, but did not cause it. That has always been the utter slipshod manner in which they formulated a bill they deemed to be so important; so slipshod was this, that the good ol' Constitution actually received unexpected support from even lawyers across the Wagah border:
On the other side of the spectrum are people like lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani, who believes that the greatest South Asian achievement over the last 500 years is the Indian Constitution of 1950. “This constitution — and the fierce independence of Indian judiciary — is largely responsible for making India a credible world economic power. Give it enough time and India will shake off the dust of lethargy and become a first rate world power but this will require patience and complete faith in the Indian Constitution and judicial process.”
posted by the cydonian at 3:45 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is the bill unconstitutional? I can see how creating yet another bureaucracy fighting corruption could be ineffective. It all depends on who is actually running it.

Look at the consumer protection agency in the U.S that was included in the financial reform bill. People wanted Elizabeth Warren, but she was blocked from being allowed to run it unless she agreed not to actually protect consumers.

It's an interesting problem.
posted by delmoi at 3:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a damning indictment of our political system that this strap-loving, democracy-subverting demagogue is the closest thing to a statesman we can produce. This is the first time I've agreed with Arundhati Roy about anything.

the mad poster!: "Anna Hazare has the support of a vast diverse base of people who're fed up with the government and the old self-styled intellectual elites aren't going to pave the way to India's future."

Oh please. Ask any of this "diverse base" about the contents of the Jan Lokpal Bill and watch their faces go blank. We are all fed up and desperate, but that's hardly an excuse to set up a parallel bureaucracy with even less oversight than the government gets.

I guess that makes me "old self-styled intellectual elite." OH WELL

(You want to know how to start fixing our corruption problem? Make giving bribes legal. Yes, I'm serious. Pay your bribe, then report it to ipaidabribe.com with as many details as possible. Don't today it today though, or you'll go to gaol along with the recipient.)
posted by vanar sena at 4:01 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I've been hearing mutterings about Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption as being "anti-democratic." That strikes me as a load of bullshit, and ignores a long and proud tradition of activists holding politicians accountable, from Thomas Dorr to Martin Luther King Jr.

If Mr. Hazare was trying to overthrow government to replace it with a totalitarian regime, that would be anti-democratic. Having your pockets stuffed with bribe money is anti-democratic. Refusing to eat because you're upset parliament is full of crooks? Democratic.

There are some problems with Lok Pal, but it's headed in the right direction, and will probably need some revision and court tests before it's constitutionally copacetic, but it's not anti-democratic to hold the corrupt responsible for their actions. I'll go an extra step, and posit that outlawing bribe-giving as well as bribe-taking, as regrettable as that is for the poor and dispossessed as things currently are, will do them more good than harm in the medium and long term, as it will break the cycle and tradition of corruption.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:04 AM on September 7, 2011


I guess that makes me "old self-styled intellectual elite." OH WELL

lol. man, just relax. I agree that the specifics of the bill are problematic but a country engaged in politics is so much better than a country with its hands tied while the political and business elite keep robbing tremendous sums from its resources. There's something really new and different about just how wide-swept this movement was and frankly when I think of Roy et al I think of an old guard. Like the Western left pre-50s was never going to be happy with the mainstream Left of later decades, they're just from another era.
posted by the mad poster! at 4:10 AM on September 7, 2011


Slap*Happy: "Yeah, I've been hearing mutterings about Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption as being "anti-democratic.""

Even the hagiographic wikipedia page for Anna Hazare manages to point out that there have been no Panchayat election in his village of Raleghan Siddhi in over twenty years. That's undemocractic by my standard, perhaps you have a different one. The guy is a demagogue, plain and simple. He just happens to be on "our" side.
posted by vanar sena at 4:13 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


the mad poster!: "lol. man, just relax. I agree that the specifics of the bill are problematic but a country engaged in politics is so much better than a country with its hands tied while the political and business elite keep robbing tremendous sums from its resources."

You're right, I'll go do something else for a while. I agree that having people out in the street and being involved in politics is a good thing, especially for the famously apathetic middle class. I just wish it was based on actual understanding of what they're supporting, and not just more moral rage. We get enough of that already.

(Not to mention the role of the news media in all of this, but that's a different story.)
posted by vanar sena at 4:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


frankly when I think of Roy et al I think of an old guard.

Roy is a cousin of an old exboyfriend of my sister's, this was the crowd that would hang out in loose batik pajamas and tie dyed accessories, smoking pot, listening to the Dead or the Doors, in various art school dorms discussing politics and reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Now we have iPod toting, globe trotting geeks making android apps for the Right to Information Act.

What would Thomas Friedman say?
posted by infini at 4:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is the bill unconstitutional?

Per the summary of the link I provided:
[I]t is not well thought out, and by taking over the independence of courts and the investigating authorities, leaving no scheme of appeal, and the ambiguous treatment of the right to be heard, the bill is absolutely unconstitutional and should not be implemented at any cost—fast-unto-death or not. The possible implications of its enactment far outweigh the obviously good intentions that it was drafted with.
Details inside the article.

Given how shoddily the bill has been designed, I have no hesitation in saying that the Jan Lok Pal bill is a vast power-grab by one civil society group that has absolutely no democratic or constitutional legitimacy, and at best, has a very naive view of how the country works, or even, what ails it.
posted by the cydonian at 4:25 AM on September 7, 2011


What would Thomas Friedman say?

I don't know but it's kinda 'off' that so much of both groups' media and stylistic consumption is imported.
posted by the mad poster! at 4:30 AM on September 7, 2011


What would Thomas Friedman say?

1) Give it 6 months
2) Then give it 6 more months
3) There's a calculator in Kolkata
posted by spitbull at 4:36 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


infini: "Roy is a cousin of an old exboyfriend of my sister's, this was the crowd that would hang out in loose batik pajamas and tie dyed accessories, smoking pot, listening to the Dead or the Doors, in various art school dorms discussing politics and reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. "

Have you seen In which Annie gives it those ones? It's the finest writing she's ever done (IMHO, of course), and she even acted in it. God I loved that movie - it perfectly described so many of the people who were around me while I was growing up.
posted by vanar sena at 4:47 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah :) vanar sena, that was the movie's shooting I was thinking of when i described the scenes. Our man had a bit part in it. Mind you, most of the NID crowd was no different (of course, I never inhaled the politics)

The Cydonian, I just asked dad his opinion and he said that 48 years they've (Parliament) been trying to get the Lokpal thing legislated and never succeeded, right or wrong, this man did. There's more here on how its percieved as a visible spotlight on corruption in a national manner that has never happened in over 60 years of the nation's history, at least its a start and all that. It makes me wonder about this since both (mom piped up as well about the crores and crores of money being discovered) seemed to articulate what mad poster said.
posted by infini at 4:57 AM on September 7, 2011


I see the "chief minister" wants to see Julian Assange in a mental asylum.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:02 AM on September 7, 2011


At 2.52 playing TT to be exact ;p
posted by infini at 5:02 AM on September 7, 2011


From Roy's piece:

Then, on August 16th, the morning of his second “fast unto death,” before he had begun his fast or committed any legal offence, Anna Hazare was arrested and jailed. The struggle for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill now coalesced into a struggle for the right to protest, the struggle for democracy itself.

Wow, what a stupid move on the part of the government.

Also, I'd love to hear specific responses from the "ignore Roy, she's an out-of-touch Deadhead" crowd to the concern about the concentration of power and this bit, from the "criticisms" section of the bill's Wikipedia page:

Review of proceedings and decisions by Lokpal is prevented in the bill by the statement "...no proceedings or decision of the Lokpal shall be liable to be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court of ordinary Civil Jurisdiction.". As a result, how the trials will be conducted is unclear in the bill, although the bill outlines requiring judges for special courts, presumably to conduct trial that should be completed within one year.

For what it's worth, Roy's left-wing take seems worth paying at least as much attention to as the apparently heavily media-driven Anna Hazare phenomenon.
posted by mediareport at 5:04 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


An intellectual elite is anyone smart who disagrees with you.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:21 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In general, I think that the push from big corporations for greater transparency and less corruption is a good thing. Nobody should have to put up with that kind of petty bullshit all day, every day, just to earn a living. They're doing it entirely out of self interest, of course, but that doesn't mean that they aren't right. I applaud them for donating all this money for what I genuinely think is a good cause.

Now here is the next step -- civil servants that have been padding their pocket books with bribe money will demand higher salaries to compensate and will probably begin unionizing if they haven't already. That will put demands on the treasury, which will force the government to increase taxes on the very corporations who pushed for these necessary reforms.

Then these very same corporations will start bribing elected officials to prevent these tax hikes, or to pass anti-labor laws. (Or perhaps they will start lobbying organizations and hire former parliamentarians to represent them).
posted by empath at 6:15 AM on September 7, 2011


Costs that are out in the open and accountable are better than hidden unpredictable costs.
posted by Catfry at 7:00 AM on September 7, 2011


Wow. Looking at the Wikipedia article on the Jan Lokpal Bill, I'm seeing more proof that just because one side is wrong doesn't mean the other.

One side proposes the creation of an independent government with the power to levy draconian penalties -- minimum ten years imprisonment. The other proposes to write a lot of words and do absolutely nothing about the problem. The regulatory capture issue is frightening -- once you've bribed the Lokpal, what can you do?

That's the worst assumption -- that by created the Lokpal in a society absolutely rife with corruption, you will create an uncorrupted and incorruptible body. What I foresee is a lot of investigations not happing unless a full envelope crosses the desk, and a lot of convictions unless another full envelope crosses the desk.

No, I don't have a good answer -- but both of these bills are bad ones.
posted by eriko at 7:02 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, people who think that the Jan Lokpal Bill will magically solve India's corruption problems are being quite naive. Yes, there is a problem, but no, creating a body that is not answerable to anyone democratically elected, and is in a position of power over both the judiciary and the government seems like a step backwards to me.

Perhaps these Magsaysay Award winners and Nobel Prize winners of today are not corrupt -- but there's absolutely no guarantee that the council members of ten years from now will not be, and then we'll be in a much worse soup than we are in today. The greatest strength of India, despite how chaotic it is, is its vibrant democracy with an electorate that is often capable of actually holding its government accountable. Please let's not mess with that (pleaaaase!).

I thought P. Sainath spoke about it really well in this video.

Also I'm going to shamelessly copy a friend of a friend's posting about this on Facebook which pretty much sums up the issue for me:

1. I'm anti-corruption.
2. I'm anti-Anna Hazare.
3. Hazare is so cloaked in his own virtue that he believes he is above the law.
4. The law is frequently an ass.
5. Nevertheless, the law is frequently our only hope.
6. Better the elected asses than the dictatorial unelected.
7. The government is playing into Hazare's hands with its idiocy.
8. Yes, these views can be held simultaneously.
posted by peacheater at 7:48 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now here is the next step -- civil servants that have been padding their pocket books with bribe money will demand higher salaries to compensate and will probably begin unionizing if they haven't already. That will put demands on the treasury, which will force the government to increase taxes on the very corporations who pushed for these necessary reforms.

But when salaries are externalized it is easy to create sinecures by the dozens where one guy with a laptop could cover it. Right now gov't posts are cherries for allies and friends, licenses to print money.

What's needed, all pretty much simultaneously: very brutal culling of the corrupt; increased salaries; decreased red tape (which is largely artificial friction to help facilitate the need for bribery - less red tape means less need for busywork bureaucratic procedures; decreased (but MUCH more efficient and accountable) staffing of the bureaucracy; creation of a culture of professionalism and pride within the new cadres.

Done right this can be almost tax neutral. I doubt it will happen given the inertia in the system.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:26 AM on September 7, 2011


Republicans like to bitch about the Civil Service System, but it cleaned up a lot of petty corruption by formalizing the hiring and firing process, etc...
posted by empath at 8:49 AM on September 7, 2011


Police probe deadly blast outside Delhi High Court.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 AM on September 7, 2011


Republicans like to bitch about the Civil Service System, but it cleaned up a lot of petty corruption by formalizing the hiring and firing process, etc...

again with the false data, you are an idiot for stating state false info.
The civil service in america was formally started by grant and those changes you care so much about were started by a republican.
posted by clavdivs at 9:25 AM on September 7, 2011


clavdivs: yes, but it's pretty clear the author meant that modern Republicans like to bithch about the Civil Service System, which is true, just like it's true that modern "Republicans" number one enemy is the EPA and the Clean Air Act, which Nixon, also a Republican, first established. Hell, Republicans today constantly bitch about massive spending programs like Eisenhower's interstate highway development programs and Lincoln's railroad expansion programs, too.

I seriously doubt Eisenhower, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, or Lincoln would want to be associated with modern Republicanism in any way.

There's no false data in the claim that current day Republicans do constantly bitch about the civil service system, the EPA, and numerous other government programs and initiatives that were once viewed as basic common sense.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2011


OH HAI GUYS THIS IS THERED ABOUT INDIA
posted by Meatbomb at 9:59 AM on September 7, 2011


i know, i know--sorry to feed the derail. (hangs head in shame.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 AM on September 7, 2011


There's a tension that's playing out here between political institutions and political movements.

India's political institutions (the government, the parties, the parliament) are unable to deal with the problem of corruption. They're not alone. Virtually every developing country is struggling with both grand corruption (at the level of ministries and big business) and petit corruption (at the level of schools, local government services, police, etc.). They're unable to deal with the corruption for both technical and personal reasons: technically corruption is is so widespread and prevalent in society, business and governemnt that its not at all obvious what steps even the most honest government officials would take to curb it, personally they and the ministries and parties they control are themselves profoundly corrupted and so they would have to police themselves and the more powerful forces that put them in power in the first place. And it all get worse as countries get richer, because more money means greater incentives to corruption, especially if the money isn't domestically generated but comes from extractive industries or foreign donors.

Frustrated with the political system, the people "defect" from the system and a movement forms outside that system. Here its sparked by Anna Hazare. It Tunisia it was a guy who set himself on fire because he couldn't even get a license to open a fruit stand without paying a bribe he couldn't afford.

Movements are great at identifying problems. They generally suck at coming up with solutions to problems. Especially detailed solutions to complicated problems. The one exception is when the solution is to get rid of the whole system and start over from a pretty clean slate. DTMFA politically. They did a pretty good job of that in Eastern Europe in 1989, for example.

The other problem with movements is that they're not something you can use a lot. You can't keep calling people out to the square to protest. You can't keep going on hunger strikes. Movements tend to reach a peak and then peter out, especially if the complicated issue doesn't seem like its getting better.

The fix that Hazare is looking - this new anti-corruption body outside of government - won't work. Its been tried other places. It'll get mucked up in the details. And in the end, people are the same everywhere; that kind of power corrupts.

He'd be much better off calling for some big simple policy change, like the "make bribery legal" idea that vanar sena mentioned.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:02 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


On Change in India: India is indeed rising. So why are more than three-quarters of the country living on less than fifty cents a day? A snapshot of inequity, in four scenes.
posted by homunculus at 12:09 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Border between India and Pakistan is so brightly lit it can be seen from space

India-Pakistan Borderlands at Night
posted by homunculus at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2011


I'm confused what the Pakistani border has to do with this, normally your links are spot on, homunculus?
posted by infini at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2011


Er, you're right to be confused, that shouldn't be here. I was thinking about posting it in the previous thread (another great pic from space, etc) but decided against it since it's not the Moon. I'm not sure how I got here, too many open tabs I guess. Or gremlins. Flagged as derail (oh yeah.)
posted by homunculus at 1:13 PM on September 7, 2011


Have you seen In which Annie gives it those ones? It's the finest writing she's ever done (IMHO, of course), and she even acted in it yt . God I loved that movie - it perfectly described so many of the people who were around me while I was growing up.


Thanks for the tip, vanar sena. i didn't know arundhati roy could act. i thoroughly enjoyed that.
posted by ecourbanist at 3:43 PM on September 7, 2011


The Cydonian, I just asked dad his opinion and he said that 48 years they've (Parliament) been trying to get the Lokpal thing legislated and never succeeded, right or wrong, this man did.

With all due respects, isn't that factually incorrect at the very least? Hazare didn't end his fast with legislation of the Jan Lok Pal bill (for non-Indians, Jan Lok Pal is Hazare's version; the government also has Its own version of the Lok Pal bill); he ended it with vague promises that the Standing Commitee will look into three of his demands. One of his demands, that the (federal) Parliament legislate a Lok-Pal-like body for states as well is, again, unenforceable; under the Indian Constitution, law and order is a state subject, and therefore, the Parliament has no powers to promulgate state laws.

Again, if legislation is the measure here, then Rajiv Gandhi's government ought to take more credit for passing the Prevention of Corruption Act, which, while confused in that it didn't explicitly say who or what a "public servant" is, is certainly a better start than the Jan Lok Pal bill by dent of being actually constitutional.

So legislatively speaking, I'm not sure what Hazare has achieved with two rounds of fasting; sure, the upper middle classes needed to let off some steam with the excesses in Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum and so on being out in the open, but really, it in fact has setback UPA-2's own ambitious legislative agenda; some proposed bills, such as the one on judicial accountability, that would have addressed corruption even better, are now on the back-burner.
posted by the cydonian at 5:47 PM on September 7, 2011


Hm, makes me think that that there is a great example of the whole media circus around the fasting obscuring a lot of what actually needs to be done, diverted attention and made everyday folks think that something great has happened because this man drew the whole nation together (quoting) - and with the older folks, touched some nice patriotic buttons with the whole white cap/fasting business.

Also made me think about how this was a demonstration of how to bring a nation's government to a standstill...nonviolently of course.

I guess these days those foreign hands are ngos...
posted by infini at 10:41 PM on September 7, 2011


Anna’s Taandava: The wave of recent popular uprisings, including our very own, are reminiscent of an ancient cathartic tradition. Some will remember it as the Dancing Mania
posted by homunculus at 3:10 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


On Public Corruption in India
posted by homunculus at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


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