Popular uprisings happen not only against dictatorships and in Arab countries, it can happen in globally acclaimed democracies too. India is now on the verge of witnessing what some have already begun to call its ‘Arab Spring’. How far this assessment is true will be decided in the coming days, and the whole world is watching.
India is erupting in protest against the arrest of a famous anti-corruption crusader and Gandhian called Anna Hazare who is now in Tihar jail in New Delhi. In a high-voltage drama that began on Monday, the Indian government is eating humble pie over his arrest as across the country, tens of thousands, mainly students and the youth, are filling the streets in support of Anna Hazare who symbolizes the struggle against endemic corruption. The 74-year-old Gandhian is on a fast-unto-death seeking the implementation of a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) to root out corruption while the government has stubbornly refused to listen to him. Hazare was arrested on Monday shortly before he was to begin his fast and sent to Tihar jail where two federal ministers and several highly connected people are serving term on corruption charges. His arrest and dispatch to Tihar infuriated ordinary Indians who came out in thousands to express their outrage, forcing the government to reverse its decision. But Anna has refused to leave Tihar saying he must be allowed to continue his fast without any conditions as set by the government.
The fact that a single man was able to tap the huge reservoirs of anger shows the level of desperation and anger of ordinary Indians against corruption. The government of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has proposed its own Lokpal bill, but it is a lame, impotent bill which covers only 0.5 percent of the government’s officers, and some of its provisions are regressive, and metes out disproportionate punishment to whistleblowers. The civil society represented by Hazare wants a strong bill that will punish the corrupt government employees and politicians.
Anna has inspired millions of Indians. He is not a novice in political struggle, having undertaken successful campaigns in the past against corruption with a steely resolve. The ruling Congress Party and its government have already suffered devastating blows in the current episode, with the nation’s media rallying behind the anti-corruption crusader. Hazare’s campaign has galvanized the entire nation and a recalcitrant government is being forced to reconsider its positions.
India has witnessed a series of massive scams in the recent past, which has seriously dented the confidence of people in the political class. At the same time, the government has been accused of tardiness and insincerity in tackling this cancer, which in Singh’s own words has crippled the country’s development.
In such a scenario, the emergence of Hazares is inevitable.
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