Cover Story: Anti-Corruption’s Mahatma

The incredible story of one man who has ignited a nation of a billion and few, a Little Giant who has stood for the people of India when it mattered and taught the Government a lesson in the power of true democracy. Thanks to his terrific anti-corruption campaign, the Lok Pal Bill should become reality (and, therefore, an Act of Parliament). Once passed, the law will give a chance to the people of India to deal with the corrupt at the very top of India’s public life as well as its cutting edge

INDIA SWAYS TO ANNA: The 74-year-old star rocked India on stage, infusing patriotismand purpose into the hearts of millions who watched him perform

By Sayantan Chakravarty

The script was etched in gold. The story unfolded like a great epic whose ending could have been tragic. Very mercifully, it wasn’t. What if things had gone wrong? We’d never know, but India would have been in flames. For Anna Hazare had entered the minds and homes of millions of Indians, and kept them riveted to his every move. Whole of India, including its richest, and its poorest, watched a man fasting, and hailing Mother India tirelessly. 

With every breath in his body, he sought nothing for himself, but all for a nation that needed to be saved. Those who could, came out on the streets, and milled before him in respect and solidarity, waving, bowing, and awed that one man from an Indian village could so challenge the combined intellect and force of the Indian Government, so powerfully communicate to the masses with an agenda that was totally people-centric. He was fortunate to have an intelligent and credible set of advisers (see box on Team Anna) and hundreds of eager volunteers. Not since Mahatma Gandhi had captured the minds of millions wanting a free nation, and liberation from British rule, had any one managed to garner so much support for any single cause. 

August witnessed the incredible story of this diminutive man who when pitted against an entire Government and its collective opposition, stood tall, drew the battle-lines, and then walked away triumphantly. In the end, when the Government was pushed back with an unprecedented wave of patriotism that swept across the nation, this man was a picture of calm: smiling, springing in his steps, and waving to a nation grateful. When he walked out happily from the Gurgaon hospital where he was monitored, there was no trace of the intense country-wide storm he had brewed only a few days ago—during a period of fast that lasted 12 days and which at points threatened to precipitate into a very unhappy ending. 

CAPPING VICTORY: Thousands at Delhi’s Shri Ram Lila Maidan celebrate the moment when Anna called off his fast with Anna topis (caps saying Mai Anna Hoon—I am Anna) and Indian flags. 

Photo by Kiran Yadav

This is the incredible story of one man who wouldn’t look at the newspapers that headlined him so passionately and innovatively for a month, because reading about himself would make him “feel proud.” This is the incredible story of one man, 74 years young, that moved an entire nation with his soulful conviction and his searching ways. An entire nation stood with him, and behind him. This is the incredible story of one man whose energy and drive fascinated one and all, including his detractors, mainly from one walk of life. 

This is the incredible story of one man who brought a muscle-flexing, threat-issuing Government down on its knees and made the Prime Minister of India wave out the olive branch in exasperation. This is the incredible story of one man but for whom the Lok Pal Bill meant to fight corruption would have turned into a toothless tiger. 

The Hong Kong chapter of the IAC actively campaigned for the anti-corruption bill. It spread awareness and contributed with its time, money and intellect. “The intention is to get our elected leaders to take a stand in the fight against corruption and contribute in every way to keeping Anna Hazare’s campaign going,” said Dilip K. Pandey, convenor of IAC-Hong Kong

This the incredible story of Anna Hazare, hero extraordinaire, practitioner of non-violence and stimulator of powerful dreams. He showed what people’s power can be like in a true democracy. He showed what India can do when the mind is without fear, and the head is held high. 


Fewer stories in independent India have had such an impact on a nation, fired the imagination of so many so quickly and made a hero out of India’s common man. From the poor, bare-feet strugglers in the remotest, unlit street corners to the middle-classes in the most known lawns and maidans of the country’s biggest cities, they came in droves, milling around India’s new Merchant of Hope, and dreaming of an India free from corrupt practices in times to come. 

Indeed what a pot-boiler of a cause he stirred, making Bollywood scriptwriters race off the blocks to start working on this one, great script. Incredible India has been plagued with the scourge of corruption in its highest public offices since the 1950s. But in the 21st century, public-money stealers in India have gotten bigger, bolder, and brasher, if not brainier, than ever before. As a senior official at the USD 5 billion-turnover ITC Group who knows a bit about Indian politicians told this writer recently, “the game is no longer about which Neta has amassed a couple of hundred crores… these days it is about who has Rs 10,000 crore and above.” Quite a few come to mind, easily. 


JAILED IN DUBAI: Five Indian private financial firm employees in Dubai in their 20s and 30s and hailing from the states of Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat, were arrested on August 30 for organizing without permission a rally in solidarity with Anna Hazare’s cause. They had assembled at the Al Mumzar Park. They had mobilized 150 people through social networking sites and had announced that “peace was the essence of this event.” The Indian community in the UAE is 1.75 million strong. 

NRI UK PARLIAMENTARIAN HAILS ANNA: British parliamentarian Lord Swraj Paul said " Anna Hazare has awakened India as no one else to the evil of corruption and deserves full admiration," he said. He also said that he admired the intense debates in the Indian Parliament which showed the strength of Indian democracy. 

INDIANS GATHER OUTSIDE SAN FRANCISCO CONSULATE: On August 18, about 300 people gathered outside the Indian consultate to support Anna Hazare and the cause he had taken up. Those who had collected said that many Indians were living in the USA because they were fed up of Indian systems that perpetuated corruption, and made it difficult for the common man to get things done. The protesters shouted slogans like “Ek do, ek do, corruption phenk do…(1, 2, 1, 2, throw out corruption). 

Similar protests were held in Bellevue, Washington, Artesia, California, Detroit, Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Washington D.C. and on the sidelines of the India Day parade on New York’s Madison Avenue. 

Buoyed by this lewd dance of debauchery at the top of India’s political echelons, the lower levels of Indian bureaucracy too has made merry. In the process, the life of the common man, the aam janata, has become miserable. While the top bleeds India through ruthless apportioning of public money, the lower level depletes the energy of millions of hardworking and honest men and women by refusing to do its work, unless of course bribed. The top cuts into every pie greedily. The bottom doesn’t mind scrounging for the crumbs. If either is left hungry, everything in India’s Government machinery can be brought to a standstill. 

When it comes to naked greed, nothing has changed in India even after 64 years since we were freed by the British. We continue to remain slaves to the corrupt, who rule us, rob our treasuries, and make our laws. No amount of police inquiries and charge-sheets has worked. No amount of verbal lashings from some of the finest and respected judges in the Supreme Court benches has made India’s robbing classes shy away. No amount of indictments by independent statutory bodies has made any dent. Not even the exposes, columns and scoops of numerous journalists have made a difference. Not even the death of innocent citizens who are buried under collapsing buildings that were certified as safe by the corrupt. So when in this vast desert of moral impoverishment rose a diminutive man with extraordinary courage and conviction, it was as if an entire nation was waiting to embrace his cause. Never ever in independent India have people come out of their homes and out on the streets and spent days supporting a movement like the one carried out by Anna Hazare. 


Kiran Bedi
India’s first woman IPS officer, Kiran Bedi stormed into the top levels of Indian policing in what was considered an absolute male fortress in the early 1970s. Controversies chased her as she took on powerful entities, including the legal community, and refused to buckle under pressure. For bringing about reforms in Tihar Jail, she was recognized with the Ramon Magasaysay Award. Post-retirement, she has been campaigning for consumers’ rights. She is a credible and excellent member of Team Anna who brought in integrity to everything that she did.

Prashant Bhushan
Ever since the Bofors controversy broke out in the mid-1980s, Prashant Bhushan has been raising his voice against corruption. He has never hesitated to expose the rich and the powerful who have misused their positions to amass public wealth at the cost of the taxpayer. He has been involved in over 500 PILs. At the forefront of several exposes of scams and scandals in the Government, and controversial judges in our apex courts, Bhushan and his father, former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, were ideally positioned to look into the legal nitty-gritty of the Lok Pal Bill.

Arvind Kejriwal
An IRS officer who chose to come out in the open against corruption, Arvind Kejriwal became a crucial ally of Team Anna in the fight for introducing the anti-corruption bill. He too is a winner of the Ramon Magasaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2006, essentially for activating India’s Right to Information movement. A graduate of IIT Kharagpur, he worked with Tata Steel, Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, Shri Ramakrishna Mission, and Nehru Yuvak Kendra before joining the Indian Revenue Service. At the time he quit the IRS, he was an additional commissioner of income tax in Delhi.

Young and old, women and children, rich and poor, even the corrupt and the bribe seeker supported Anna’s extraordinary efforts and that of his team like they had supported no other cause before. An engineer friend at the DDA, Delhi’s civic-housing agency notorious for grooming swindler bureaucrats who have been sent to jail, makes this revealing observation: “The corrupt are the most worried about corruption because they know its pitfalls like no one else does. Poisoned milk can kill their children, explosives sneaking in through customs can blow up marketplaces. They worry the most, for they understand the horrific results of corruption.” 

Chart: —Compiled by Nidhi and Deepali Gera; Pictures by Kiran Yadav

Caught directly in the path of this powerful hurricane that never threatened to go violent even for a single hour was today’s politician. On the one hand they found themselves cornered by a robust media, on the other was the people on the streets, out in open support of Anna. People were out in hundreds of thousands declaring the political class as thieves—a bit unfairly at times tarnishing all with the same brush. Many foul words were screamed from roof tops, blurted in street corners and volleyed across loudspeakers against India’s political leaders, though Anna and his team kept away from using words that were foul. 

Anna repeatedly captured the imagination of the nation in his own, sincere style. “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram” became oft-repeated lines with millions raising their arms in unison along with the social activist from Ralegan Siddhi in western Maharasthra. Drawing parallels with India’s freedom struggle, he would tell his countless admirers and listeners that this was India’s second fight for independence, this time to free the nation from the clutches of politicians who were fleecing India dry. “Saab lutere hain, een sabko ko hatna padega” he would say (these are all looters, they all have to go now). 


To make the hero call off his fast required a “sense of the House” in Parliament. The same Parliament which had tried to defend its actions of stopping Anna from agitating, allowed the Delhi Police to arrest him, and refused to unite against corruption. Deflated by the mood of the nation, and the rising voices on the streets of India, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that the entire proceedings of the House, and “the sense” would be transmitted to a Standing Committee. In principle, the House agreed to bring into the bill three key issues that had stood between Anna and a rapprochment—the Citizen Charter, getting the lower bureaucracy under the ambit of the Lokpal, and establishing Lokayukta in all states. 

Content, that things were moving in the right direction, Anna Hazare called off his fast just when it appeared that his health had every chance of slipping rapidly. The fast has ended, but as Anna was to say later from his residence in Ralegan Siddhi, “the Government would require such jolts from time to time” such that it was no longer able to hijack democracy by allowing a few to amass unaccounted wealth.


Over the past fortnight or so, there was little else that the Indian media seemed to care for and it was not surprising that non-resident Indians across the globe too got into the act of expressing their sentiments about the anti-corruption campaign in India. 

Media analysts have been busy characterising and explaining the behaviour of newspapers and TV news channels in the context of these developments. There is near unanimity on the view that the media hype played a significant role. We shall not debate here whether it was the absence of any other newsworthy event or their respective marketing departments’ tips that made the media go overboard. Nor shall we attribute the strong reaction of NRIs to this media hype. 

Overseas Indians are and have been amongst the worst hit by corruption in India. It was only natural, therefore, for them to give vent to their anger and frustration when the opportunity presented itself in the form of an agitation, the movers of which were apolitical and largely credible. Yes, despite all the tall promises and patronising assertions made by various public figures, ministries and governments at the provincial as well as national level, the corrupt system and its components have made the NRI suffer. 

Indians who have pulled out their roots and made a foreign land there own are much better off in this sense than those who maintain links back home. The NRI is seen as an easy prey by corrupt and unscrupulous individuals. From petty matters like paying utility bills and local taxes to major problems like protecting property from encroachers and swindlers, they run into corruption almost each time they have to face a ‘babu’ (government servant). 

Not just that. As has been rightly pointed out by many observers, the private sector is not much better. The popular sentiment is that both are equally likely to be corrupt. The only difference is that your work gets done in the private sector, whereas in the government you might end up high and dry even after paying a bribe. 

Witticisms apart, it has been the experience of nearly every NRI that certain elements back home are only too eager to exploit and fleece them. It is more hurtful because after bouts of homesickness and revived patriotism, the emotional NRI upon his return crashes head first into a wall of corruption literally the moment he lands at the airport. 

Property matters are perhaps the biggest headache for NRIs. Hundreds of non-resident Indians who have been duped into investing in properties by private developers have formed groups on various websites to share their experiences and plan action against the fraudsters. 

Several online forums on Yahoo, Google and Facebook are populated by NRI investors who find themselves in the trap of property developers who charge hidden costs, sell projects much before getting the requisite government approvals and the worst of all, never deliver properties on time. 

A group of overseas Indians which calls itself “NRIs Against Corruption” has recently sent a petition of demands to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Explaining the background, the petition notes: “People in India pay a heavy price every day due to corruption, but the community that has suffered the most due to the pervasive corruption in India is the NRI/OCI/PIO. Our human rights get violated. We continue to lose our properties, our businesses and our dignities. To harass us, our passports are confiscated. They put us in jails. False cases are initiated against us using false and forged documents. We experience the worst form of intimidation possible. There are many NRIs/OCIs who have been killed. The victim’s families have no recourse. The people that we go to for help exploit our situations to their own advantage. All of this has been made possible because of endemic corruption and lack of accountability.” 

Indeed, it is heart-rending to head some of the tales of woe of NRIs. And most of these people are enterprising, successful individuals in their own right and could be invaluable assets to India. Many NRIs have also expressed sadness over the huge embarrassment they have to face in their adopted countries when India is referred to as a country that breeds corruption. 

While demanding that the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’ be turned into law, the petition asks for every right and protection in the new legislation to be extended to overseas Indians. A separate legislation to protect the “lives and property” of all such people has also been called for. As far as protection of property is concerned, the NRI organisation has demanded that such property be accorded a special status to prevent its illegal sale, transfer or occupation. The demand for fast track courts has also been raised, again. 

The petition has urged the PM to ensure the setting up of a dedicated department within the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to handle all NRI, OCI and PIO complaints with special powers to prosecute the guilty, if necessary. It has also urged that a commission be set up for NRIs/OCIs. NRIs are also deeply concerned about the scams that do not affect them directly but are eating up the vitals of their country. This is of particular concern to NRIs in the Gulf countries and others whose roots are still back home. They often have families back home whose interests like food, electricity, water, roads, public health and education are linked to national development, which suffers because of corrupt practices. 

It is hoped that various NRI groups succeed in building enough pressure to halt at least the corrupt practices that directly affect them.

—Courtesy The

September 2011

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