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India India Sees No Evil

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
August 26, 2011

India sees no evil

In a country where bribes only get you what's rightfully yours, Anna Hazare's refusal to fold is touching many

By Ramesh Thakur, Postmedia News - August 26, 2011


India has an unmatched capacity to look opportunity firmly in the eye, turn around, and walk off resolutely in the opposite direction.

In the latest manifestation of this national pastime, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could have appropriated the cause and channelled the surging people's movement to enact tough new laws to catch and punish the corrupt practices and cement India's economic future. Instead he has responded with vacillation and, by resorting to state intimidation and police harassment of activists, planted his flag on the wrong side of history.

In 2008, Singh's government allegedly survived a no-confidence vote by bribing some lawmakers. Recent mega-scandals include the 2010 Commonwealth Games boondoggle, a $40-billion telecom scandal and a real estate scam in Mumbai. Telephone intercepts revealed a nexus of journalists, businessmen and politicians doing deals in a profit-for-everyone chain.

The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity estimates that Indians hold $462 billion in illicit assets overseas. The annual capital flight is worth 17 per cent of GDP. India's Supreme Court calls this "pure and simple theft," a "plunder of the nation."

Licences, degrees and permits bought and sold daily are less spectacular, but affect most folks. The overall impression is that society has lost its moral moorings, greed is good, everything is a commodity and everyone is on the take.

Like India's famous three monkeys, Singh neither sees, hears nor speaks evil. He has not gained pecuniary benefits himself, but there has been an explosion of financial corruption and blurring of the boundary between public power and private gain on his watch. Like Norman Lamont's description of British prime minister John Major, Singh is in office but not in power.

Corruption is a cross-party state of mind and habit: the BJP-led state government of Karnataka is the most recent instance of charges of public larceny on a grand scale. But the party did dump the state premier. By contrast, in a recent poll, 60 per cent of Indians held the Congress-led government to be corrupt and 44 per cent believe that it wants to protect, not pursue and prosecute, those with black money stashed abroad.

In April, 74-year-old social activist Anna Hazare undertook a fast unto death - a technique of civil disobedience sanctified by Gandhi during the freedom struggle against British rule. The government capitulated to his demand for a joint committee to draft a Lokpal (people's ombudsman) bill. Instead of a robust bill, the government proposed a particularly limp one: few of the recent big scandals would have come within its ambit.

The people ridiculed the "Jokepal" bill. When Hazare threatened another fast, he was arrested.

Some of Hazare's demands are unreasonable and uncompromising. The threat to fast unto death amounts to political blackmail. But, fiercely proud of democratic institutions, traditions and practices, Indians were appalled by the government's ban on peaceful protests. They reacted with derision and disdain to the attempted character assassination of Hazare by political attack dogs.

His preventive detention last week united opposition parties and citizens. Describing his fight against corruption as India's second freedom struggle, Hazare called for and got mass, nonviolent protests across the country. Indians flooded the streets in tens of thousands, waving the national flag and chanting patriotic slogans.

In a strongly worded editorial, The Hindu, India's heavyweight newspaper of record, argued that the Singh government is "devoid of moral authority" because it is "widely perceived as the most corrupt in the history of independent India," and had "revealed its ugly, repressive face." The Times of India, the largest circulation English daily, accused the government of "stonewalling ... highhandedness and moral bankruptcy." Unnerved by the swelling protests, the government has released Hazare. Last Friday, he led yet another protest.

Hazare has tapped into a deep reservoir of rage and revulsion against the political class and ruling elite. The government finds itself badly out of step with a restive and angry national mood on common corruption that inflicts daily hardships and humiliations on most citizens. While in western countries bribes are paid sometimes for extra-legal services, Indians must pay bribes to get what is theirs by right. Hazare's movement has touched a raw nerve and mobilized a genuine mass constituency cutting across regional, caste and religious divides to confront a lethargic government.

India risks remaining a compromised democracy and an incomplete power unless and until major invasive surgery is performed on the body politic to cut out the cancer of corruption.

Ramesh Thakur is professor of international relations at the Australian National University and adjunct professor in the Institute of Ethics, Governance and Law at Griffith University.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

source: http://www.{censored}/news/India+sees+evil/5311184/story.html



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