For the first time, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Arundhati Roy when she writes about her unease at the developments currently unfolding in New Delhi. Anna Hazare is leading a campaign for strong Lokpal Bill to make India corruption free. Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan is a scene of this protest and Anna is on fast for the last eight days. Generation Y is particularly mobilized and if the media is to be believed, this campaign’s online presence is orchestrated by a Canadian Indian who has worked in conflict zones such as Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, using technology to introduce people-powered politics.
My first concern is that assembling such an enormous crowd on an emotive issue like corruption (which is deceptively easy to reduce to moral absolutes but in reality immensely complicated) without clear leadership is always cause for alarm. To do so in India, which struggles to straddle any number of cleavages, is downright dangerous. Igniting unrest and tension along any one of these societal fault lines is a risk that India cannot afford. The media, in particular, has a responsibility to maintain a balance where all views are heard and debated. The difficult questions must be asked – and answered: Where are the voices of reason? Where is the much-needed political leadership?
Secondly, I agree with Roy’s assessment that Hazare’s fast will not help solve the crisis. Corruption is a major problem, in India and elsewhere, but the scope and means of the current debate are very narrowly focused. Lokpal Bills are not, unfortunately, magical solutions. Weak institutions and even weaker wills ensure that corruption cannot be legislated away; Instead, movements like Hazare’s will only raise false hopes.
Lastly, 2010 and 2011 have borne witness to the undoubtable power of social media to galvanize ideas and mobilize people, especially the youth. But let us be clear: The current situation in India is not and should not be swept into the rhetoric of the Arab spring, or any efforts towards oppressive regime change. India is a vibrant democracy: We allow for debate and dialogue. We do not need support or sympathy from the rest of the world to protest against our own government. In the past sixty years, we have used democratic processes to retire administrations that do not work for our people and to reelect those that do.
Instead, let’s mobilize against the sources of temptations. In the next five years, India is planning to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure – and how we invest those funds will be crucial not only for our economic development, but also for good governance. Will the government adopt and enforce strong anti-corruption mechanisms? Will the government seek the help of civil society to stop potential leakages? And what will the government do to bring back money already stolen from India?
Ultimately, even if Hazare’s demands are met, corruption will not disappear overnight. Democratizing accountability through crowd sourcing can only be a means to raise awareness, nothing more. We have a long way to go and work has to begin on curbing major sources of corruption.