As Anna Hazare continues his fast against corruption, the Internet is waking the citizens up against graft—and fuelling protests all around India
Where does the private sector in India stand on corruption, is the question being asked at Jantar Mantar—so will it please answer it? The politicians are silent, but why is India Inc not logging in?
Rallies and demonstrations are not new for those of us who live and work in Delhi, and by those standards, Anna Hazare's "India against Corruption" March from Rajghat to India Gate and thence to Jantar Mantar earlier today was a minnow in the field of much bigger events of the political procession sort. But if as an astute observer of the street scene in and around Delhi this correspondent can say one thing at the beginning of this report-this movement is likely going to snowball like nothing ever did before in the recent past, with the possible exception of the Mandal agitation. If you are in or around Delhi, then hop on to a Delhi Metro train, ride to the appropriately named "Patel Chowk" station, and go meet the man people are calling the "Second Gandhi".
Corruption is nothing new to most Indians, especially readers of finance magazines. Nor are the after effects of bribery. Truth be told, there is a well-known and practised school of thought within private commerce in India at all levels which encourages corruption and bribery as a means to keep competition away, and that is about as straightforward as it gets, on why any attempt to curtail corruption is usually sabotaged from within-the idealists amongst us don't have a chance. Especially if we haven't tried our hands at any dhanda in our lifetimes. Especially in newly liberalised India.
It was not always so.
Before Independence, at least, the domestic private sector in India joined hands with those seeking freedom by political means. Corruption wasn't the issue. Dominance was. And they got it after 1947. Some would say this was by way of a quid pro quo-as decades of licence raj and restricted competition came their way. Sweet rewards after John Company handed over the keys to the select few approved of by the new rulers. There wasn't really any need to be corrupt or give bribes-our private sector, such as it was, owned the game, the playing field, the umpires, everybody. They made their own rules too, and then called it "Bombay Club", remember?
Then along came "liberalisation". Enough said. Suddenly the stakes were higher, and a whole lot of new players landed up, while the older lot flew in to Delhi to fight court cases on "privacy". After having blown steam through the spout on everything including everybody else's privacy for decades, the pot was now calling the kettle black.
And so, when by right, domestic private enterprise as a victim should have been seen out there on the streets condemning corruption, we have the amazing sight of observing and noting that they are doing nothing of the sort-even as they are visiting, not too far away, a Joint Committee of Parliament or something like that, on the very same subject. A Tata or an Ambani, even a Birla or a Bajaj, could have easily dropped in to lend support to a movement against corruption in the neighbourhood, right? Maybe a Bharti, a Singh, anybody?
Wrong. However, those who did try to join, and were then seen sulking on the sidelines as they had not been invited on to the dais, were a whole lot of people who could easily be identified as political hangers-on. Whether fat and in white karat-pyjamas or fit and svelte in jeans and t-shirt, there were more than a few political types who looked as though they were waiting to be invited. And were roundly booed off. However, despite it, some tried.
Of these, Sharad Yadav went on stage to loud protests, and an unidentified person trying to refer to a leader from the NCP was given the Kalmadi treatment when he took his boss, Sharad Pawar's, name. Bad day, overall, for Sharads at Jantar Mantar. Next, some random BJP functionaries arrived, and then stood quietly in the background, while their leader then gave quotes on television from some other location. What the BJP did about corruption when they were in power at the Centre is well known-the Lokpal Bill didn't make much progress then, either. Ram Vilas Paswan's group was seen at the periphery too. No dice.
Sarcastic comments about Manmohan Singh, oblique references to High Commands, and then of course-the favourite flogging horses. Arvind Kejriwal knows how to work a crowd now, and his main agenda was to take on Sharad Pawar and Kapil Sibal, while asking people to pray for Anna Hazare's health. Kiran Bedi, on the other hand, tried to work the numbers-if we were not so corrupt, we would all be rich, said she, while she led us into prayer. And then there was some pandemonium, as assorted political sorts tried to come on stage, and were denied by a Swami Agnivesh playing monitor. On the sideline were stern posters from M/s Baba Ramdev of Patanjali and M/s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living. Actually, in a way, they were the corporates present!!
It then became even hotter, and the mass of people supposed to be on hunger strike started looking at the food stalls doing brisk business not too far away-after all, with dozens of television crew vans and hundreds of media and plenty of uniformed and plains-clothes types, all keeping an eye on each other, something had to be done as the speeches got repetitive. (There is a catchy tune, though, which reminds one of the same tune used for the lap of victory done by the cricketers a few days ago).
And then, suddenly, the swish set arrived. This follows a typical pattern-the mouthpieces from the out of power and "opposition" parties join the party, the same old same old chiffon and georgette low-navel display types land up to be quoted and also to see and be seen, a few off-duty television anchors who have nothing to do with anything land up and preen around, the television media hankers for bites before sunset, and after some time the crowd goes home for dinner to get swayed by the television anchor fresh from her toe and nail pedicure making it, once again, a bi-polar debate between the "secularist centres" and the "religious right" with the "left leaning" and the anti-corruption rest brought in for humour.
But not this time. For the first time, probably, this has been an Internet-driven assembly. On a national basis. The crowd was just about a few thousand strong at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. But there were thousands and lakhs more all over the country, logging in and posting from small outposts you haven't even heard of. And lakhs online.
The first Internet-based movement, against corruption, has arrived in India. And, from our point of view, the private sector had better take a stand soon-one way or the other. Stand up and be counted.
If you are in or around Delhi, do your bit for the anti-corruption movement. A short walk away from a Metro station, go there, do something for the supporters, carry a few bottles of water or some home-cooked food for those not fasting, as they stand guard over a frail 73-year-old man trying to make it a better country for all of us. And if you who are reading this and are from the private sector, then a banner in support will mean a lot-try it?
And if you are on the Internet-then just log in.