Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, which electrified the Indian public during the summer and forced the government into a series of humiliating U-turns, is now itself in disarray. There are differences between the group’s leaders, and allegations of financial irregularities. But even if the so-called Team Anna implodes, there are signs that the movement he has come to embody will have a life of its own. This matters. India’s richest 100 people have lost a combined $241-billion (U.S.), or 20 per cent of their net worth in 2011, with corruption scandals a key factor in eroding value, according to a recent report by Forbes.
The actions of India’s independent public institutions are one reason to be hopeful. The Comptroller and Auditor General produced a series of reports implicating government departments. The most high-profile have lifted the lid on the 2G spectrum scam and Delhi’s Commonwealth Games scandal. The judiciary has been key, jailing former telecom minister A. Raja and Karnataka’s former chief minister for illegal land deals. The Karnataka state ombudsman is preparing a case against 617 officials accused of facilitating illegal mining.
Business is waking up. This month a group of 14 entrepreneurs, led by Wipro chairman Azim Premji, released an open letter arguing that a nexus between certain corporates, politicians, bureaucrats and power brokers was one of the greatest threats to India’s economy. The market is pushing the case. Businesses with strong political connections underperformed the market by 14 per cent in the year to April, 2011, according to Ambit Capital. A vibrant press also helps.
Even the government is playing a part. It remains committed to creating an independent anti-corruption ombudsman empowered to investigate complaints of corruption against politicians and bureaucrats.
Finally, a more youthful, wealthy and educated middle class is unsettling the balance of Indian politics. These tech-savvy voters are the core of Anna’s support.
No social movement can survive without leadership, but this one looks like it has legs even if the current crop of leaders start to wane.