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India: Anti-Corruption Campaign Fires a Country's Imagination

In April this year Global Voices reported how social media was being used in India to power civil society's push for a proposed anti-corruption bill (popularly known as the Jan Lokpal Bill). There was, at the time, a lot of debate about the sustainability of the fledgling movement, which was being led from the front by a Gandhian social activist Sri Anna Hazare.

A lot has happened since then but what has been undeniable is that the anti-corruption movement, after having proved the nay-saying pundits wrong, has gradually managed to capture the imagination of a large section of the Indian public.

Anna Hazare addressing the people and media at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Image by Sarika Gulati, copyright Demotix (08/04/2011).

Anna Hazare addressing the people and media at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Image by Sarika Gulati, copyright Demotix (08/04/2011).

Today, the movement is not only restricted to India but has also seen support from the non-resident Indian population. It has also caught global attention (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 etc.), bringing forth conversations and discussions/debates surrounding not only the issue of anti-corruption, but also about the entire movement and the intense political drama that has unfolded as a result of this current social movement – being touted by team Anna as the “second freedom struggle”.

Given below are some of the key recent milestones of this social movement that has taken the country by storm (Sources: 1, 2).

  • 8 June, 2011 – Anna Hazare starts a day-long fast as a mark of protest against corruption and against the Government's strong-arm tactics to curb peaceful protests on the issue.
  • 9 June, 2011 – Hazare describes his fight against corruption as the “Second Freedom Struggle” and sets an ultimatum of 15 August 2011, as the last date to pass a strong Jan Lokpal Bill, threatening to otherwise intensify his anti-corruption agitation and start another fast from 16 August. (the first phase of his fast/agitation was in April).
  • 21 June, 2011 – Government representatives and the civil society team fail to reach a consensus in jointly drafting the proposed bill, even as the government initiates the political process of tabling the proposed bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament. Fearing that the Government draft would be passed in Parliament (where only 15 points, out of a total 71 recommended by civil society, led by team Anna, were agreed upon and included in the joint draft), Anna Hazare declares that if the government version of the bill was passed in the Parliament, he would start his hunger strike from August 16, 2011.
  • 29 July, 2011-The Government rejects the civil society's demands of bringing in the high offices of the Prime Minister etc., under the purview of the Jan Lokpal and moves ahead with its own draft of the anti-corruption bill.
  • Anna Hazare with supporters, in Delhi. Flickr image courtesy vm2827 (CC By-NC 2.0).

    Anna Hazare with supporters, in Delhi. Flickr image courtesy vm2827 (CC By-NC 2.0).

    (More images of the growing public support for Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement can be found here)

  • 14 August, 2011 – Deciding that they would not give into pressure tactics from the civil society, the government & the ruling Congress Party launches a counter-attack against Anna Hazare, charging him of corruption, calling his agitation undemocratic and lashing out at him for ‘bringing instability to the country'.
  • 15 August, 2011 – Terming the government version of the bill as a weak one, Anna Hazare announces at a press conference that he and his supporters were determined to go ahead with the fast on 16 August, 2011,  as planned. He also urges people to court arrest as a mark of civil disobedience, to push for a stronger Lokpal bill. In retaliation, the Government imposes Section 144 at the possible protest sites, which prohibited assembly of five or more persons.
  • 16 August, 2011 – Anna Hazare is detained by Delhi Police in the early morning before he could start his hunger strike at JP park, Delhi. Delhi Police had asked Anna not to leave his home, which he declined, and Anna was detained at his residence in Mayur Vihar. Prominent members of his team and more than 1200 supporters were also taken into preventive custody by the Police. Anna Hazare is sent to seven days judicial custody to Tihar jail after refusing to sign a personal bond to be released on bail. He begins his fast in detention and refuses to leave jail until his right to peaceful protest is restored.
  • 18 August, 2011 – The government realises that it has precipitated a socio-political crisis by completely miscalculating the public mood. Even those sections of society who were sceptical about Anna's methods now became vocal against the government's strong-arm tactics. An anti-corruption conversation soon turned into one of repression of peaceful protest and curbing of freedom of expression. Demonstrations are held all over India protesting the arrest. The government soon succumbs to public pressure, decides to backtrack and give Anna the right to hold his public fast.
  • 23 August, 2011 – As Anna Hazare continues to fast at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has appealed to him to end his fast and agreed to re-open channels for dialogue with the civil society on the issue. Public support continues to grow, though a section of the people are also questioning what they see as undue pressure tactics on the part of team Anna to arm-twist a parliamentary democratic system.

In the world of social media, the support for Anna Hazare's movement against corruption continues to receive a huge amount of support – on Facebook, Twitter, online forums, blogs etc.  Supporters have even launched mobile apps for Android and Nokia phones – a first for a social movement in this country, which has prompted a guest author to write on Watblog.com:

    The ongoing struggle for getting the Jan Lokpal Bill approved and legislated has been dubbed as the first Social Media Movement of India…Big-development today is the phone apps. It was only a matter of time before the India Against Corruption spearheaded movement gets associated with the convenience and efficiency of the Android app, and rightly so. If you were wondering what progress have Anna and his supporters seen since your last rendezvous on RSS feeds/news channels/twitter hashtags worry no more. Two students of Sastra University in Tanjuvar, Tamil Nadu have devised an Android app called the Lokpal App. The app may sound too optimistic given how an appointed Lokpal is still a distant dream. But given how the movement is largely driven by the flow of news in the form of text and visuals and also on how sentiments that are affected in the public with every single piece of progress and failure has shaped the mass opinion over months this app might just play the all-important role of the backstage hand to the stage of Indian socio-politics.

    Screenshot of the India Against Corruption web page featuring the mobile apps.

The transnational web community at Avaaz.org is running a campaign in support of the anti-corruption movement in India. They are seeking to rack up 250,000 signatures in an online petition calling the Prime Minister to take active steps for freeing India from corruption.

On Facebook, a call to support Anna Hazare's fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill has garnered over 52,000 supporters.  Tweets are abuzz with conversations about Anna and his fast. Here are a few examples:

@bipsluvurself : Anna Hazare needs to be supported to kill the ‘Demon’ called ‘Corruption’ that is eating up our Country!

@mrunm07 : We need millions of “Anna Hazare” to stop corruption in our country India.

@jhunjhunwala : I can understand that many don't support Anna or his fast but its ridiculous to arrest someone because he goes on a hunger strike.RIDICULOUS

@PritishNandy: Even those who may not agree with the Janlokpal movement should now stand up for Anna and the right to protest.

@pixelAdrop: @thekiranbedi Truly Inspiring! Long Live Anna Hazare.

@ash_r_danush: i want my children to grow up in a corruption free INDIA..so would u! i support anna..vande maatharam..live life !

However, some tweeps continue to be sceptical about the momentum on social media and it's impact on the ground.

@lathasunadh: Anna hazare powerful on fb and twitter screams headline. Showing fb-twitter support is nothing. It only means pple chose a click of a button

Watch this space for more round-ups of the actions and conversations surrounding India's unprecedented civic protest against corruption. In the next post in the series, we will explore more conversations about why some of the netizens are supporting the movement and also what arguments a section of citizens are putting forward as to why they remain unconvinced about the Jan Lokpal Bill, Anna and his methods.

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