Why has Kiran Bedi lost its popularity

ASIA / 729: India - hunger strike against corruption, population pays new "Gandhi" respect (IPS)

IPS-Inter Press Service Deutschland gGmbH
IPS daily service of April 8, 2011

India: hunger strike against corruption - people pay their respectsnew 'Gandhi' respect

By Ranjit Devraj

New Delhi, April 8 (IPS) - Anyone who observes 73-year-old Anna Hazare, who wants to persuade the government to take effective anti-corruption measures with a hunger strike in the heart of the Indian capital New Delhi, is inevitably reminded of Mahatma Gandhi - the man who led India to independence.

Hazare himself is a great admirer of Gandhi. Before he settled under a canopy to fast on April 5, he had visited the grave of his role model and vowed to sacrifice his life for his immediate goal: to prevent a law that entrusts a toothless ombudsman to review high-profile corruption cases.

Hazare and his colleagues are demanding that civil society have a say in the election of future ombudsmen. They also want to ensure that investigations into corruption cases do not drag on indefinitely, as has been the case up to now, but must be completed within a year. In addition, they consider an increase in prison sentences for corruption offenses from the current six months to seven years to five years to life as appropriate.

Like Gandhi, Hazare instills respect in people. The people who settled behind the canopy on the lawn belonging to the Jantar Mantar observatory, which was specially released for the protests, bear witness to the great popularity of the old man and his cause.

Support from politicians undesirable

Hazare made it clear from the start that he was not interested in the support of representatives of political parties. Politicians who approach him in the hope of a quick photo are pushed back by the crowd.

"We are tired of witnessing corruption after corruption without the politicians, bureaucrats and business people involved being held accountable," said Ashish Arora, a Hazare supporter.

For months, India has been plagued by one corruption affair after another, which plunged the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) into a serious credibility crisis and made calls for the head of government to step down.

"The prime minister must resign," said Lal Krishna Advani, head of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiaya Janata Party (BJP) in connection with an affair that sparked a newspaper report referring to minutes of US diplomats published by WikiLeaks. According to the report, the Indian government has spent millions of rupees buying votes in order to get a deal through parliament with the US on the civilian use of nuclear power

In March the Supreme Court reversed the appointment of Fr. J. Thomas as head of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), India's anti-corruption agency. The court relied on Thomas' involvement in an oil import scandal that his agency had not discovered. According to political analysts, the verdict was the biggest blow to the Singh government, especially since the prime minister headed the committee that approved Thomas' appointment as head of the CVC.

The Supreme Court also accuses the government of failing to take action to prevent wealthy Indians from spending their funds in tax havens. According to a Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report, India lost $ 213 billion to such illicit financial flows between 1948 and 2008.

In addition, the former telecommunications minister A. Raja and several company managers are currently facing court. They are suspected of cheating on the state for more than $ 39 billion. Raja is said to have sold second-generation broadband licenses well below their value to large cell phone service providers such as 'Reliance Telecom' and 'Unitech Wireless'. The entrepreneurs later sold the licenses at considerably higher prices.

Law watered down

In the face of these many scandals, anti-corruption activists consider the appointment of an independent Lok Pal (ombudsman) to be an absolute imperative. "It is also important that the Lok Pal can initiate its own independent investigations," said Jayaprakash Narayan. "Otherwise he can't move anything." According to Narayan, the government lacks the necessary political will to fight corruption in the country on a lasting basis. This shows in the unwillingness to ratify the anti-corruption convention of the United Nations.

According to the human rights activist Prashant Bhushan, the introduction of a law to appoint an ombudsman has not been unsuccessful eight times due to opposition from MPs. The new version has meanwhile been watered down to such an extent that corrupt politicians have nothing to fear.

The organization 'People Against Corruption' (PAC), of which Bhushan also belongs, is of the opinion that a future ombudsman will be elected by a committee made up of various actors and not, as provided for in the present draft law, by a three-member committee of retired judges. PAC also calls for the future ombudsmen to be empowered to investigate suspected corruption MPs instead of waiting for information from the Indian lower or upper house.

Corrupt state employees may so far only be prosecuted on the basis of the Indian criminal law of 1860, which dates back to colonial times. The investigation can also only begin when the central government gives the investigators the green light.

According to Bhushan, there has been an unprecedented increase in corruption in the ten years the government has been rigorous in privatization and liberalization. "That is another reason why we need a strong Lok Pal immediately."

The 73-year-old hunger striker Hazare appears to be determined to go to extremes to achieve this goal. "Anna Hazare is a stubborn man and a true Gandhian," confirms former police officer Kiran Bedi. "He will not give up until the government approves civil society participation in the Lok Pal nomination process." (End / IPS / kb / 2011)


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IPS daily service of April 8, 2011
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published in Schattenblick on April 12, 2011