India at Crossroads on Path to Superpower Status

Hazare's story is remarkable. He left school at 12 and, for the rest of his teenage years, sold flower garlands in the streets of Bombay (now called Mumbai), where he was homeless. A committed patriot, he joined the army in 1963. During the war with Pakistan, in 1965, he was the only survivor of an enemy airstrike at the border post where he was stationed. Grateful to have escaped alive and convinced of his "divine calling," he decided to return to civilian life and change his country, always keeping Gandhi's concept of sustainable village development at the back of his mind. He also followed Gandhi in his later commitment to a life of celibacy.

"Ralegan Siddhi had hit rock-bottom. Most of the men made their money with illegal stills and had become alcoholics themselves," Hazare says.

And how did he bring about change in the village?

"I brought about change with persuasion and, when necessary, with tough punishment." He pauses for a moment. "Anyone I caught with alcohol after three warnings was tied to a post and whipped." Alcohol and cigarettes are still banned in his village today, and no vendor would dare to sell them. Hazare has consistently remained true to his fanatical desire to improve the nation and the circumstances of its citizens. There has been a lot of Gandhi to his methods, but also a healthy portion of Taliban.

Fighting Back with Hunger Strikes

Back in 1991, Hazare recognized nepotism as the fundamental evil of Indian society. He established the People's Movement against Corruption (BVJA), a group that only gained regional significance. But the time for change seems have to come to India now that large parts of the country are no longer willing to look on as politicians and government officials line their pockets. India is ranked 95th in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, making it even more corrupt than the People's Republic of China and many African countries.

There have been many recent reports of scandals in India. When the country hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010, it cost taxpayers at least 15 times as much as the original estimate. The country also lost about $40 billion when then Telecommunications Minister Andimuthu Raja allegedly sold a mobile wireless network for much less than it was worth.

But Indians aren't just outraged about corruption at the highest levels. In daily life, hardly anything happens anymore without paying bribes. According to an unofficial list, bribes are now commonplace in the capital. Residents can expect to pay bribes of up to $100 for a driver's license and $1,000 to register a private automobile. By comparison, the average $10 bribe expected by the police during routine traffic checks is a bargain.

In April 2011, Hazare hit a nerve when he went to New Delhi to protest against nepotism with a hunger strike and demand that politicians take concrete steps to fight corruption. His supporters built a stage for him in the city's central Ramlila Ground, where he staged an attention-grabbing public fast. The crowd grew from a few hundred to several thousand and, after a week, there were upwards of 100,000 people witnessing his hunger strike. Well-informed through private TV stations and the Internet, they flocked to the square and supported him with their chants.

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