Posted by: John Elliott | April 8, 2011

India’s anti-corruption protests win concessions from the government

This hasn’t been the beginning of a Middle East style jasmine revolution, and Tahrir Square has not come to central Delhi, but protests against corruption that spread across more than a dozen cities in India this week showed how people are tiring of the fraud, extortion and crime-ridden politics that dominate the way the country is run.

Anna Hazare (left)

The protests mushroomed over four days in support of a hunger strike by a 73-year old publicity-conscious social activist, Kisan Baburao “Anna” Hazare, who wants to wrest control from the government for drafting Lok Pal (ombudsman) anti-corruption legislation that has been talked about since the 1960s.

[APRIL 9: Hazare ended his fast this morning after the government gave in to his demands by formally notifying creation of the committee drafting the Lok Pal legislation with co-chairmen and equal representation from civil society and politicians. These events have been widely welcomed though there is concern about the Lok Pal’s potentially undemocratic role giving undue power to unaccountable activists that would undermine parliament and the judiciary.]

The basic problem is that politicians and bureaucrats are not seen as being accountable and frighteningly few are seen as being “clean”, while corruption is endemic in the police and has spread alarmingly in the judiciary over the past decade or so.

Last night I heard from bankers and others how young professionals were going after work from their offices to the Jantar Mantar site to add their voices to the complaints, as also happened in other cities. Extensive television coverage, plus messages on Twitter, Facebook and mobile phone texts, have helped to build support and spread information across the country about the cause and protest meetings.

The demonstrators know that corruption goes right to the top of the government and political parties. While no-one accuses prime minister Manmohan Singh of gaining financially from corruption, he has benefited because his acceptance of what is happening in his government means that he remains in his job. Kapil Sibal, the government’s negotiator with Hazare, has been drawn in because, as telecom minister, he recently tried unsuccessfully, for political reasons, to excuse Andimuthu Raja, the disgraced former telecoms minister (pictured below) who led the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal.

Even the Congress Party leadership under Sonia Gandhi, who also heads the governing coalition and appealed unsuccessfully earlier today to Hazare to end his fast, is not exempt. Rumours and gossip are gathering momentum behind the scenes about where bribes paid on last the Commonwealth Games and other major scandals finish up in Delhi, and where that money is then invested.

A Delhi university student displays 'Fathers of corruption'

In a rare and unexpected example of someone almost admitting guilt, Sharad Pawar (pictured left), the veteran agriculture minister and leader of the Maharashtra-based Nationalist Congress Party, resigned this week from a committee on the Lok Pal legislation. He had just been named by Hazare as a politician who “is known for possessing large amounts of land in Maharashtra” – a wordy euphemism that neatly encapsulated years of rumours.

The flow of corruption stories is seemingly never-ending, as are reports suggesting that the government is trying to shield leading politicians in the telecoms and Commonwealth Games scandals.

For several weeks, a series of revelations have shown how unsafe the countries airlines have become because of fraudulent licences given to unqualified pilots. There have been stories about illicit land deals involving Muslim charities and an army golf course, and about Karnataka politicians misusing a student bicycle scheme. WikiLeaks tapes on a 2008 parliamentary vote-buying scandal have embarrassed Singh and the government.

The head of India’s Central Vigilance Commission – appointed inexplicably by Singh – had to resign from his job last month because of old unresolved corruption allegations. Accusations of insider dealing in the US (and other allegations) against Indian-born Rajat Gupta, the former world-wide head of McKinsey who has resigned from several top posts in recent weeks, has added to the image of a society in trouble.

The moment was therefore ripe for Hazare’s protests, which were well timed because the Congress Party is in the middle of assembly elections in five states where voting could be affected by the publicity.

Especially significant has been the involvement of young professionals. The protests came just a few days after young India celebrated the country’s cricket World Cup victory until the early hours last Saturday night  and Sunday morning.

 Those public revels would have been unthinkable for their parents’ generation, such is the change that has swept across India in the past 20 years. But what is clear today is that this is not just a generation that parties, it is also a generation that is impatient with the way that the country is run.


By the middle of this afternoon when I visited the main Delhi protest area adjacent to the traditional Jantar Mantar meeting ground, what started as a dedicated anti-corruption movement had developed into a jumble of professional protestors, banner-carrying youth jumping and chanting for cameras, with speeches from the saffron clad gurus, actors, lawyers and others who flock to be seen at such events. Later it swelled into several thousands and spread to India Gate on Delhi’s processional Raj Path. Support also came from leading businessmen assembled at the CII business federation’s annual meeting in Delhi.

A few weeks ago, I argued in this blog that the sort of protests that unseated governments in the Middle East could not do the same in India. I said that, while corruption was a potential issue for such protests, millions of people enjoyed the spoils right down through the system to village level, so it arouses condemnation and protest demonstrations, but not potential revolt.

The demonstrators that I saw this afternoon were not out to expel the government, and many will not even really want to change how it operates. But what is significant is the involvement of young professionals, who do not generally share in the gravy train and who are saying that corruption must end.

 The politicians need to listen, clean up their act and give a lead. The government’s concessions tonight show that they are worried, and vulnerable.


  1. I hope hazare sir want to welcome people who are corrupted , some corrupted people are ready to surrender valenttarly . If he welcome such people somany ” scams ” will come out .

  2. it is the time to change the constitution of India as say Bharat after Freedom of India, our government culture is
    based on British Government Rules and Regulation or their constitution so want the freedom from current indian
    government constitution and it should be made or changed as per the pure Bharat Darshan or bhartiya rules or
    regulation constitution. It will be a big freedom for Bharat or India. In this fight, may be attached all type of freedom

    fighters. Now, the government is on working as paper or e-paper based. But what the actual wants the Indian Land or

    Bharat Bhoomi. It will be a Big Win to Bharat after freedom from British Raj as totally. Thanks….

  3. Anna “Cromwell” Hazare, barely disguised by Gandhi’s cap

  4. I have been in full support of this entire movement, not recently, but from the time that it appeared there was a groundswell against the theft of public funds that has taken place over the last 60 years.

    While criticism has been leveled for the method adopted, my feeling is that even sedition ceases to be sedition if you are able to look the people in the eye and dare them to prove you wrong.

    However, like all pop movements, it is important to remember that this is truly a first step, and neither anger nor hatred will get us far. it is the need of the hour to not in any way dilute what the people deserve – justice and correction to the victims and retribution to the perpetrators.

    It is interesting to see the stakeholders in the entire initiative to turn this movement into eyewash. All cool people, right?

  5. I completely agree with mr sygal and Rosie C. This has gone above the usual level of corruption. Both major parties, I think are equally corrupt and with weak leaderships and a silent dumb PM who is nothing more than a puppet total reform can only be achieved by the creation of a new party which represents the middle class of India and the youth of India. But then again the question emerges, who is going to enter the swamp to clean it? The recent findings of a witness’ murder in the case of fake shootout by Gujrat police in still fresh. I believe creation of a completely un biased department similar to the ‘internal affairs’ departments the the US law enforcement have which would track any corrupt activities of the govt officials would solve the problem. But then again bribed income tax officers told to turn a blind eye towards corrupt politicians’ activities are not uncommon. We need someone who will not be tempted by money or such. Perhaps the involvement of foreign officials which could be hired? Something to think about…

    I still cannot understand why PM Singh is still here. He is too old to become PM again after 2014 elections for a third term. Why shouldn’t Sonia Gandhi take the seat? Is it because what happened to her family before? Or does she really think that her italian origins would not be met with open arms? In any case I doubt the wimpy old economist would run for A third term so the congress party better think of a candidate. And why do they allow members of the upper house to become the PM?

    (man I went wayyyy off topic didn’t I?)…sorry… 😦

  6. its really wonderful how an english man can give us an wonderful story about ourself . kudos 2 u Mr elliot . but still i billieve this was nothing in comparison with the movement started by mr jayaprakash narayan . personally i think it was mmore of a confrontation between media and the incumbent government . they used annna as an tool . poor anna .

  7. Now that a kind of battle has been won, it is time for the same young people to directly fight corruption, lethargy and inefficiency in their neighborhoods, cities and states. Waving flags and wearing badges and caps just won’t be enough.

    Manoj Soral

  8. Having set up and run a business for 5 years in India in the mid 90s advising the government and listed companies on their communications re privatisation and intrenational listings I know that corruption is rife in all sectors but it is worse than that, it is endemic and institutionalised. It is not just at the top – it pervades every level of the civil service from the humblest clerk or policeman upwards.

    It’s one thing to change/overthrow an autocracy or dictatorship that’s corrupt but it’s quite another to change this fundamental failure within a “democratic” government system of such huge proportions.

    Unless the new and hard working middle classes like Biswajit and Surendra below and millions like them create some sort of change within India – it’s never going to happen. How they can achieve this is the question. A new party? Voting for any existing party won’t achieve it.

  9. Dear John

    You are aware of my disgust for the present regime and its holier than thou PM. As a leader of the Pack and the remote control, he just can not be a silent Dumb, Deaf and Blinded/masked eye spectator of merry go round him. He should either act to cleanse the system, shed his compultions of coalition Dharma or must step down to prove his innocence/guilt. why is he so glued to the chair and preaching? in any case he is not an elected representative of the people. he must go. best regards, BK

  10. As a non-residential Indian I am always interested in political news from India and that is how I came across this blog. First of all I would like to thank you for your excellent work.

    Having spent some fifteen years in India, I know the severity of corruptions that spread from federal government to local municipalities and bearocracy. I have first handedly seen state government ministers “building” schools and colleges that are nothing but empty plots of land. No matter who you are, you have to bribe the people working at the ministry to get your work done, collecting your retirement funds for example. College seats are sold ‘under the table’ for over a couple hundred thousand rupees.

    When I heard about Anna Hazare’s hunger strike I immediately felt that this could be the very thing india needs to crawl its way out of the deep pit of corruption.

    But being an indian it naturally comes to my mind that whether this bill will be properly enforced or will it too vanish in all the red tapes. As the majority of government officials and ministers are corrupt it makes one wonder how will this bill be handled? And will it get dragged on for years until everyone has forgotten about it? Very hopefully this will not be the case. Will the bill become law…that’s another question. But I do hope that most MPs will not oppose it but with a lot of MPs facing criminal charges they are not exactly the best politicians.

    I think the inability of PM singh to control his ministers has contributed to this corrupt state which was discussed in an earlier blog by you. I always resented Sonia Gandhi’s decision of pushing him to the big seat. So basically she calls the shots while PM Singh does what she says not wanting to lose her support. The things that people do to stay in power…take recent examples of Cote d’ivoire, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Sonia Gandhi should have taken the seat instead of pushing Singh forward.

    I do hope that the bill is created as soon as possible and made into a law. But then again who is to enforce such law and how? (The head of the anti corruption watchdog agency himself faced charges of corruption and he was hand picked by Singh… Really Singh is leading the most corrupt government to date). Maybe because independent india was and is predominantly ruled by the congress party it is natural that its members have turned their job into a corrupt money earner.

    Again I thank you for an excellent blog, I very much am looking forward to the next one. Keep up the good work. Also if you do want to reply to my comment do not hesitate to contact me at the email given.

  11. Moral awakening of maasses is significant this time.
    It may be a turning point in Indian History .

  12. A shorter version of this post is on The Independent newspaper’s Foreign Desk blog page at Comments there include the following:

    • Condoning and covering up corruption is no different from being personally corrupt. I hope Dr. Manmohan Singh realizes this at least now. He has sullied his image.

    The battle has only just begun. Just as our worthy politicians have refused to act against corruption, they have turned a blind eye to the presence of criminals in their midst. The next battle is to end criminalization of politics and to see that State Governments enact legislation to bring State level politicians abd bureaucrats to book.
    G Parthasarathy

    Faisal Iqbal

    • happy we indian win

    Surendra Kapoor

    • The Government of India never accepted the citizens of India demand of strict anti corruption bill. Indians are treated as slaves in republic of India. Government , ruling class do not want any legislation where 99% of political leaders will be behind bars.

    Now people of India are looking forward total freedom from oppression. I am sure they will be successful and many leaders are planning to leave country, knowing strong public opinion will be furious like hurricane which can kill them.

    My advise to Government is avoid blood bath and accept demand of its people who are seeking anti corruption watch dog to protect civil society.

  13. Disgust, anger, condemnation are some of the words which can describe the feelings of countless slogging middle class Indians like me who have to work for their livelihoods! Seeing millions wallow in poverty and illiteracy for the simple reason that our leaders are corrupt upsets me. We, shall not tolerate corruption in the political class any longer. Once that goes, rest will fall in line………bureaucracy and the judiciary!

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