Anna Hazare and the Campaign Against Corruption

According to Transparency International, India ranks 94th when it comes to transparency and honesty. Clearly it is not among the very corrupt countries of the World, like Russia, which is ranked, 133rd; nevertheless corruption is palpable and nearly 62% of the population has experienced it.

Corruption is widespread in government, in business sector and most egregiously in the programs designed to help the poor, making the poor the biggest victims of corruption. But India is fortunate to have a campaigner against corruption of Gandhian proportions -- Anna Hazare.

Anna Hazare is a social activist and a national leader who has launched a grass roots campaign to eradicate corruption in India. Both his style and his strategies are reminiscent of Gandhi and they have won him global recognition and many awards. In many sections of the Indian society he is revered for his lifelong dedication to social reform.

Anna Hazare was in Delaware on the 20th of August. He spoke at the Hindu Temple in Hockessin and I had the opportunity to engage with him, both in public and private, and to moderate the question and answer session.

Anna Hazare congratulated American-Indians for having a community center attached to the temple. He said that God's temple must be side by side with the Temple of society since service to humanity is service to God. His message was about the importance of faith and social service and he concluded by calling everyone to a life of purity of thought, purity of action, purity of manners, and a willingness to forgive. It was also interesting to see how his nationalist sentiments manifest as faith. He asked the congregation not to forget the temple back home -- India -- the deity that we all should worship.

During the dialog I asked him how this epidemic of corruption could be combated and especially how the Indian diaspora could help him. He said he did not need our money, what he needed was our expertise. We could help by transferring knowledge technology and expertise that will help activists combat corruption. He elaborated his vision further in responses to questions from the audience.

Even though he engages in grass roots activism, his solution to corruption is top down. He believes that the biggest source of corruption in India is the presence of political parties. He argued that this was not the intent of the Indian constitution. India's parliament is -- 'Loksabha' he said, an assembly of people not parties. At the systemic level the elimination of party system will eliminate corruption. He hopes to achieve this by encouraging voters to vote for individuals with good character and not for political parties with political agendas.

His activism and his stature have put corruption on the national agenda. I am not sure if his solutions will work, but the awareness and urgency that he is generating could inspire others to come up with more realistic solutions.

The defamation campaign launched against him by mainstream parties, that he is the hidden face of Hindu communalism and that he is using his anti-corruption campaign to advance the political cause of Hindu nationalism by targeting secular parties, has dampened his movement to some extent. But the intensity of opposition also attests to Anna's potency.

Is Anna Hazare communal? He has a 50-year record of social service and social reform and zero instances of active communalism. His record speaks for him. Does he have sympathies for communal parties and leaders in India? That is difficult to determine. He was asked by a delegation in Hockessin to endorse Narendra Modi as the future Prime Minister of India, under whose leadership Muslims were massacred and their homes and businesses burnt in Gujarat in 2002.

Anna Hazare did not endorse Narendra Modi. He said he did not believe in political parties and since Modi was a member of BJP, a political party, he could not endorse him. When pressed to endorse Modi as an individual, he responded by saying that if Modi left the BJP, he would be happy to endorse him. For an ethical activist, it was a very political answer. Anna was trying to get out of endorsing Modi without offending Modi's supporters. But I suspect he offended the Hindu secularists by not condemning Modi and disappointed Hindu nationalists by not clearly endorsing him.

I sympathize with his predicament. His goal is ethical his means political, things are bound to get muddy. Nevertheless, the evening was both spiritually uplifting and politically fascinating. It underscored at once how India's future is at the same time bright because of leaders like Anna Hazare and in peril because of the challenges they are trying to confront.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor at the University of Delaware and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.