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Sreedhar Pillai

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Is There Anything Mitt Romney Can Learn From India's Anna Hazare Movement?

Posted: 08/04/2012 3:45 pm

Anna Hazare has proved to be the modern Don Quixote of India. Your life is only as worthy as the cause you stand for and legitimate action by the government can wipe out your cause. That is what Anna Hazare movement eventually shows the world. If America's Mitt Romney has taken up any cause and is counting on it to win the election, he has to make sure it won't be gone in thin air come November.

Like any other consummate politician who he claims he isn't, Anna Hazare took on an opportunistic fight against corruption when an avalanche of perception of rampant corruption was engulfing India and its UPA government, led by the Congress party.

A year back, negative public sentiment, fanned by a series of presumptive allegations by India's CAG of loss of billions of dollars to the government due to corruption, gave Anna Hazare a cause worth giving his life for. The protest and agitation by Anna Hazare, who went on a fast for several days, forcing the Indian parliament to agree to enact a bill, caught the attention of the world by the mass following it generated.

However, a year on his attempt to rekindle the massive public support he had has fallen flat, with hardly a fraction of the masses coming forward to support his fast and forcing his gang to adapt the path of politics to achieve their goals.

So what has happened even as the proclaimed cause of removing corruption from the public life remained unresolved?

The problem was, like Don Quixote, Anna and his gang were trying to tilt his imaginary windmill of corrupt government whereas the real cause lay in the staggering inequality in education, health care and housing of urban populations, heightened by the influx of massive amount of foreign investment in recent times.

The influx of easy foreign money has since abetted, even retracted with several billions of dollars withdrawn from the Indian stock market on account of falling confidence and global crisis. The reality of faltering growth and unemployment has dawned on the Indian urban elite, apparently making Anna's life not all that important to save at any cost.

Perhaps more importantly, genuinely honest actions of the government and the political leadership to let law take its due course, which saw several high profile ministers and business leaders involved in corrupt practices behind the bar, had a much more sobering effect on the public sentiment as well as anyone prone for corruption.

Though this has not vastly changed the corruption faced by the people in day to day life, several high profile politicians and administrators all over India have been pulled up, giving a common feeling that, after all serious governments can do with existing laws to act against corruption.

Though a series of faux pas by Anna Hazare and his team over the year might have eroded the credibility, this general impression of positive government action may have more do with the evaporation of the mass support for Anna Hazare.

Of course there are no comparable issues in the American public life Mitt Romney can declare to undertake a fast for which will turn millions in his support. Corruption, nepotism and related evils, which get promptly punished whenever exposed, are a way of American life everyone has taken for granted. Mitt Romney's fasting is not going to change much.

However on issues like the Obamacare, which Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal, he might find the hard lesson from Anna Hazare that a cause can disappear over time, a fact worth taking note of.

Given that the presidential aspirant of the GOP has numerous other issues like his taxes and those related to his employer to convince the American public about, this may not be important to him. But for the world who is keenly watching his steps abroad and see only faux pas, whether it is with the British Olympics or his recent visit to the Middle East, a scenario of a landslide victory for President Obama, already being talked about, will be more reassuring.

 

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