Even a year ago, none in India could have dreamt of powerful politicians, senior government officials, cabinet ministers and company CEOs will be in jail today, standing trial for corruption. Credit for this dramatic development can be attributed to the anticorruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare, a 74-year old activist and supported by the determined justices of the higher courts, an unapologetic auditor general, rival TV channels scouring for “breaking news” and more importantly, a new assertive Indian middle class.
A slew of graft scandals had swept India over the past year. These included the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth games, for which toilet paper rolls were allegedly bought for $80 each, sale of the 2G spectrum licences to companies favoured by the mandarins in the government at prices low enough to make the taxpayers lose nearly $40 billion and grabbing of apartments at posh localities in Mumbai by politicians and land by generals and officials of the army, meant for war widows.
Fighting this seemingly all-pervasive corruption was Hazare, an innocuous villager who evoked the image of Mahatma Gandhi. He successfully carried his crusade on the lines of Gandhi’s non-violence and hunger strike and compelled the government to draft the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill. Hazare, however, rejected the bill, terming it as too weak. His next hunger strike at New Delhi attracted thousands of supporters and made the government sit up and agree to discuss Hazare’s own version of the bill. This was a major victory for Anna and his supporters as politicians, cutting across party lines, had stonewalled the formation of an anti-corruption watchdog over the past several decades.
Most officials were left stumped by the support to Hazare by the middle class, which forms nearly third of the country’s population today. Ever since the economic reforms of 1991, the country has been the world’s second-fastest-growing economy, only after China. And the middle class is slated to become nearly 50 per cent of the population by 2022.
India’s electoral politics don’t cater to the aspiring middle class, with each party treating the voter like a victim, harping on never-to-be-realized programmes and historical wrongs. Politicians haven’t realized that armed with mobility, high growth and a demographic revolution, the aspiring middle class would soon take on those who want them as victims.
The advent of the social media space has also helped in building mass opinion against corruption in India by politicians and bureaucrats. Even a minor reported instance of graft is brought to notice by someone or the other across the internet and overwhelmingly supported by crores of Indians across the world.
For long Indians have been denied even the barest of dignity by unmovable public officials who rode in beacon-flashing cars and made citizens wait endlessly in rundown offices, placing mile after mile of red tape for even the basic documents. But the new assertive middle class won’t put up with this. And as Shiv Vishwanathan, social anthropologist says, “The consumer revolution that we have experienced in the past two decades has told the citizen that he can expect a higher quality of governance.”