The irony of anti-corruption in India


Veteran Indian social activist, Anna Hazare sits during his "fast unto death" against corruption in New Delhi on April 7, 2011.



India's anti-corruption movement showed no signs of abating on Wednesday. See photos of the protests that continue to sweep the country for the second day.

The government's move to jail its poster child, the 74-year-old Gandhian Anna Hazare, appears to have only further galvanized his supporters.

More from GlobalPost: Photos of the protests sweeping India

Delhi police arrested Hazare on Tuesday morning, also detaining thousands of his supporters. In an about face later that day, he was released but has since refused to leave the jail without written permission that he could continue his hunger strike.

So far, everything the authorities have done to quell the demonstrations has backfired, with some commentators even hinting at the Indian version of the Arab Spring.

GlobalPost in New Delhi: Anna Hazare and India's anti-democractic revolution

But, as Manu Jospeh writes in the New York Times, the movement is far from pure.

Most Indians have paid a bribe. Most Indian businesses cannot survive or remain competitive without stashing away undeclared earnings. Almost everybody who has sold a house has taken one part of the payment in cash and evaded tax on it.

Yet, the branding of corruption is so powerful that Indians moan the moment they hear the word. The comic hypocrisy of it all was best evident in the past few months as the anti-corruption movement gathered unprecedented middle-class support.

In other words, while the middle class has raised the profile of the movement, they are also very much part of the problem.

Corruption is so entrenched in India that somewhere along the way, people started making the more subtle distinction between the corruption of politicians (evil), and the corruption of businesses (smart and, well, necessary).

GlobalPost in New Delhi: How Baba Ramdev undermined the anti-corruption movement

Joseph points out that, India's chief economic advisor, Kaushik Basu, has even suggested legalizing the payment of bribes as a way to get people to name the recipient.

In an informal way, Indian society does grant legitimacy to the bribe-payer because “bribe-payer” is a description that fits most of the country, including many of Mr. Hazare’s nicely dressed supporters.

And therein lies the irony of India's anti-corruption crusade, starring the holy bribe-payer.

Here's a glimpse at some of the other characters in the cast and a journey back to the opening scenes:

In April, Hazare launched a "fast unto death" to force the government to enact a powerful anti-corruption law. The early stirrings of his fast drew thousands of supporters.

Even Bollywood celebrities, like superstar Aamir Khan, threw their weight behind the cause. Until another showman arrived on the scene, that is.

Baba Ramdev, yoga's inflexible guru, got on board in June, successfully stealing the limelight for a spell, though he remained controversial.

After Ramdev's fast, the government agreed to investigate Indian money hidden in foreign banks.

But despite whatever government attention has been paid to the matter, the masses aren't satisfied. Over the last couple months, the movement has gained unprecedented middle-class support, an ironic if irrefutable reality.