Business, Finance & Economics

India's media-created anti-corruption movement is fizzling out


Is Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement on its last legs?



The inimitable Manu Joseph skewers Anna Hazare as a false prophet created by headline-mad editors, and rightly so.  Along the way, he points out that Indian politicians would never create the tough anti-corruption cop that the public wants, because that would be "suicidal."  But he gives the so-called "Indian middle class" too much credit for sussing out Anna's faults when he concludes:

By the time the anchors asked the important question — “Who exactly is Anna Hazare?” — it was too late. They had already proclaimed him a modern saint, and he had amassed millions of supporters in a matter of days. As it turned out, Mr. Hazare is not a man the urban middle class would normally call a saint.

It is indeed true that Hazare has "supported the anti-migrant stand of Raj Thackeray, whose outfit, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, has frequently assaulted migrants from north India in Mumbai" and "praised the chief minister of Gujarat State, Narendra Modi, for “rural development” even though the image of Mr. Modi in the national conscience is of a man accused of having a role in the killings of hundreds of Muslims in communal riots."

So, too, he has "recommended amputation and death for the corrupt," "said that drunkards should be flogged," and "compared foreign retailers to the East India Company, which once colonized India."

But it is far from true that these are positions that would be decried with horror by the amorphous, one-size-fits-all Indian middle class -- which in varying guises seems to span everybody from the lowly office peon who owns a motorbike and a TV to the chief executive of the company he works for. 

Raj Thackeray's supporters are as middle class as anybody, though his anti-migrant stance ensures that they are all Maharashtrans.  Narendra Modi is hugely popular among the middle class, not only in Gujarat, but nationwide, not only for his less palatable exploits but also for making the trains run on time, as it were, in a country where the middle class often wishes aloud for an effective (and hopefully benevolent) dictator.

There's a sizeable set of that undefined middle class that hates alcohol, too, and like anywhere else in the world, more than a few Indian traders and shopkeepers and office workers have no loathing for excessive punishments to stamp out crime and, of course, "social evils" that they enjoy in private.

But the worst mistake Manu makes -- really getting carried away here -- comes at the end of his editorial, when he concludes that "It was exactly men like him [Hazare] from whom India had liberated itself in its struggle for modernity."  I'm not sure one could find a single similarity between Hazare and India's British colonizers, save perhaps a suspicious liking for a good flogging.  But you could definitely find a few echoes between Hazare's statements and "ideology" (if it's worthy of that term) and Mohandas K. Gandhi -- even if Hazare's claim to be his legitimate successor does border on the absurd.

If Hazare's fury does fizzle out, as it appears to be, it won't say much about him or "the middle class" or even the Indian media.  And it will certainly say absolutely nothing about the British Raj.  What it will prove is that the rough and tumble of a good election -- reasonably free and fair -- can swallow the odd street protest here and there with nary a belch.  (Which may be sobering to Occupy Wall Street as the presidential race heats up).