The anti-corruption stir, which united millions of Indians, paved way for Cong’s decline
On a particularly balmy Sunday morning on 28 August 2011, thousands of people turned up at the national capital’s Ramlila Maidan to witness history being scripted in front of them. The day saw the culmination of a months-long anti-corruption movement as its chief crusader Anna Hazare ended his fast after almost 290 hours on the 13th day. Public celebrations spilled into the streets as the 4.5-km stretch till India Gate was filled by evening with tricolours and trademark white caps that read “Main Bhi Anna" or “I am also Anna".
The anticorruption movement of that year, which united millions of Indians, is considered a watershed moment of this decade for Indian politics. It was led by Hazare and his deputy Arvind Kejriwal, then an activist and now chief minister of Delhi. The agitation witnessed an unprecedented public outpouring as a group of transparency activists forced the former prime minister Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to take a series of steps to tackle corruption, including resignation of high-profile Union ministers.
The immediate political fallout of the movement was the beginning of the decline of the Congress, which failed to retain power in the 2014 general elections, and eventually, made way for the return of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It also remarkably led to the emergence of the Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a political force, but with a short-lived government in 2013. However, riding on the promise of removing corruption from governance, the party roared back to power in 2015, winning 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly. The forthcoming assembly elections assume significance for the AAP as the party looks to come back to power after completing a full term.
However, since its foundation, the party has been limited to Delhi after being unsuccessful in making an impact in other states, and has faced internal struggles leading to the exit of several of its founding members.
One of them was Yogendra Yadav, a popular face once associated with the anticorruption movement. He turned critical of AAP later, and left to become president of Swaraj India. Yadav, also a psephologist, feels that the movement made it possible for the common man to come into public life, but failed to create a strong alternative to counter the BJP and, while people may talk about corruption, it may not have been sufficient in finding a solution for it.
“I used to believe then and I continue to believe now that it was not a movement about Lokpal (anti-corruption authority) but Lok-pal (pulse of the people). It was about the strength of the people and that people can do something about the issue. This is what the movement was about and it played a critical role in taking the re-engaging decisions with public affair. The decade prior to that saw sectional movements, which brought people to public life, such as the Mandal Commission, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, among others. There was no movement which brought the general citizen into public life as a citizen, and not as a member of a section," he said.
Some of the key issues that the anticorruption movement highlighted was the need for strong anticorruption measures, stricter electoral reforms, political representatives with clean criminal records and political accountability. Much of Hazare’s campaign in 2011 was based on the demand for a strong Lokpal, which could take action against highest government officials.
It was only earlier this year that India appointed its first Lokpal, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, along with a team of four judicial and non-judicial members, each.
“With movements, their side effects are more powerful than the main effect. Is India less corrupt than it was then? I am not sure. It made it possible for people to talk about corruption openly. It gave some people the strength to question people in public life. It did not create a mechanism through which corruption could be checked. The Lokpal finally emerged from this, but no one remembers it. It points out to the limitation of the movement. Checking corruption is not simply a matter of creating a Lokpal or one movement. That movement was necessary but it was not sufficient," Yadav said.
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