Saturday, August 27, 2011

Incredible India

I've been reading up on the Hazare protest in India and talking about it to various people, trying to get a handle on it all. So much to learn about India, so little time. As I'm not Indian, it's not my fight per se, except in the global sense because corruption in one form or other is endemic everywhere. In India, it's blatant, vicious and vampiric, though much less so than in other developing Asian and African countries. The India media is pretty tenacious about rooting out corruption. It surprises me how the Indian newspapers are full of actual news, and not largely sensationalism and fluff. Generally, you get a fat section of important news, a few pages of sports and a slender entertainment and lifestyle section, the opposite of the western trend. People discuss politics more here than any other place I've been.

The #2 complaint I hear in India is about corruption, especially bribery. (The #1 complaint usually runs along the lines of, "I'm in love with this girl/boy but he/she is from a different caste/religion/class..."). The cause is just, but the end goal, a bill to set up an all-powerful body, a lokpal, with absolute power over parliament and all of India's democratic institutions, is a frightening thought, particularly when Anna Hazare is on record recommending the death penalty for corrupt officials. Would this give his lokpal, and him as the eminence grise behind it, the power to hang whoever they choose? I shiver and think of all the secret hangings going on in Iran to try to eliminate dissent. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Anna Hazare is fascinating, and appears to be technologically progressive and enlightened. The village he championed, Ralegan Siddhi, is known as a model of alternative energy, watershed management and educational reform. He also appears to be socially regressive with an authoritarian streak. Some reports on Ralegan are just scary--are these things true or just smears? I'm trying to find out. I am certain of only a few things:

1) The UPA government acted like boobs and thugs.

2) Hazare didn't create the huge discontent and desire for change in India, but he tapped into it brilliantly, at considerable risk to himself, and united it into a powerful nonviolent weapon.

3) That said, this fight has become too much about #angryanna and not enough about the #angryindians he represents, and that cult of personality is rarely a good thing in the long run.

4) Like it or not, India is the world's de facto laboratory of democracy. The world is watching, particularly in Pakistan and the Arab Spring countries, to see how Indian democracy works out this megillah.

Update: Government agrees to three key demands; Anna will end fast.

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