Indians in Melbourne have a way of showing solidarity. So when Anna Hazare took the whole of India by storm with his hunger strike protest against corruption, a practice crippling India, many Indians in Australia took out silent protests and vigil.
In Melbourne at the Federation Square and at St Kilda, where the Consulate General office is located, slogan shouting group of students had placards saying, “Bharat Mata ki jai”, “corruption hatao,” and sang “hum honge kamyaab ek din”. Some even went to the extent of fasting for a day saying, they were doing it for the removal of corruption from India. In India, for hundreds of youths, Hazare’s protest gave them their chance to come out and take part in a movement.
The story of Anna Hazare begins with a fast he began in April. He was demanding legislation for a new anti-corruption watchdog, known as a Lokpal. Finally on 28 August, Hazare ended his 12-day fast after both houses of Parliament passed a resolution agreeing ‘’in principle’’ for a Lokpal with draconian powers. It is to be independent, and empowered to investigate and prosecute public servants, judges and politicians up to and including the office of Prime Minister.
The Asian Development Bank has estimated that high levels of corruption cost countries such as India the equivalent of 17 per cent of their GDP, or about $250 billion in India’s case, a year. This is a vast sum, yet it could be a serious underestimate: a single case of corruption in India was estimated to have cost the government $55 billion, reports say.
Hazare can claim some credit for bringing corruption high on the national agenda. As eminent journalist H K Dua says, “His movement brought out people’s anger over corruption and, at times, even challenged the legitimacy of Parliament, the executive and the judiciary… The political system and politicians in general were under attack. So were the institutions, particularly the Parliament, which has been procrastinating over the Lokpal Bill over the past four decades.
“There are a couple of lessons that Hazare’s agitation has thrown up for the country. First, in order to end corruption, it is necessary to bring about major reforms in the political and judicial systems to make them more responsive to the people. Second, we can achieve much by evolving a consensus among political parties inside and outside Parliament than by confrontational politics,” says Dua.
Will India’s popular purge be any more effective? Asks Peter Hartcher, political editor of Sydney Morning Herald. “Hazare is not Gandhi. While the Mahatma (great soul) confronted a foreign invader, Hazare is campaigning against an elected government,” says Hartcher. “And where Gandhi believed in non-violence, Hazare has built his first success on violence; in his native village, he banished alcohol by tying up anyone caught with drink and flogging them with the army belt he kept as souvenir of 15 years’ service.” The village head told the London Telegraph: “People are afraid of him, but this is respect.”
The truth of the matter is Indians – be it in India or Australia – are fed up of corruption at every level. Who and what Hazare is seem inconsequential against the larger issue of corruption. To all middle class Indians, Hazare gave them their political baptism, a chance to raise a protest, which is why Indians in Melbourne too voiced their resentment loud and clear. After all, democracy is a contest of ideas and freedom to express.
By Indira Laisram