Anna campaign gets US prominence, excites Indian Americans

Washington: Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption has caught the imagination of Indian Americans and the US media alike though official Washington was apparently caught on the wrong foot initially.

To be fair, the State Department spokesperson in response to a question merely stated Washington’s position in support of people’s right of peaceful protest around the world and that it could count on a vibrant democratic India to exercise appropriate restraint.

When Indians took umbrage as a section of the media turned “count on” into somewhat condescending “hopes” and “expects”, the official modified it to US was “confident” about India’s response to the protests.

And when that too failed to mollify the Indians, the spokesperson blamed the Indian reaction on “extremely inaccurate reporting” and returned to well worn diplomatic phrase that it was India’s internal affair.

But the US media has been reporting it prominently with the Washington Post hailing it on the front page as the “awakening of the new middle class” in India and how the “anti-corruption effort could signify change in national psyche.”

“Unlike the Arab Spring, it is not an impassioned call for democracy or a new government,” it said. “But it is an awakening of sorts, which could change the face of India’s democracy.”

The influential New York Times agreed noting, “The popular outpouring he (Hazare) has set off has inevitably drawn comparisons with the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring.”
“Most analysts agree, though, that India’s moment is a different one. But in its own way it may prove to be no less important,” it said seeing in the protests an “Unlikely Echo of Gandhi” inspiring Indians to act.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Sarika Bansal said “Anna Hazare and his supporters should be extremely proud of what they have accomplished.” But suggested they should now “allow a much wider ring of experts to develop methods that will, in due course, systemically weed out corruption.”

The Wall Street Journal too in a commentary analysed “Why Anna Hazare Is Not India’s Arab Spring.” But “the movements do genuinely share one thing in common: Their tenacity has caught officialdom off-guard, and no one can say for sure where it will all end.”

Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank, saw in the movement implications for US relations with India.

“As Singh’s government weakens, it could also weaken US-Indian bilateral relations, as members of the prime minister’s party who are not as enthusiastic about ties with Washington gain clout,” she said.

Starting with traditional India Day parades before India’s Independence Day, Indian Americans too slowly but surely started coming out in support of Hazare with gatherings in at least seven cities organised by India Against Corruption and People for Loksatta.

They followed it up with hundreds of e-mails to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and rallies in front of Indian missions. Indian Students at Maryland University began a week-long vigil in front of the Indian Embassy here besides mounting a massive social networking campaign to spread Hazare’s message.
More rallies are planned in New Jersey, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Los Angles and other cities across the US Sunday.

“If you haven’t heard about Anna Hazare or the whole movement in India then please call your family at India and check the mood of the nation,” wrote Atul Kumar of New Jersey in his blog (India Erupts Again) exhorting Indian-Americans to join a planned protest in Manhattan Sunday. By Arun Kumar