India is Anna. Anna is India.
A large number of supporters rally behind this slogan. It spearheads the Anti-Corruption bill known as the Jan Lokpal Bill. Anna Hazare, the 74-year old activist leading the movement and the protests for the Jan Lokpal, has achieved support in unexpected and somewhat frightening numbers. Two hunger strikes, publicly and cleverly staged, one in June 2011 and another started last week, are his weapons. He threatens to fast himself to death unless the bill is passed.
The Jan Lokpal Bill proposes as its main thrust to create a super-policeman, an ombudsman, to supervise the government and to have powers of jurisdiction over them. It is an attempt to curb the corruption inherent in the Indian government and has sparked wide debates about both the bill and the nature of corruption in India.
Supporters cite the insufferable circumstances. The government literally doesn’t work without bribes and many aspects of the country are run by NGOs, semi-private enterprises, religious institutions or by organized crime syndicates, often with equal or surpassing efficiency. The Anti-Corruption Bill would, so they hope, make their lives easier and create advantages for them. It is a bill that seems custom-made for the burgeoning Indian middle class, the urban and well-off for whom the baksheesh system is an unfortunate by-product of backwards India they would like to shake off.
Some supporters state that it is an imperfect solution, but better than nothing and cite the unprecedented support as a sign that something needs to change, other seem to support it as a good cause, without giving much thought to the ripples such a change might effect.
Opponents of the bill range from the absolutely cynical to very valid, because realistic counter-arguments that an ombudsman or a small council with powers of an ombudsman would only create a second authority structure which has to be bribed in turn. Baksheesh for the government and baksheesh for the anti-corruption office.
More seriously it would create a very dangerous power structure whereby actual power would lie in the hands of very few, almost a step back from a republican system to a dictatorial system. India’s favourite step-child Arundhati Roy argues additionally that the Jan Lokpal Bill does not cover the media or large corporations and would serve as yet another step to divest the government of power in favour of those two quasi-demonic entities.
Meanwhile the Indian government is in a bit of a quandary. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, not known as a man of decisive actions, has asked Hazare to stop his fast in order to debate the bill anew. That Anna Hazare actually fasts to the death is very unlikely. That he is a savior for India seems equally unlikely. Yet he may effect some lasting change, for good or ill.