If you think a government as corrupt as India’s cannot change, think again. A new broom is sweeping the halls of power.
We were driving back from Poppadams on New Year’s Eve, after savouring dinner with a convivial group. Our friends the Mathurs were with us and began telling us about the anti-corruption movement in India. Sometimes the only news we hear from India is about the horrors of gang rapes or the latest scandal so we were thrilled to learn about the AAP (Aam Aadmi or “Common Man” Party) and their anti-corruption movement.
When Time Magazine compiled its 2011 list of “The Top 10 World-News Stories”, it included the AAP by way of a story about the hunger strikes of 74-year-old activist Anna Hazare. The summary by Ishaan Tharoor explained why this was so significant to the growing anti-corruption movement:
[H]e embarked on a series of hunger strikes in protest of the graft that his supporters say pervades all strata of Indian society. Hazare’s fasts—even the threat of them—triggered mass demonstrations of support across India’s major cities and heaped pressure on the government to create an independent ombudsman body capable of investigating the nation’s political elites—even the Prime Minister—and bringing the corrupt to justice.
Supporters tired of India’s widespread corruption took to the streets in mass demonstrations of non-violent civil resistance. Protesters called for strong legislation against endemic corruption in government. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. According to the AAP’s Web site:
For almost 2 years we tried every single way available to plead our cause to the government – peaceful protesting, courting arrest, indefinite fasting several rounds of negotiations with the ruling government – we tried everything possible to convince the government to form a strong anti- corruption law. But despite the huge wave of public support in favour of a strong anti-corruption law, all political parties cheated the people of India and deliberately sabotaged the Janlokpal Bill.
What peaceful protests could not achieve, the political process set in motion. The AAP, with its logo of a broom to sweep corruption from mainstream parties, won 28 of 70 seats in the December 2013 election for the Delhi local assembly. Post-election negotiations brought the Congress party around to supporting Aam Admi in the Delhi local assembly. Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the AAP, now becomes chief minister of the sprawling city, home to 15 million people.
In its first days in office, the Kejriwal government was already moving to fulfill campaign promises. As a first blow to the costly “VIP Culture” that provides expensive perks to politicians, newly elected officials arrived at their swearing in via public transport. The ceremony took place in a public venue instead of the lieutenant governor’s palace. The new government announced that all households would receive a daily, free water supply of 666 litres, with heavy tariffs for those who exceed that amount. For the homeless, 45 new night shelters will be erected immediately, to offer protection from the cold.
Moving from outsiders to government officials, the AAP has worked hard for the Delhi victory and plans to expand their reach into other jurisdictions. The history and progress of the anti-corruption movement are more detailed and impressive than I can include here. Wikipedia is one place to turn for a summary overview of what led to the protests and what has happened as a result of them. The Times of India and The Hindu have extensive coverage that can be searched on the news sites.
The Aam Aadmi Party has just started to flex its muscles in its fight against rampant corruption, but they are off to a strong start. They give me hope.