In my last blog, I wrote about ADR, which is fighting corruption using the Right to Information Act. In the early 2000s, Anna Hazare (Anna is pronounced un-nah) led a movement in the Indian state of Maharashtra that forced the Government to pass a strong Right to Information Act. This Maharashtra Act formed the basis for the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI), enacted by the Central Government. Anna Hazare has once again fought and won a significant battle against corruption. Anna was, until recently fasting until death at Jantar Mantar in order to put pressure on the Government of India to enact an anti-corruption act called the Jan Lokpal Bill. This past Saturday he called off his “hunger strike” after receiving a gazette notification from the Centre on the constitution of a joint committee, comprising members from the government and civil society, for preparation of the draft Lokpal Bill. This bill proposes the establishment of a Lokpal (ombudsman) with the power to counter corruption in public office.
Both the method that Anna used (fast till death) and the location of his fast (Jantar Mantar) resonated with Indians because of historical, religious and cultural reasons. Fasting, associated with abstinence is a part of the Indian culture and tradition, with religious and spiritual overtones. Gandhi used fasting as a tool for political protest to further “Satyagraha” or resistance to tyranny through civil disobedience, a movement that is credited with garnering India its independence and for influencing other world leaders such as Marin Luther King. Jantar Mantar is the last vestige of traditional architecture around the modern, upscale Connaught Place shopping area, much like the traditional values of honesty and simplicity seem outdated in the modern world to many. For most Indians, the topic (anti-corruption), the venue (Jantar Mantar), and the method used (fasting) are evocative of a rich and seemingly lost heritage, and have inspired a struggle to capture some of the lost glory. The timing – coming after India’s victory in the Cricket World Cup has also inspired a “can do” feeling.
Anna Hazare is a “Gandhian” septuagenarian who has no family, no property, no bank balance and lives in a 10X10 room who supports the Jana Lokpal bill and is willing to put his life on the line for it. The idea of the Lok Pal is borrowed from the office of Ombudsman, which is an integral part of the government in many countries, as well as the private sector. The Lokpal Bill provides an office where corruption charges can be filed for top politicians including the prime minister, ministers, and Member of Parliaments. However, 42 years after the Lok Pal bill was introduced but failed to pass the upper house, the bill is still pending. Lokpal bills were introduced in 1969, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008, yet they were never passed. Due to Anna’s efforts, it looks like it will finally pass in 2011, triggered by Web 2.0, and in no small measure.
While it is true that men and women create social movements, social media often helps fuel these movements in a way that was not possible before. The most successful and disruptive inventions of modern times owe much of their success to technology-enabled scalability. Although people always had the ability to read books, it was only with the invention of the printing press that it became possible for millions of people to do so. Web 2.0 and social media makes the ability to connect with people scalable. Scalable human connections combined with open source software and platforms, and unprecedented computing power, results in human-machine synergy also being scaled up. This human-machine synergy results in disruptive social movements, with much potential for good and an excellent example is the Web 2.0 support for Anna Hazare. 700,000 SMSs were received in a matter of days. The Facebook “India against corruption” page has swelled to over 100,000, and #Anna Hazare, #corruption, and #Jantar Mantar, were the top trending topics in India.
Anna Hazare has said, “I am not scared of death. I have no family to cry over me and if I die while doing something for the country I would be happy. We need to start a second freedom movement to get rid of corruption, red tapism, delays in government offices, frequent transfers of honest officials and lack of transparency."
The thousands of people physically gathered in and around Jantar Mantar in Delhi, and millions more supporting Anna’s movement in Facebook, Twitter and social media celebrated their victory this weekend, but acknowledged that the fight against corruption has just begun.
Photo Credit: Flickr user draj059