x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

India's movement against corruption loses influence

Law of diminishing returns applies to Anna Hazare as his anti-corruption movement loses momentum and support in lastest fast.

NEW DELHI // It is difficult to recognise this as the movement that last summer attracted tens of thousands of protesters and sparked demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across India.

Today, the crowds that once rallied behind the anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare are now in the hundreds or less. His dwindling influence is lampooned in the press. Rifts are beginning to show in his movement, India Against Corruption.

"Last year, it was a powerful moment, but this year, it feels like something is missing," Gourav Jain, 19, an engineering student, said on Friday.

On the grounds of Jantar Mantar, a New Delhi monument where Mr Hazare's organization began its latest fasting protest against corruption last week, only small knots of people have gathered over the past four days.

The energy at the site seemed low earlier in the week and, even at its peak, the desultory crowd was only made up of a few hundred people. Many of them were volunteers from India Against Corruption. Some vendors were selling replicas of Mr Hazare's trademark white cap for five rupees apiece, but few were buying.

Mr Hazare is not taking part in the fast this time but three other leaders of his group sit on a six-metre-long dais, on an indefinite fast. Another 400 people are fasting around the country, a handout claimed.

"Our protest is not [for] gathering crowds but [to attract] people who are passionate to work for the society and country," he told the IANS news service on Friday.

A year ago, Mr Hazare's rallies were to demand the creation of a Jan Lokpal, an independent government agency that would investigate government corruption. A bill to create the agency has been mired in parliamentary procedure and political debate since early 2011.

But, as Mr Hazare has piled protest upon protest over the past year, the law of diminishing returns seems to have kicked in.

Mr Jain went to the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi four or five times last year with a group friends to join the crowds of protesters, but he has not visited Jantar Mantar as yet this year.

"Maybe I'll go tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he said. "But I think people are losing interest. More than a year has gone by since the first protest, but nothing is happening. No action is being taken by the government."

In a television interview on Friday, Kiran Bedi, a longtime member of Mr Hazare's team, said: "I think the novelty is gone, because this is the fourth time Anna is on a fast. Anna is becoming more predictable, the movement is becoming more predictable, it's true."

Indian newspapers have also noticed the increasing inefficacy of Mr Hazare's instrument of protest: the fast.

In an editorial cartoon in The Hindu, a beleaguered Mr Hazare thinks to himself: "I keep fasting. But it's the audience that thins down."

In a bid to reignite its campaign, India Against Corruption has accused 15 ministers in the government, including the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, of "serious charges of corruption".

"We demand setting up a special investigative team for probing the charges against these ministers," reads a news release Friday from India Against Corruption.

On Wednesday, the first day of the protest, leaders of India Against Corruption began by accusing Pranab Mukherjee, the newly elected president, of corruption.

"Had the Lokpal been there, Mukherjee would not have been the president," Arvind Kejriwal, a former civil servant and one of the pillars of the organization said at Jantar Mantar. Mr Kejriwal, who is fasting, has accused Mr Mukherjee of being complicit in a 2005 Scorpene submarine deal between India and France, which allegedly earned Congress party politicians a four per cent commission on the 188-billion-rupee (Dh12.5bn) deal.

But now, Mr Kejriwal said, the allegations against Mr Mukherjee could not be probed because "the constitution provides immunity to the president from an investigation".

"The Congress has put the chadar (veil) of the constitution on the president."

Mr Hazare has not been as blunt in his remarks against Mr Mukherjee, hinting at a split between him and his team on this issue.

"I congratulate him," Mr Hazare told the Press Trust of India after Mr Mukherjee's inauguration on Wednesday. When he was asked about Mr Kejriwal's allegations, Mr Hazare said: "I do not want to speak about it."