Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare’s relentless crusade, which has included fasts unto death and street protests, has received both support and scorn. While granting that his indignation is sincere, it is important to point out that Hazare may end up being an inadvertent foe of the anti-corruption cause. In his activism, Hazare has aped the tactics of Gandhi, with his civil obedience and public fasts. But whereas Gandhi was fasting to gain independence from the British and an end to Hindu-Muslim violence, Hazare is merely trying to get an anti-corruption bill amended so that it does not exempt the prime minister, judiciary and much of the bureaucracy from the watchful eye of an independently-appointed ombudsman. That is certainly a problem with the bill but Hazare may want to tone down his rhetoric and actions. The chief weakness of the anti-corruption bill is, ironically, solely Hazare’s responsibility. Too much power is vested in the hands of the ombudsman who may end up being as unaccountable for his actions as the politicians he rails against.
Whatever reservations one may have about Hazare’s activism, there is no denying his passion. Imperfect though the anti-corruption bill may be, he has forced politicians to acknowledge him and at the very least pay lip service to his cause. It is hard to feel slightly envious while assessing his impact from across the border. The issue of corruption has been at the forefront in Pakistan too but here public anger is co-opted by adventurers, both military and civilian, who use corruption as an excuse to take power and politicians who promise to eliminate corruption but end up targeting only their political foes. From the Ehtesab Bureau to the National Accountability Bureau, the anti-corruption fight is limited only to those who are unlucky enough not to be in power. There is no doubting that Pakistan could benefit from an Anna Hazare of its own, one who has the courage to rise above political zeal, galvanise an apathetic public and demand across-the-board accountability for all political actors in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.
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