It’s probably unfair but not unlikely that people will conclude that India’s campaign against corruption stalled in Bombay. While 15,000 people braved the Delhi chill to express their support for Anna Hazare, less than 5,000 turned up at the Bandra-Kurla Complex (the original site, Azad Maidan, was considered too small; several of the city’s federalised colleges are concentrated in a square mile around the cricket ground). Civic campaigns are more likely to burn out than burn bright in the maximum city.
From my own perspective as an outsider for the duration of the campaign so far it has seemed fundamentally flawed and forlorn. As much as I might admire Anna Hazare’s corporeal sacrifices, it sits uneasily with my idea of democratic protest. Charismatic leaders are one thing; semi-deified messiahs are another. So much has been invested in the venerable Mr Hazare that the merest flutter of illness is enough to send the campaign itself into a nosedive.
Over the past few days I’ve discovered a substantial operational machine behind India Against Corruption (IAC) here in Mumbai. While it may be true that at a national level the campaign has hit a brick wall through the vested interests of both houses of parliament (where even a heavily diluted version of the Lokpal bill against corruption failed to pass through the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper chamber), this inertia has not filtered down to the city-wide and local level.
IAC Mumbai’s headquarters in an unassuming apartment in Andheri East is a hive of activity. The current leader of the Mumbai movement, Mayank Gandhi, runs a kind of drop-in surgery for the campaign’s supporters. Operatives log complaints against corrupt government officials. A SMS scheme has already gone live where disgruntled passengers can report rickshaw-wallahs who doctor meters or over-charge. These complaints are compiled over four days and sent to the transport department of the BMC (the Mumbai city corporation) who are requested (but not legally bound) to take action. A service to report similarly inclined policemen is due to go live soon. These systems, designed to disrupt micro-corruption demonstrate both an awareness and a willingness to challenge such behaviour at the street level – irrespective of the legislative impasse of the Lokpal Bill.
The problem may well be that Hazare’s charisma and the likelihood legislative payout galvanises the campaign’s national, city and local manifestations. While Hazare’s Gandhian charisma is unlikely to wilt, his body might. The second, the diluted Lokpal Bill, has already been shot through by India’s parliament. City wide operations such as IAC Mumbai effectively co-ordinate and mobilise ward level operations but they too are dependent on the generosity of donors and the sacrifice of volunteers. Whether India’s appetite for philanthropy and voluntarism can survive what appears to be a post-Lokpal strategy vacuum remains to be seen. Hazare’s virtual disappearance from the front pages certainly hasn’t helped.
It might be a long, hard winter before the state elections for India’s struggle against institutionalised corruption, but if the city and local level organisations can sustain the trickle of initiatives against micro-corruption, the momentum of the past year may not be lost.