Can India’s Fight Against Corruption Be Won at the Ballot Box?

Arvind Kejriwal, a rabble-rousing, fearless anticorruption activist, has launched his own political party. But, given the murkiness of India's political culture, is that the right route for Kejriwal's cause?

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HARISH TYAGI / EPA

Supporters of activist Arvind Kejriwal hold Indian flags as they listen to a speaker at Parliament Street in New Delhi on Nov. 26, 2012

India’s public soul-searching over the pervasiveness of corruption in society took center stage again with the formal launch of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a new political group formed on an explicitly anticorruption platform. On Monday, whistleblower turned politician Arvind Kejriwal officially kicked off the new party, which he will lead in the greater capital region’s elections next year. AAP is the latest in a string of groups pledging to battle the corruption that many say is endemic in India’s halls of power, but it is the first promising to take the fight inside those halls.

The very name of the AAP packs a pointed punch: protecting the interests of the aam aadmi, or common man, has long been a promise of the ruling Congress Party, and one that Kejriwal is suggesting — in no uncertain terms — has been broken. Kejriwal has announced that he plans to spend 2013 touring the country to expose the alleged misdeeds of Congress and India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. He’ll also have to work fast to recruit voters: Delhi elections are scheduled to be held at the end of next year, and national elections, which AAP may also be gunning to get in on, are scheduled not long after, in the first half of 2014.

(PHOTOS: Indians Protest the Arrest of Anna Hazare)

Speaking to the press and supporters over the weekend, Kejriwal said the AAP will seek, among other things, to increase citizens’ access to the justice system, to bolster the role of local governing bodies and to enact into law the much debated Jan Lokpal Bill, which would establish an independent body in the national government to investigate corruption. “Aam aadmi will now contest elections, aam aadmi will vote and aam aadmi will sit in Parliament,” Kejriwal told the press. “This party will change the way politics and political parties function in the country.”

Not everyone is so sure. Congress, for its part, has slammed the new politico for appropriating the aam aadmi tag with which their party has long been associated; one member said it exposed the fundamental “intellectual bankruptcy” of India’s newest player before it even got started. Others too have questioned whether Kejriwal is fit for the fray. Forbes India called his vision for greater equality in governance, as outlined in his book Swaraj, “a disastrous mix of idealism, naiveté and blindness bordering on the idiotic.” In November, members of India Inc. fought back after he and other members of India Against Corruption (IAC), an NGO, accused several prominent businessmen, companies and political figures of squirreling away money into Swiss bank accounts, as well as HSBC of aiding money laundering. Several of the accused have denied the charges, including brothers Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries Ltd. and Anil Ambani of Reliance Group, who denied all wrongdoing and released statements that the allegations were made at the behest of “vested interests.”

Some wonder whether anticorruption activists ought not wade into the muddy waters of Indian politics, particularly in a country where the power of protest on the streets still has tremendous currency. In September, Kejriwal and fellow anticorruption campaigner Anna Hazare parted ways over the former’s conviction to enter politics. Hazare, still the most recognizable face in civil society’s fight against corruption in India, believes the cause is better served outside the political realm and prefers to support candidates from the sidelines.

(MORE: Why Anna Hazare, Scourge of India’s Politicians, May Join Their Ranks)

Others argue that founding an entire political party on tackling corruption is myopic, as it fails to address the more fundamental social problems at the root of petty bribes at the railway station and multimillion-dollar scams alike. “It doesn’t make sense for an organization engaging in an issue, which is so intensely political, to claim they are apolitical,” says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a political commentator in New Delhi. He says while it was “almost inevitable” for Kejriwal and his IAC colleagues to engage in politics, the group’s focus on the single issue of corruption has proved to be a limitation. “When you talk about corruption, you also have to talk about political reform. You have to talk about regulatory mechanisms. You have talk about health care, education — the works.”

Guha Thakurta says the powerful thing that IAC — and now AAP — has done is to tap into a zeitgeist. “Corruption is not new or unique to India,” he says. What’s been different in recent years, he says, is the scale and brazenness of the high-level scams that have come to light, at a moment when life for most Indians has been getting tougher with high food prices and inflation. “The reason why people like Arvind Kejriwal have struck a chord is because they have been able to articulate the anger and frustration over these acts of crony capitalism.”

Supporters of Kejriwal and his cause also argue that the slow progress of the anticorruption movement necessitates a more articulated political engagement. The Lokpal Bill, for instance, has been stalled in Parliament without movement for many months. (The law is once again on the table in the winter session that is under way now.) “Anyone who tries to effect a fundamental change in any one aspect of our public life will have to take on politics,” Yogendra Yadav, a professor and associate of Kejriwal, opined last month in Outlook. “If politics is about shifting the balance of power in a society, then not resorting to politics is not an option.” It’s impossible to say at this juncture whether or not the AAP will inspire enough votes to get through any of the points on their new agenda. But if Kejriwal and his colleagues manage to keep corruption on the national agenda, it could be worth the fight.

MORE: Yet Another Fast by India’s Anticorruption Crusader

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18 comments
amit53gupta
amit53gupta

It is a proven fact that corruption flows from top to  bottom. That is from the top minister to the lowly peon.As is the case with present govt .

Mithu
Mithu

As you know most of the communities (such as Bengali or Tamils) in this sub-continent are covered by ‘Culture of Poverty (hopelessness)’ (Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody genuinely condemn or ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption in this society, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-governance, bad work place, weak mother language, continuous consumption of common social space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold(supported by some lame excuses). Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent & caring society, fearless & dignified living. Simply pushing persons for a nasty survival. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative values to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately stop giving birth to any child him/herself till the society improves up to the mark, co-parenting children those are born out of extreme poverty, instead. All of us are driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever desires genuine freedom from vicious cycle of poverty, rotten capitalism, need to  involve themselves in ‘Production of Space’(Henri Lefebvre) movement, an intense attachment with the society at large to overcome inherent ‘hopeless’ mindset, decent Politics would certainly come up. – SB, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah -711101, India.

KameswaraPrasadManchella
KameswaraPrasadManchella

Yes defenitely, India has already crossed most dangerous situations in a smooth and democratic way of its style, this is not so major issue than terrorism of 26th november, so this issue will also be won easily provided there will be withstanding of its word from real democratic party exists.  Hope Mr. Kazriwal's party will survive from this issue. It is my will and wish. with regards for participation and writing my openion. M.Kameswara Prasad, Nellore.

sabhlok
sabhlok

Much to my regret, although AK is a good man and IAC (AAP) has some excellent people - and all of them want to change India's corrupt and deplorable governance - I am unable to see the slightest difference between AK/Yogendra/AAP and Nehru. And hence, not the slightest difference between AAP and Congress/BJP.

Nehru too was a good man. He, too, wanted to remove corruption (people have forgotten how regularly he spoke against it). And yetwe know what he did. Through his socialist system he destroyed India's steel frame (bureaucracy), then industry. All that happens today in India is the result of this socialist system. Good governance is impossible under such a system. 

And yet, AAP is 100 per cent socialist. It demands economic equality, no less! AAP is led by passionate but thoroughly confused economicsilliterates. For the sake of India, I urge AAP to denounce  socialism as the system that creates corruption. I have provided all relevant facts in my book, Breaking Free of Nehru. 

Despite my urging, AK is unwilling to even consider that he may be wrong. Hayek's  Fatal Conceit is essential reading for anyone who wants to "do good". Good intentions do not necessarily lead to  good outcomes. In fact, good men with bad ideas always harm society.

DeviMataCh
DeviMataCh

India presents the issues on a scale that will fascinate Gardiner Harris for the rest of time: revolting waste on a scale that will make news, insufficient and dirty water, inadequate food, violently troubled borders between nuclear states troubled by religious hatred, troubled medicine and politically unjust education, massive over population, totally dysfunctional and corrupt democracy, race hatred on a grand scale, marauding monkeys by the millions in the street, cat, dog and rat dominion to boot, a religion that suggests reincarnation, that every cow walking hosts the soul of a departed relative, endemic corruption, threat of nuclear war with either of two neighbors, one a client state of other, unstated, with the other the only more populous nation on earth, equally corrupt, theoretically communist, a violently capitalistic mess to the north, unparalleled urban filth, utter degradation of women, children raped, exported and enslaved, other illicit games in capitalism, the most disgusting habits in farming, in short - the problems of humanity on a planet where conscience has vacated, ethic is forgotten, and give me mine has assumed control.

gorilla128
gorilla128

There simply is no  other choice.

fatakesto
fatakesto

One of the biggest reasons for this maiaise in indian politics is because the 4th estate is sleeping at the switch. They have been co-opted by the corrupt parties and have become their lackeys. In light of that, not surprised by Prannoy Guha Thakurtha's self contradictory comments above, he can pontificate all he wants,  while sipping on his coctail in his ivory tower, the nation has  a cause to rally around. Whether it will be successful remains to be seen, but it is a great start. Good luck Arvind and AAP, just stay focused, stick to 3 or 4 issues, and execute!

prithvi
prithvi

While the article makes valid points about the AAP's agenda being unidimensional, it fails to outline just how pervasive corruption has become in India. AAP is naively idealistic, true. It probably won't amount to much in the long run, which is also true. But it is a start. Eradicating corruption will not make more Indians richer, will not make more Indians happier etc, but it is will make India a better place. It will ensure that our youth don't die on badly paved roads because some greedy a**hole wanted to line his pockets by using substandard materials. This change won't happen overnight and is most certainly not the only thing that needs to happen, we need stronger e-governance to remove corruption in the bureaucracy, but the halls of power where the elite reside immune to the travails of the rest of us has to be breached politically. Both the grassroots and the ivory towers need to targeted to eradicate this serious cancer.I am a very cynical person and even I feel empathy for this movement.

btt1943
btt1943

Can India’s Fight Against Corruption Be Won at the Ballot Box? Not likely, for the ballot box itself is corrupted.

One cannot fight corruption with corruption.    (vzc1943)

diitr
diitr

Dear Author,

You have remained very cynical of this new party which is justified since they have to prove their impact in the elections. The reason why people are supporting it is because it is a ray of hope, a set of glasses which show them bright and developed India.

Is this party needed? YES. Why? You haven't highlighted this but if you see recent exposes done by Mr. Kejriwal, they expose the top leaders of both the major parties and their stand on corruption. If they themselves are engaged in it how can one expect a cleaner country from them.

Are they going on right track? For now YES. Why? They make people pledge that they will not give or take bribes. This is development of new culture. Humans derive their actions from what is happening around them. If they see other engaging in corruption, they also engage in it. If they see others pledging for a cleaner country, they also introspect and think twice about giving or taking bribes. This is a start, and a promising one.

What are their policies on X,Y or Z? Is it really the question for 99% of Indian population. No. This tax structure or that, MiG or rafale, Mars mission or not, doesn't matter to 80% population who are living under Rs 20 per day. Whatever money country collects through taxes and distributes through policies, 90% of that goes into corrupt pockets. Corruption is huge. Some instances indicate that policies are being made to appease certain businessmen. Whatever stand they take looks better than the current scenario.

It is nice to see global media highlighting this issue. Thanks for the effort.

satchandrag
satchandrag

NOVEMBER 24, 2012: India's population is a mountain of S-H-I-T. Kejriwal and India's media people are particles of S-H-I-T in this mountain of S-H-I-T.According to a Washington Post story, more than 40 television cameras reported on Arvind Kejriwal waving a plain piece of paper -- no other documentation -- with a list of people with accounts in HSBC bank in Geneva. Documentation of K. Subrahmanyam coming on line, along with the CIA Director Michael Hayden, on August 9, 2008 and offering to transfer one crore rupees into my bank account within 48 hours if I agreed to work for the CIA -- which shows Indian governments, in the present and in the past, to be proxies for the CIA -- can be seen via HaydenSubrahmanyamDOTblogspotDOTcom and there is not a single television camera facing me to cover this biggest expose since India's so-called 'Independence'. IndiasTraitorGovtAndMediaDOTblogspotDOTcom .Why did Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer, become an income tax officer -- are the salaries of Indian government income tax officers more than those of mechanical engineers? No, he did that to collect crores and crores in bribes which he keeps in Swiss bank accounts and his wife, still an income tax officer, now collects hundreds and hundreds of crores in bribes paid by corporates and individuals to avoid being targeted by Kejriwal. His associate, Prashant Bhushan, admits to having 'managed' many high court and supreme court judges by bribing them and they now threaten to expose some of the judges sitting on high profile cases for years in exchange for bribes from parties to the cases who will lose if the cases moved, so Bhushan and company can collect huge bribes from parties to other cases by threatening to similarly expose judges presiding over them.An item on the Indian defence web site, bharat-rakshakDOTcom, a few days ago referred to a web site in the United States inviting all those who obtained information via the Right-to-Information act in India to send the information they obtained to the American website to be included in a centralized data base. This web site is CIA-sponsored and the information is used by the CIA for blackmail and other purposes. Kejriwal's involvement in the Right-to-Information movement which led to the passing of the Right-to-Information Act was part of this CIA-sponsored intelligence-gathering operation and he was rewarded with the CIA-controlled Magsaysay award as a result.The Washington Post story dated November 9 '12 regarding Kejriwal that I saved on my computer has been replaced on its web site by a different story that makes no mention of the more than 40 television cameras and the original story I saved on my computer disappears from my computer screen as soon as I load it -- part of CIA-RAW's 'managing' of Kejriwal, as were the cameras.Because of what I have written -- IndianAirForcePilotsMurderDOTblogspotDOTcom -- about the sabotage of India's weapon platforms via joint exercises with the United States and about the U.S. Secretary of State then welcoming joint India-Australia exercises in the future to get it done through Australia, the U.S. has moved for joint bases with India to get around that and make the Indian military serve the United States as it served the British. As I have said, Indians in the army, air force, navy as well as police in their millions served and fought for the British and not a single one of them fought the British on behalf of India -- and they were maintained with revenues extracted from India's population and that continues today. The same is the case with Central and state legislatures -- there were elections under the British, Indians formed Central and state legislatures and executives and the present day legislatures, police, etc. work in the same buildings, under the same laws and rules with cosmetic changes of Indians controlled by CIA-RAW as the rulers. The media are thoroughly CIA-RAW controlled. Sending IAS officers for "training" to the United States is part of ensuring the loyalty and subservience of the civilian administration as of the military to the Americans who have replaced the British as India's rulers. And now members of parliament are sent for training to U.S. universities. Sending over a hundred thousand students a year for post-graduate studies in the United States, Britain, etc. ensures Indians outside government remaining under control of and loyal to U.S. - Britain. I have described elsewhere -- JoinIndiaWarOfIndependenceDOTblogspotDOTcom -- M. K. Gandhi's and Jawaharlal Nehru's fake 'Independence' struggle managed by the Intelligence Bureau. WhatYouShouldKnowAboutRAWDOTblogspotDOTcom .I wrote: "Just as RAW-induced cricket fever sweeps India and does no good and a lot of harm to India, replacing real victory and supremacy over white countries, for example, with fake 'victories' and 'supremacy' over enemies, Hazare's fake fast was entertainment -- the arrests and conflicts with government are meant to generate support and make/keep him a hero -- sponsored by CIA-RAW to keep India 'Gandhian' -- and so poor, weak and enslaved -- due to the recent disclosure that M. K. Gandhi, a lifelong British agent, was a homosexual who wrote to the white man "How completely you have taken possession of my body. It is slavery with a vengeance". Nehru admitted to U.S. ambassador Galbraith that he was a lifelong British agent." India's population is a mountain of S-H-I-T. M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were particles of S-H-I-T in this mountain of S-H-I-T.Are India's present day rulers and public figures -- Manmohan Singh, Advani, the rest of the members of parliament, etc., better than M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru? No, they are particles of S-H-I-T in the mountain of S-H-I-T that is India's population. Members of India's parliament are particles of S-H-I-T in the mountain of S-H-I-T that is India's population.The institution of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was formed under the British and Indians are allowed to fight about bribes and corruption; what they are NOT allowed to fight is the continuation of white rule over India whose economic consequences also are incomparably greater. JoinIndiaWarOfIndependenceDOTblogspotDOTcom and 'How India's Economy Can Grow 30% Per Year Or More' : HowIndiasEconomyCanGrowDOTblogspotDOTcom .It needs to be clarified that nearly three million Indians from India now in the United States with very high levels of education and a median household income over eighty thousand dollars per year -- more than any other ethnic group -- remain particles of S-H-I-T from the mountain of S-H-I-T that is India's population. NuclearSupremacyForIndiaOverUSDOTblogspotDOTcom .

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

The Law by itself just reveals our sinful desires at work in us. We need Jesus within us..........Romans 7:4-6..........4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter......

Kajua
Kajua

As a frequent visitor to India over the last three decades, it is safe to say corruption is the number one cause of their failure in social progress and/or their demise. Personal greed, social indifference, and a collective national apathy makes India its own worst enemy. Sadly, this has been part of its culture and won't change anytime soon.

sucorazon20101
sucorazon20101

@satchandrag you are so ugly !!

And of-course a nut case, who does not know how to type nor understand file formats.

Did you go to a pakistani school you idiot ?

shashach
shashach

@satchandrag - Where have you been all this time, Mr. Satchandraji ? I've never enjoyed my morning cuppa as much as I did today while reading your comment - it is hilarious! I am a supporter of Kejriwal and I wish more folks like you would come out of the wood-works and expose yourselves. Kejriwal has touched such a raw nerve in the establishment (which means you Satchandraji, and your ilk) that they are going all out to activate cat's paws like you to try and denigrate him as well as this wonderful country of ours. Bilious old goats like you would do better to see the writing on the wall and recognize Kejriwal's movement for what it is - an awesome reaction to the scale of venality that has pervaded my country over the past half century and more.

sucorazon20101
sucorazon20101

@Kajua Hi again!!

Kajua, a pokistani visits India often? hahahaha.

Last time you said you were a Pakistani and have never visited India, because they did not give you a visa !! Remember ???

And now you have visited India 'often'.

Do you know why you lie? because koran teaches you too !!

Shoo terrorist, shooo !!