Hazare spooks Indian Parliament

Anna Hazare, the 74 year old retired army driver who forced Parliament to accept his terms for an Anti-Corruption Bill, claims inspiration from Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The ICAC, established in 1974, is widely credited with cleaning up an entrenched nexus of mobsters-business-police which plagued the territory for decades. However, there is a major difference between HK's ICAC charter and Hazare's Jan Lokpal (Citizens' Ombudsman) proposals, and that is the principle of separation of powers between investigation and prosecution.

While the ICAC has powers of independent investigation, the power to prosecute is vested with the Secretary for Justice. In Hazare's proposal, the Jan Lokpal vests itself with the roles of investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner all-in-one.

That has chilled MPs of all parties. They fear that it could lead to mass accusations and witch-hunts on the scale of the Spanish Inquisition, the 'class-struggles' of the Cultural Revolution and the crazed kangaroo courts of revolutionaries through history.

There is little enthusiasm among parliamentarians for such an over-concentration of power in an agency outside the oversight of elected lawmakers.

At the same time, however, Hazare’s story is remarkable and, because of its emotion, is said to have strains of the so-called Tea Party movement in the United States, which resulted in a paradigm shift in US politics. But it appears to be far more than that. It has raised the political temperature of the entire country. His hunger strike brought together an unprecedented demand for corruption cleanup, crossing caste, class, regional and religious lines – Muslim and Hindu together -- seemingly to fuse India into a unified country almost for the first time since his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, brought it into being.

People swarmed into Delhi, defying arrest to demonstrate in good-natured and orderly protest in a large open area, the Ramlila Maidan. They also appeared outside the official residences of national ruling national coalition ministers. The protesters included an extraordinary range of whole families with their children, prostitutes, film stars, teachers and students, corporate officers and farmer side by side, all of them paying rapt attention to the septuagenarian’s speeches and cheering him on.

Thus the bill forced through by Hazare’s team arrived intact, with powers to hold everyone accountable from the prime minister down to members of parliament, the judiciary and bureaucrats whose hands have been out for decades to get anything done in Indian government. The bill also seeks creation of similar commissions at the state level and includes protection for whistle blowers, witnesses and corruption victims.

The government first blamed “foreign hands” – as usual, presumably American ones, calling the legislation “misconceived/” and dangerous for democracy.

It has been estimated that up to 40 percent of India’s gross domestic product disappears from the economy, stolen by politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats. These interests are so deeply entrenched that when Hazare and his troops set out to clean the stables, there will be fierce resistance. Given the volatile nature of Indian politics and a public fed up with greed and corruption, just what will take place remains to be seen. But given the vast powers of the anti-corruption bill, Indian politicians are quaking in their boots.