India Insight

Business tycoons express solidarity with Lokpal bill protests

April 8, 2011

Leaders from India’s influential corporate industry on Friday expressed solidarity with Anna Hazare in his campaign for a tough anti-corruption ‘Lokpal’ bill, joining ranks with thousands across the country galvanised by the activist and his Gandhian method of non-violent agitation.

Word about Hazare, who is on a fast until death, has spread through television, SMSes and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, drawing thousands of protesters on to the streets across various cities at a time when stories of mass corruption are dominating the media.

The government is under increasing pressure to resolve the impasse with protesters, who are now demanding that their nominee head a team to draft the Lokpal bill, before the agitation takes on new dimensions and the health of Hazare deteriorates.

“We are supporting what he (Hazare) stands for. If something happens to him, it will be a shame to 1.2 billion Indians and for the government, which means the government has to find a way out,” said billionaire Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto.

Support for the anti-corruption agitation by industry leaders is understandable even in business terms, with a raft of recent graft scandals spooking investors and putting in doubt much needed economic reforms.

India ranks 78th on the Transparency International’s corruption index, and in a sign the scandals were reaching a tipping point for many influential Indians, a group of 14 public figures in January warned in an open letter to the prime minister that corruption and bad governance threatened India’s growth.

That view was again expressed by Godrej Group chairman Adi Godrej who said most people in the business community would support any step to decrease corruption and increase transparency.

“I would like to see transparency improve. A good Lokpal bill would help. It is a strong movement to correct the improper action of the past,” Godrej said.

Mahindra & Mahindra’s Arun Nanda, another industry veteran, praised Hazare and said “his cause is very justified”.

But many experts urge caution on acceding to demands made by the activists, as the civilian draft of the bill, known as Jan Lokpal bill, has too much bite and could hamper the proper functioning of the government.

Will civil society activists and the government find a middle ground?

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