India Insight

Anna Hazare: PR superstar?

So it has come to an end for now. A fast by a 74-year-old man sparked nationwide protests against the political class in the world’s largest democracy and forced a government, already suffering from graft charges, even further on the backfoot. While we are on the issue of sporting analogies, let’s ask ourselves, how many of the statements made in media and civil society, about the UPA government scoring own goals and making unforced errors, are justified?

To start from the top, a few days before Anna Hazare started his fast against the government’s reluctance to table his and his team’s version of a key anti-corruption bill, called the Lokpal bill, the government’s PR machinery made one blunder after the other.

It allowed a Congress spokesman to use rather strong language on TV against Hazare. And later statements on record by union ministers Kapil Sibal and Palaniappan Chidambaram did nothing to turn the tide of public opinion increasingly turning against the government at its inability to crack down on rampant corruption.

On the other hand, while Anna Hazare’s protest channelised the frustration of the Indian middle class, it certainly needed more than that to succeed. From the beginning, his close advisers, nicknamed “Team Anna” by the media, proved to be adept at handling public relations.

Just moments before he was detained by the police, Team Anna put up a video on YouTube with his message calling for nationwide agitation and for people to turn themselves in to the police. It was a PR coup, as by the same evening, thousands of people had gathered in protest in front of the Tihar Jail gates.

VIDEO: Reactions to Anna Hazare’s agitation

Anna Hazare’s fast against corruption united tens of thousands of people across India. The social activist is now recovering from the near-two week fast in his home village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra. But the government still faces the challenge of passing the Lokpal Bill. Reuters spoke to a few people on the streets to get a sense of what the common man thinks about the anti-corruption debate.

Probable Lokpal Bill: Neither Anna’s nor govt’s version

By Arup Roychoudhury

The events that transpired since Anna Hazare first went on a fast in April, when the word “Lokpal” was embedded in the minds of people throughout India, seem to have given Hazare’s protest a very one-dimensional view — that of black versus white.

The Indian press corps, across medium and languages, may have also contributed to the polarisation. Most seem to have taken a pro-Hazare stand with little or no coverage given to any counterviews.

However, this is still being seen as essentially a political movement, with many angles and viewpoints to it. And, like many political movements, chances are it will probably end in a compromise rather than “victory” for either the ruling Congress coalition or Team Anna.

Is the world’s largest democracy yielding to politicians before its citizens?

By Annie Banerji

One would think India would be able to have a parliament worthy of its name to represent the world’s largest democracy.

But for many civil society activists, who have championed an anti-corruption campaign for months in the wake of government scandals, the Congress party’s ruling coalition is doing its best to water down a potentially game-changing anti-corruption bill which is slated to be brought to parliament during the ongoing monsoon session.

The Jan Lokpal Bill (citizens’ ombudsman bill), propagated by septuagenarian Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare, aims to form an independent, powerful institution to prevent corruption by prosecuting top officials.

Business tycoons express solidarity with Lokpal bill protests

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.