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India: Social Media Powers Anti Corruption Bill Campaign

Categories: South Asia, India, Citizen Media, Governance, Law, Protest

Corruption is a big issue in India and many love talking about the latest expose of government officials. However, there are actually a few people who do something significant to bring about a change.

On April 5, 2011 social activist Anna Hazare [1] started a fast-unto-death campaign to demand an effective anti-corruption law and hundreds of thousands of Indians supported him. His India Against Corruption [2] website listed support of more than one million people and counting.

Mukul Sharma at Kafila calls Anna Hazare [3] one of India’s leading environmental warriors and provides a background on his life and his campaigns (also right to information campaigns).


Anna Hazare, Image courtesy Rajavaddhan, Wikipedia.

On the second day of Anna's fasting many commentators were drawing parallels [5] of this protest with Tahrir Square, and other pro-democracy revolutions in the Middle-East. Prerna at I Love Life So I Explore posts [6] some pictures of the protestors supporting Anna Hazre.

On Saturday morning (9 April, 2011) Anna Hazare broke his fast after over 90 hours, when the Indian government issued a gazette notification constituting a joint committee of ministers and civil society activists, including him, to draft an effective Lokpal Bill to combat corruption.

The anti-corruption law in question called Jan Lokpal Bill [7] (zip file) requires that investigations into any case should be completed within a year and the trial should get over in the next one year so that a corrupt person goes to jail within two years of complaint and his/her ill-gotten wealth is confiscated.

A recent article in The Hindu analyzes [5] how social media helped shape up and power the campaign of Anna Hazare. Facebook profile badges, cause applications, missed call campaigns and petitions etc were some of the forms of the campaign. On Twitter, the hashtags #janlokpal and #annahazare began to trend. YouTube shows up around 2,000 amateur video results on the campaign.

Before Anna broke his fast, Gaurav Mishra at Gauravonomics wondered [8] whether Anna Hazre's campaign will ever tip into a social movement, because:

It seems that Hazare’s India Against Corruption campaign is attracting some serious support on the Indian social web. The Facebook page has more than 180000 likes, the Facebook event has more than 160000 attendees and #annahazare is trending on Twitter worldwide. The campaign’s Twitter account @janlokpal is also getting some traction. Overall, the campaign claims to have received 7 lakh calls in support at +91-22-61550789.

Twitter users are urging each other to go to Jantar Mantar in Delhi, Azad Maidan in Mumbai and Freedom Park in Bangalore to support Anna’s fast until death. India Against Corruption claims that protests have been organized at 400 locations around the world.

However, most people seem unsure about what they are supporting. The Congress-led UPA government has been embroiled in a series of high-profile corruption cases, but the BJP-led opposition hardly inspires confidence either.


Sick of government corruption, men sit and support Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death movement which has spread from city to city. Image by Devarshi Pathak. Copyright Demotix.

Amit Varma at India Uncut also questions [10] the support for Anna Hazra:

I’m amused that most people supporting him haven’t read and understood the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill, which Hazare has been fighting for. I’m appalled that they don’t understand that this bill does nothing to fight the root causes of corruption, and may instead add to the problem. And yes, I’d be astounded if they care about this bill or the man two weeks from now, when the fashion would have changed, yellows would be out, and purples would be, like, so in.

And Amit was right. The sad thing about this movement was that it died prematurely and cricket started to dominate social media again. Gaurav writes [11]:

The campaign started getting traction on Wednesday, and peaked on Thursday. By Friday, netizens had moved on from corruption to cricket. IPL4 dominated the conversation and amusement about Lalit Modi’s support to Anna Hazare campaign reached trending topics on Twitter India. So, it’s a good thing that the government agreed to Anna’s demands on Friday night and Anna agreed to end his fast on Saturday morning. India’s heart might beat for Anna Hazare, but India’s heart still bleeds blue.

Saurabh Dhanuka is not convinced that Anna has brought social media revolution in India. Saurabh believes [12] that corruption starts from ordinary people, the ones who were supporting him:

The real change cannot come into existence by bringing new laws, it will come when we attack the cause. This is the main point which the Indian status message revolution and Anna’s crusades missed it since the beginning.

Flawsophy also provides a hilarious reality check [13] for the social media enthusiasts in a post titled “What Kind of Anna Hazare Supporter Were You?”

The movement died as soon as Anna Hazare broke his fast. Now, will the Lokpal Bill help reduce corruption? Amit Varma says [10] that unless the government is stripped of some power and does away with the need for excessive licenses (for example, a hotelier needs 165 licenses) and regulations, the situation is not going to change:

Governments should exist to implement law and order, to protect our rights, and to provide basic services—nothing else. The more we move towards this ideal, the closer we come to rooting out corruption.