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Thu 18 Aug 2011 05:06 PM

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Botched Hazare crackdown may be India's turning point

Failed effort to stifle unrest may lead to action on India’s endemic corruption

Botched Hazare crackdown may be India's turning point
Followers of Indian social activist Anna Hazare wave placards as they take part in a rally in Hyderabad

Arresting a self-styled Gandhian hunger-striker on August 16
was a foolish move by India.

Manmohan Singh's government claims not to have directly
requested Anna Hazare's brief detention, but the episode has cost it some
credibility all the same.

India's political sclerosis may now worsen. In the short
term, that will hurt an economy facing inflation of above 9 percent and in dire
need of decisive reform.

Yet the ruckus could have a good long-term outcome, if the
botched crackdown leads to tougher action on endemic corruption.

The white-clad 74-year-old has fasted over plans to create a
new anti-corruption watchdog.

He contends that the government's draft of the Lokpal bill,
originally mooted four decades ago, lacks teeth.

And he has a point. Graft in India is often claimed to cost
the Indian economy 1 percent to 2 percent of GDP a year.

The government has been rocked with scandals relating to its
handling of 2010's Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G telecoms

The legislation as proposed would make it hard for the
watchdog to target top political figures, and the body would lack the autonomy
Hazare and his supporters demand.

Arresting a peaceful protester, and 1,500 of his supporters,
may be unpalatable.

Yet the protests and overzealous crackdown are distractions
from India's pressing problems.

Above-target inflation is being intensified by
infrastructure shortages and supply bottlenecks.

A land acquisition bill that would help ease the problem is
stuck in parliament, which has achieved nothing in weeks. The so-called
"monsoon session", which ends in September, looks set to be a

Further paralysis is likely to defer needed reforms, which
casts serious doubt on India's ability to sustain 8 percent to 9 percent GDP

But this could be a turning point. Singh has so far failed
to act decisively on corruption.

The groundswell of support for Hazare's peaceful methods,
twinned with anger over the response, makes it difficult for inaction to

Anything that pushes corruption further up the agenda should
augur well for India's markets, foreign investment and economic growth. Nor
does the lesson extend only to India.

Other countries struggling with corruption should take note
how peace and persistence can break more ground than sticks and stones.

(John Foley is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The
opinions expressed are his own.

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Suresh 8 years ago

This may disrupt both the government as well the economy for a certain time , but I can only see good coming out of it. All Indians , except the politicians and civil servants who benefit from it , are fed up with corruption.

I fully support Anna Hazare and his campaign and beseech all Indians to do what ever they can to support this movement.

Mueen Chowdhury 8 years ago

Excellent work by Anna Hazare. This lesson should work for neighboring Bangladesh as well. The politicians, and civil servants use both the military and the police to carry on their state looting, supported by our big brothers USA and UK in the name of democrazy! Where will the unarmed civilian victims go? We hope that the Arab Spring will also touch the Subcontinent to cleanse us of abject corruption and thus the real root of poverty.