Contrary to their popular perception, youth of India have not only become vocal on political issues like corruption and governance, but they are also actively participating in public protests, giving hope for a better future.
Youngsters no longer want to keep themselves away from public protests
"Corruption is a global phenomenon", once remarked Indira Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister, when some one complained about rising corruption in her government. She added nonchalantly that there was no need to make a big deal about it. Confident of her popularity, she did not care what public had to say about corruption.
Few decades later, the year 2011 has proved to be a watershed in the public tolerance of political corruption in India. With widespread protests and movements led by social activists against corruption and for the return of illegal wealth stashed abroad, people have given ample indication of their rising impatience with the dishonest and distant governments.
Corruption is not a recent phenomenon in our country. Apart from the extensive evidence of its spread before and after the economic liberalisation, the governments have regularly been accused of making and manipulating policies to extend favours to select few, thereby creating a governance system of bribes and commissions demanded by the corrupt officials and politicians at all levels.
But this decades old problem has suddenly become a hot political issue with the recent awakening among the Indian citizens, especially the youth. Has Indian society now come of age, as the citizenry demands official transparency and freedom from corruption?
The anti-corruption movement launched by the unorganised masses and small groups took a decisive turn when a five day long fast by Anna Hazare, a social activist renowned for his integrity and commitment, shook the government off its torpor and forced it to establish a joint committee to prepare a draft for an effective Lokpal Bill to curb corruption.
The movement has been triggered by several factors — some immediate and incidental like recent expose of telecom scam and swindling of funds in organising Commonwealth Games; while others factors are more deep-rooted marked by a desire to establish the real democracy by demanding total transparency in working of government and pushing for decentralisation of power. Many people have joined the anti-corruption movement with a political goal to end dynastic rule of a family and rid the country off corruption. Not to be left behind, opposition parties also hope to take advantage of the rising anger against the discredited government and ride to power.
The youth believe that unless they take lead and come out in the streets, situation is not going to change, and that it would be futile to expect the political class to take action against corruption.
But in the midst of such narrow and larger demands, the voice of the youth has echoed stronger and louder than ever before. Most of the youngsters, agitated by widespread corruption, have started saying “Enough! No more corruption!” and giving the unmistakable signs of a growing restlessness.
The youth believe that unless they take lead and come out in the streets, situation is not going to change, and that it would be futile to expect the political class to take action against corruption. The failure of successive governments to come out with an effective solution has given rise to widespread suspicion that the politicians are not serious about addressing this cancerous problem of corruption.
But what exactly are the impact and dimensions of corruption that have made People of India so agitated.
According to Wikipedia, the data provided by the Swiss Banking Association Report, Indians had more money deposited in Swiss Banks in 2006 than the rest of the world combined. India tops the list for black money in the entire world with almost US$1456 billion in Swiss banks (approximately USD 1.4 trillion) in the form of black money. To put things in perspective, Indians’ deposits in Swiss bank account are worth 13 times the country’s national debt.
Many top politicians, including members of India's famous Nehru-Gandhi family have often been accused of corruption and amassing illegal wealth abroad. Independent reports calculate the financial net worth of India's most powerful and traditionally ruling family to be anywhere between $9.41 billion (Rs 42,345 crore) to $18.66 billion (Rs 83,900 crore), most of it in the form of illegal monies (source: Wikipedia).
And it doesn’t just end there, the recent 2G scams and other frauds and bribery issues related to the government have come to light and have revealed illegal transactions worth few lakh crore rupees. According to news reports, the suspected money launderer Hasan Ali Khan had transactions of over 112,000 crore (US$24.86 billion) between years 2005 and 2006. This amount is enough to fund the national drinking water project in all the six lakh villages in India for the next 10 years. Yet, the incumbent Congress-led government did not take any action against Khan for 6 years. Finally Supreme Court of India had to instruct the government agencies few months back to arrest him.
The demand for the creation of an institution called Lok Pal with wide powers to take notice of corruption at all levels — including the Prime Minister — and initiate action against the guilty, formally made by Anna Hazare and his supporters, has now become a national demand.
However, the proposal to establish an office of Lokpal has been pending before the Parliament since 1969 but the successive governments have not given it a legal form. In the light of these misgivings, now the burden is on the government and the political class as a whole to come out with an effective mechanism which could effectively reduce corruption without weakening the democratic structure. They do not seem to realize yet that any further delay in dealing with this problem and attempts to ignore the demands and expectations of the people could damage the very roots of democracy in the country.
Internet, social networking and mobile phones have also acted as a weapon in the hands of the youth. With access to every information world wide at the click of a button, the youth today are well informed, well educated and well connected with the rest of the world.
Inspired by Anna Hazare, the youth are ready to throw their power behind the fight against corruption. Throughout India the youth brigade has shown its support to the movement against corruption. Social networking sites have recently come abuzz with status messages of support, pages on anti-corruption movement, inviting friends to join the fight against corruption.
It would be important to know the reasons which have fuelled the young India to show its massive countrywide support to a movement against corruption after decades. Many experts blame corruption for poor development and infrastructure, while some others say it has helped achieve high economic growth. However, most youngsters rarely face direct ill-effects of corruption. On the contrary, a random youth caught for over speeding will be happy to bribe the policeman for 100 rupees rather than pay the official fine of 400 rupees. Similarly many parents willingly bribe management and officials of educational institutions to ensure admission of their ward in the institution of his/her choice.
So in a way, corruption could be helpful for a large number of youth. But still, the next generation is standing up against it. The youth today are mere followers. They need a leader, an inspiring figure to guide them on their quest. They need to be inspired, need to be fuelled to do the right thing.
For younger generation, this inspiration first came in the form of the movie Rang De Basanti. That movie taught the then ignorant and unconcerned youth to stand up and fight against the wrongdoings prevalent in the political system. The effect that movie had on the youth could clearly be seen when the candle march was organized at India Gate demanding justice in Jessica Lal murder case. The peaceful protest by the public was in direct resemblance to the movie’s storyline.
With the overflowing angst against corruption, the youth have begun to get more involved and active in the issues of national importance. Internet, social networking and mobile phones have also acted as a weapon in the hands of the youth. With access to every information world wide at the click of a button, the youth today are well informed, well educated and well connected with the rest of the world.
On one side, we see the plight of the majority of Indian population, 80 percent of whom are living on less than $2 per day and on the other hand we see officials and politicians accepting colossal bribes and stashing billions of dollars in their foreign bank accounts. It seems as if only the honest people are poor in India and they want to get rid of their poverty through education, emigration to cities, and hard work, whereas all the corrupt and manipulative people are getting richer through scams and crimes.
Government must accept the demand for a powerful Lokpal and put in place an effective system which could deter and punish the corrupt. It should not remain under illusion that with time the public anger against corruption will subside and it can silence the agitators through brutal means as happened during emergency days. On the issue of corruption, the youth of India are prepared for a long struggle.
Sushant Sharma is a college fresher and an avid reader.