This past week’s protests in India instantly commanded a lot of sympathy around the world; who doesn’t want an end to the rampant corruption that pervades Indian politics and is the greatest threat to the country’s emergence as a great power? It is not clear, however, that the anti-corruption movement can lead to constructive reform. According to the Financial Times:
Mr Hazare’s fearlessness, his Gandhian tactics and his attempts to distance his campaign from entrenched political interests, fill many with a hope that honesty can return to public life. Yet the impulse behind these protests is not necessarily generous or gentle. The Indian middle classes want to seize back what they consider to have been taken from them. Sceptics also rightly note an authoritarianism lurking behind the movement – for Mr Hazare is also a self-righteous figure who believes in the most violent kinds of punishment for those who betray his vision.His campaign seeks not merely to clamp down on corruption but to secure the return of money believed to have been stashed away by public servants in bank accounts abroad. This could be a fantastically large sum, and Mr Hazare’s supporters hope this windfall may be released into India’s economy. As one young professional I spoke to recently said: “Until now we’ve been funding Swiss citizens’ old age. Now it’s going to come home.”
All good ideas, but corruption is so deeply woven into the way Indian institutions work that ripping it up by the roots is more like heart surgery than wart removal. Despite all the complaints, nearly all parties also hope to benefit from it as well.Hazare and his followers seem sure that the solutions are simple and obvious. That is almost never true for problems like this, and successful reform is usually a matter of many careful steps rather than a few great leaps forward. Reforming such a large, diverse and cacophonous society will take time, and Mr. Hazare’s authoritarian temperament may not be exactly what India needs. Just because there is a problem doesn’t mean there is a solution.Observers often think about the ways that social and political unrest could interfere with China’s rise to world power; the other emerging Asian superpower is also at risk.