India fights corruption the 'Gandhian Way'

Updated: 2011-07-12 11:02

By Binod Singh (

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Mohandas K. Gandhi has been credited (some say over-credited) with leading Indians to win their freedom in the 20th century. What he practiced has come to be known as the "Gandhian philosophy," which asks for passive struggle by non-violent means and observing civil disobedience. The last time he was in the news, the first black president of America indicated him as his source of inspiration.

But, Mr Gandhi is again back in the limelight in India for both good and bad reasons. First the bad reason is the controversy about his sex life published in the book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, authored by Joseph Lelyveld, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former executive editor of The New York Times. The book has already been banned in the Indian state of Gujrat (where Gandhi was born) and there are rumblings a nationwide ban may be forthcoming - even though the book has yet to be published in India and almost no one there has read it.

The good reason is that the senior most generation of India (my father's generation) continues to be hard core believers in the Gandhian way. Last few weeks in India, the prime minister and his whole cabinet had to succumb to the pressure created by a 73-year-old man who used the Gandhian way to express his displeasure at the slow ineffective process that government was handling the 2G telecom scam worth $20 billion.

The old man here is Mr Anna Hazare, who lives a "Gandhian Way" of simple living and is known for his social activities. In fact, he is an ex-army man, who fought in the 1965 Indo-Pak War, and later built a self-sustained, eco-friendly & harmonic model village in the state of Maharashtra, where energy is produced in the village itself from solar power, biofuel and windmills. On April 5, Mr. Hazare staged an indefinite hunger strike at a government-specified place in New Delhi and demanded a bill, The Lok Pal Bill (The Citizen Ombudsman Bill), which will form an autonomous authority that will make politicians (ministers) and bureaucrats accountable for their deeds.

If the Indian mainstream media reports are to be believed, the whole country came out in support of Mr Hazare. There was solidarity expressed from a 5-year-old child to veterans of social and NGO movements in India. On the fourth day of his hunger strike, the government had to relent and a 10-member body was formed to draft the required bill to fight growing corruption in the country. Mr. Hazare had his day, and so the "Gandhian Way" once again became relevant in the fight against the all-powerful, corrupt government machinery.

Corruption has been a global phenomenon and prevalent across our societies in its various incarnations. But in developing countries it has come to challenge the basic morality of our political class and officialdom. It has gotten so deep-rooted in our society that we've come to accept it as the de facto norm. In other words, in developing countries corruption has become institutionalized, so that at each level of governance, one needs to make a deal, then and only then, he or she will be allowed to go to the next level. We must realize that corruption has already become a cancer in our society. Now when the so-called revolution against corruption has started, there is great hope that the old "Gandhian philosophy" can bring back society, state and economy back on the right track.

In China too, during this era of high growth rate, the issue of crony-capitalism and rampant misuse of government positions have given sleepless nights to the central government. But, if caught, the punishment has been severe, and if we recall, some of the very senior level leaders in the past were severely punished or even executed for accepting bribes. The fight is on with the latest move of declaring the assets of civil servants. Let us hope that our two countries can set some moral standards in public life to be followed by others.

The author is of Indian origin and teaches at the School of Asian and African Studies of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. He can be reached at The views expressed here are solely personal and do not represent in any way the view of or any section of China Daily newspaper.