Martin Herrndorf

NexThought Monday: Coming 2011, An India Without Corruption?

Corruption is endemic in India – the “world’s biggest democracy” scored a measly 3.3 out of 10 in the latest CPI poll. Corruption cripples everything, from public welfare programmes, for example when food-stamp recipient have to pay local authorities to get their rationed amounts, public investments in education and health, up to large infrastructure projects.

For decades, the country has accepted this widely spread corruption in their public service as a unalterable matter-of-fact. That could change now. Part of it is due to new technology – innovative websites, like, have raised awareness and created a new sense of urgency.

But the strongest force is good old Indian activism. A strong civil society movement, lead by NGOs like the prominent India against Corruption, is pushing for a new, strong anti-corruption law. They call for a new, independent body that investigates citizens reporting corruption (as current bodies fail to deliver), including accountability for the prime minister. Parliament is split over the issue, though leading figures have talked down the demands.

The movement is lead by Anna Hazare. Born in 1937, he’s a veteran soldier, and went on to turn around a village through a whole battery of social innovations (see his extensive wikipedia profile). His public speeches and fasts have kept the topic on the agenda, got him to jail for a couple of nights (which actually help to keep the movement going), and has prevented the government from signing some boiled-down version of the bill.

He has gained wide support – from other leading figures from Indian civil society, from business school students joining him in skipping meals or fasting for days, and shopkeepers all over the country posting support posters outside their stores.

While one can debate about the content of the bill – some fear that corruption will infect the corruption-watch-dog over time, and it surely may – the movement is likely stay. And if successful, it could take away one of the main barriers for smart public programmes, civil society organizations and the private sector to address poverty in this country of riches.

Note: This blog post was written at the oikos UNDP Young Scholars Development Academy 2011, taking place at IIM Bangalore this week. More to come!

Base of the Pyramid, governance