Author and public intellectual, Gurcharan Das is best known for a trilogy based on the classical Indian ideal of the goals of life. He studied philosophy at Harvard University and was CEO of Procter & Gamble India before he became a full-time writer. He writes a regular column for the Times of India, five Indian language papers, and contributes to international newspapers.
A series of corruption scandals has swept
Fighting this pervasive corruption has been Mr. Hazare, a villager in a white rural cap who evokes the figure of Mahatma Gandhi and has successfully emulated Gandhi's protest tactics of hunger strikes and peaceful marches. Mr. Hazare launched his first hunger strike, a five-day fast, in April. As a result, the government agreed to draft a bill creating an anticorruption agency that would investigate complaints against officials, but the bill was weak, and Mr. Hazare rejected it.
His second hunger strike, which he staged last month in Delhi, drew tens of thousands of supporters and spurred the government to agree to discuss his own version of the bill—a considerable victory, since politicians of all parties have stonewalled the creation of an anticorruption agency for 40 years.
Many officials were taken by surprise by Mr. Hazare's support from the middle class, which is almost a third of
There are still vast areas of horrible deprivation, but a significant number of Indians have experienced a palpable betterment in their lives. As a result, the discourse of the nation, or what Alexis de Tocqueville called "habits of the mind," are changing. People have begun to believe that their future is open, not predetermined, and can be altered by their own actions.
The same thing happened in the West after 1800. In her book "Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World," Deirdre McCloskey argues that the West rose not only because of economic factors but because the discourse about markets and innovation changed. People became encouraging of entrepreneurs. New perceptions and expectations emerged.
In the same way, the rise of
For too long Indians have been denied dignity by public officials who ride in cars topped with flashing lights and make citizens wait endlessly in gloomy offices, placing miles of red tape in their way to get even basic documents. The newly assertive middle class will no longer put up with this. As the social anthropologist Shiv Vishwanathan says, "The consumer revolution that we have experienced in the past two decades has told the citizen that he can expect a higher quality of governance."
It would be a shame if Mr. Hazare's movement contributed to undermining
Mr. Hazare's bill is needed medicine, but it is being administered long after the sickness appeared. Clearing swamps is a better way to tackle malaria than administering quinine.
To prevent day-to-day corruption, Mr. Hazare and others like him need to work on reforming the rules of
—Mr. Das is the author of "The Difficulty of Being Good" and "India Unbound."