Asia wants Anna

September 10th, 2011

Undoubtedly, I have jumped on the bandwagon horrifyingly late.

The Ramlila Maidan is now empty, the Centre is back in business trying to solve yet another act of terror and I finally have access to a particular news channel that features India’s most animated (and entertaining, if I may add) news anchor on the 9 p.m. slot.

But no excuse is good enough. After all, even from Straits of Singapore, Anna Hazare must have been unmissable. I must tell you that he indeed was. And how!

It wasn’t just restricted to my Indian friends, the gaggle of plugged-in local scribes that I meet occasionally or the subcontinent-focused academics in this city-state. A wider swathe of Asia, it would seem, was taken in by Hazare.

For all the admiration and disdain that has been lumped on this retired soldier since his movement picked up steam, one thing is certain: India hasn’t been this galvanised over a single issue, with the obvious exception of cricket, in a very long time.

And while India’s cricketing success, no matter how remarkable, has mostly gone ignored by much of Southeast Asia and China, Hazare’s movement has had a markedly different reaction.

It could well be the case of ‘everybody loves a good revolution’ in these heady days of regime change, but it isn’t merely the quality and quantity of coverage that this region’s media lavished on Hazare’s movement that has been surprising.

Rather, as an academic noted in a recent discussion at a local think-tank, Asian bloggers, including the prodigious community of Chinese micro-bloggers, have openly discussed the Hazare-led anti-graft movement.

From China’s Weibo, much like the English-speaking world’s Twitter, which has over 140 million users, conversations about Hazare and the campaign were picked up and reported, including by an Indian newspaper.

There was even a curious piece in a Tibetan news website that claimed the Chinese government had “banned 6,600 sites following growing numbers of netizens in China discussing a possible movement in China against corruption”, as a result of the “Anna effect”.

Conjecture apart, much of Asia suffers from the same ailments that drove millions of Indians on to the streets backing Hazare’s movement, asking for cleaner governmental administration. And this peculiarly-Indian movement has found resonance in parts of this region where people lack the space, both political and social, to vocally complain against the system.

Instead of theorising or judging the Hazare-led movement in India, the academic claimed, some in Asia are simply asking: “Where is our Anna?” After all, institutionalised corruption is a fact of life in this part of the world, whether it is China, Vietnam, Indonesia or in other countries of Southeast Asia.

As Asia’s emerging powers, China and India are relentlessly compared on nearly every parameter, starting from the size of their economies to the reproductive prowess of their population.

Our neighbours, as do many others, have much that we don’t. But “Anna is India, India is Anna”, as the refrain goes.

Nonetheless, this isn’t a comment about the man or the movement. This is about the conditions and systems that spawned them, but also provided them the space in which to protest.

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