Indian Reformer's "Fast unto Death" Goes Global with Social Media
They're calling it "Gandhi 2.0": over the last week one of India's most respected political figures, Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare, a.k.a. Anna Hazare, successfully employed the age-old tactic of fasting -- to death, if need be -- in order to force the government to act against rampant corruption; but where Gandhi himself relied on word-of-mouth, newspapers, and radio to spread awareness of his repeated public fasts, Hazare's hunger strike attracted global attention thanks to social media.
Corruption has always been a problem in India, but a series of especially outrageous scandals over the last few years have contributed to a widespread sense that it is getting worse even as (or perhaps because) the country is becoming more prosperous. Hazare wants the government to create an official office for an anti-corruption ombudsman, insulated from political attacks, who could then take an axe to problems like nepotism, bribery, and insider deals. And he vowed to keep up his fast until the government agreed to form a special committee, including five government officials and five prominent citizens, to draft a bill creating the ombudsman role; bowing to huge public pressure, the government finally caved and agreed to Hazare's demands today.
There's no question this was another example of social media helping activists achieve their goals, principally by spreading awareness and building support among influential people. Aided by social media, support for Hazare's anti-corruption campaign and hunger quickly spread from public demonstrations of support in Delhi to outpourings in other big cities including Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. An online rally held on Facebook attracted 60,000 attendees, while the Facebook page India Against Corruption received 120,000 "likes" and over a million fans by Friday afternoon, just four days after the strike began. Hazare has been a top-trending term on Twitter over the last couple days, reflecting both the global reach of the Internet and broad support for anti-corruption reforms among the millions of Indian expats living abroad, including many professionals and businessmen who can still wield considerable influence back home.
No less important, Hazare's campaign also won the support of celebrities, including top cricketeers and Bollywood actors who are household names in India. Priyanka Chopra, a well-known film beauty who has more than 900,000 Twitter followers tweeted: "What's remarkable is the uprising of the youth of our country in support of Anna Hazare. I pledge my support to this cause." Leading man Anupam Kher tweeted: "Give up illegal money. That's all. Earn our respect. Be honest or leave," adding, "I am with ANNA HAZARE. Are you?:)"
On the sports side, Indian Premier League cricket commentator, actor, and sports columnist Gaurav Kapur tweeted: "Anna Hazare wouldn't be fasting if our politicians didn't 'eat' so much." And from the world of business, Anand Mahindra, the managing director of the global automotive conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. tweeted: "This is a movement whose heart & voice cannot be ignored."