Saaku, Bengaluru’s anti-corruption campaign, may not have lived up to the buzz generated in social networking sites over the last week, but the rally of around 800 citizens more than managed to capture the attention of the public on December 11.
The event’s coordinators had initially expected participation of 1000-2000. The participants, most of them from relatively elite sections of society – included college students, IT professionals, activists and residents from all over the city.
The four-day Saaku campaign started on December 8 with the Conference against Corruption organised by Public Affairs Centre, a non-profit organization that works on governance improvement. On December 9th and 10th, ‘Pass the Saaku Baton’ campaign was held across ten city colleges. The rally on 11th was flagged off by Ashwini Nachappa at 9.45 am from Vittal Mallya road. The one-hour walk culminated at the Shanthi Nagar stadium.
The city dailies Times of India (TOI), Deccan Herald, and DNA covered the event. While DNA coverage was detailed, the TOI and Deccan Herald’s coverage were briefer. NDTV telecast a brief report. Some other media outlets gave information prior to the event rather than cover the event itself. Late on Friday December 10th night, Citizen Matters ran a story on Saaku rapidly gaining support on the social media site Twitter, just hours before the rally.
While most participants were happy with the turnout, some said that the participation could have been higher. IT professional Vidya Charan says, "We spread the word about the event through our company’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) department. Many got to know about the event and we were expecting greater participation, but finally only five employees from our company attended."
Another IT professional Kashi Viswanath Nethi echoed the sentiment. "No one wants corruption, but most people seem reluctant to get involved actively. I had alerted many people using social networking sites and chain mails, and many promised to come too, but most did not turn up," he says.
For many students, the rally marked their first participation in a public campaign. Megha Singh, I PU student at National College, says that she would participate in more such campaigns. "This event has helped me know about what is happening in our country."
Ravi Kiran, II PU student at National College, says, "I am interested in social activism and when the baton rally came to our college, I thought it was a good idea to participate. I think the rally will create awareness among people. Rest is up to people to decide whether to give bribes or not." 30-40% of the participants were students, says Srinivas Alavilli, a loksatta party member and one of the coordinators of Saaku.
However, most activists seemed to be happy with the turnout. N Mukunda, Member of Jayanagar Citizen Action Forum, who participated in the event, says, "Public participation of this scale is good. It was better than expected."
Rallyists at the Shanthinagar ground at the end of the walk
Ten city colleges and 19 civil society organisations participated in the Saturday’s rally. Jayaprakash Narayan, Founder of the Hyderabad-headquartered Loksatta party, said continued campaigns from public will force governments to change their behaviour. "There is cynicism that such campaigns won’t achieve anything, but these protests should build to a point where change will occur," he said.
Speaking about recent scams, he said that collusive corruptions – wherein private sector and government are equally involved – are the most dangerous. While corruption in private sector affects the company, corruption within government affects the public directly. "If corruption in government is eliminated, there won’t be room for collusive corruption. Corruption is not a question of morality, it is about the way it impacts people. There are people who are unable to use their ration cards because of corruption," he said.
Dr R Balasubramaniam, Founder of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, said that while corruption flourished in rural areas because of helplessness, in urban areas it could be prevented. "The first thing that people can do is to stop giving bribes," he said.
Speaking at the event, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said that all anti-corruption mechanisms within the government – departmental vigilance, Central Vigilance Commision (CVC) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – were dysfunctional as they either lack power, independence or resources.
The organisers of Saaku say they plan to soon open Centre for Gandhigiri, a virtual platform where public can report cases of corruption. Once the cases are reported online, they will be followed up with action on the ground, says Alavilli. "We want to follow the event with more concrete actions. The crowd that participated mainly included those who are usually not involved with these activities, so we were successful in involving them." ⊕