Foreign Policy Blogs

The Arab Spring Visits India

Last weekend, the Arab Spring came to India.  Swami Ramdev, yoga guru and television celebrity, staged a massive hunger strike designed to protest government corruption.  The event, which involved thousands of his followers, was ended by a police raid.

This isn’t something new for India though.  Thousands of people in multiple cities in India protested government corruption in January.  And at least 100,000 protested corruption, unemployment, and high food prices in New Delhi in February.

A couple articles from the past week may helpfully fill out the story.  One, published earlier this week by The New York Times, examines the Indian city of Gurgaon.  The city has seen enormous economic growth fueled by an influx of outsourcing that began when General Electric entered the city in 1997.  But, as the article notes, public services have not kept up with economic growth.  Electricity, transportation, and postal services, for example, are so poor that many people depend on private alternatives.  Jim Yardley, the article’s author, draws a broad conclusion:

With its shiny buildings and galloping economy, Gurgaon is often portrayed as a symbol of a rising “new” India, yet it also represents a riddle at the heart of India’s rapid growth: how can a new city become an international economic engine without basic public services? How can a huge country flirt with double-digit growth despite widespread corruption, inefficiency and governmental dysfunction?

A second article, published last week in The Atlantic, is called “Why the Arab Spring Hasn’t Spread to India – but Should.”  The article’s author, Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, ponders why so many poverty-stricken people in India seem to accept their fate and expounds on the state of poverty, wealth disparity, and corruption in India.

We should watch how (and if) the protest movement continues to develop in India and ponder the differences (and similarities) between protests in India and those in more dictatorial countries.  One difference is the party politics element in India.  After the crackdown last weekend, the opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged further protests to condemn the use of police action, or “naked fascism,” as a BJP leader called it.  BJP has announced it will hold a four-day anti-corruption protest starting on June 23.