By Leslie Wayne
In India, where the issue of corruption is front and center in Parliament, the lower house passed the anti-corruption bill called the Lokpal on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption activist, called off his three-day hunger strike almost as soon as it began. Hazare had initiated the hunger strike to protest that the bill doesn’t go far enough.
Consideration of the measure is heated and contentious. In recent months, Indians by the tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest one corruption scandal after another. The lower house passed the bill in a late night voice vote. Next it goes to the upper house for consideration, possibly as early as today.
Hazare himself remained a divisive figure as he began his third hunger strike, this one at the Mumbai fairground, covered in a sea of red fabric for the occasion. Hazare’s supporters waved India’s national flag, while his critics gripped black flags as his motorcade passed. They accused him of holding elected officials hostage to his demands. As he began his hunger strike, ambulances stood by, just in case.
Thousands of supporters rallied around him, but the crowds were thinner than they had been last summer, when tens of thousands turned out to support his protest. The disappointing turnout is leading many in India to question whether Hazare is losing clout.
Hazare, who fashions himself as a modern-day Gandhi, calls the Lokpal bill a “fraud perpetuated upon the people by the government.” The bill creates a government watchdog agency, or Lokpal, to investigate corruption. But as passed, it enfolds the Lokpal into government bureaucracy, rather than insulating it from government interference through a constitutional amendment. Nor does the bill oblige India’s states to set up parallel anti-corruption agencies to go after corruption at the local level, as Hazare’s supporters had hoped.
Meanwhile, doctors who examined the 74-year-old said that Hazare was running a fever and had elevated blood pressure. In the end, the doctors were right. Hazare said he ended his fast on the advice of his medics.
Corruption in India — continuing on with that theme — affects not only the poor, but also the rich, according to an enterprise story from The Associated Press. It’s the tale of billionaire Indian tycoon Ajay Piramal who has tons of cash, wants to invest it in India and yet finds that the combination of corruption, red tape and ever-changing government policies has made him reluctant to invest in his own country and help build its economy.
Piramal doesn’t know what to do with his money. And he’s got nearly $4 billion to spend. This is an interesting account of how it’s hard to be an honest businessman in India. In Pirmal’s view, the level of corruption in India “went to the extreme.”
China and corruption hardly seem like the material for a stand-up comic.
Yet Cui Baoyin — stage name Beimei Cuige or “North American Brother Cui” – is using it to get laughs among the Chinese community in Seattle. And, courtesy of the Internet, videos of his performances are getting a following in China as well.
There have been belly laughs as Brother Cui pokes fun at the Chinese captain of a container ship seized by Somali pirates. They demand a $3 million ransom.
“I can get you the $3 million,” says the captain, “but I’ll need you to give me a receipt for $7 million.”
Then there is the joke about the Chinese contractor who submits the highest bid to install a new front door for the United Nation’s headquarters.
Who knew that corruption could get them rolling in the aisles?