STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's look under the hood of a rising economy. India could be a future great power, but if that does not happen, one reason might be India's corruption. Recent scandals range from allegations of rigged sales of telecom licenses to charges of graft in the preparation for an international athletic event, the Commonwealth Games. When commentator Sandip Roy travels home to India, the first thing he has to do is reach for his wallet.
SANDIP ROY: Corruption is nothing new in India. The first time I came back from the U.S., the customs official said give me 200 rupees and I won't open your suitcase. My friend said bring some extra Kit Kats or Dove soaps for the customs guy. My mother said just pack your dirty clothes and socks on top.
We don't even call it corruption. We give it names like black money. Or�chai pani �a little something for tea and snacks. Police catch you running a red light? Need a copy of your birth certificate? A house building permit? Just slip in a few extra currency notes with your documents, for�chai pani, you know.
But now some Indians are fighting back.�First,�Anna Hazare, a 73-year-old activist and follower of Gandhi, went on a fast in New Delhi demanding an end to corruption. He wants the government to set up a�Lokpal, a sort of anti-corruption czar. Thousands of middle class Indians showed up to support him, including Rajiv Malik, a television actor.
Mr. RAJIV MALIK (Actor): My generation people who have not seen Mahatma Gandhi for us, Anna Hazare is Mahatma Gandhi.
ROY: Then a famous television yoga teacher, Baba Ramdev, decided to fast to death unless the government brought home all the black money he says is stashed in foreign banks. Over 60,000 people showed up for�his�fast-athon, chanting: March ahead, Baba, we are with you.
Unidentified People: (Foreign language spoken)
ROY: Thousands of Indians have shared their bribery stories on a website called�www.IPaidABribe.com. Like I had two tins of saffron and the customs officer took one and put it in a hidden drawer. Or I paid 5000 rupees, over 100 dollars, to get a copy of my own birth certificate.
And it's not just underpaid constables who are taking bribes. Government ministers are embroiled in huge telecommunication scams. Judges are accused of handing down verdicts for pay.
There�is�a government anti-corruption agency the Central Vigilance Commission, or CVC. But Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court lawyer with the group India Against Corruption, says it has no bite.
Mr. PRASHANT BHUSHAN (India Against Corruption): We have the CVC, which is selected by a committee of the prime minister, home minister, leader of opposition, all of whom are interested in a weak and pliable watchdog institution which is supposed to be a watchdog on themselves.
ROY: The Indian parliament will probably take up legislation to establish some version of an anti-corruption�Lokpal�this summer. But the government decided to act tough with the fasting TV guru, Baba Ramdev. They stormed his yoga camp in the dead of night and hustled him out of Delhi. He ended his fast. But activist Anna Hazare is threatening a new one.
And meanwhile, outside the media spotlight, fasting is deadly business. Another activist, Swami Nigamananda, fasted for 114 days to protest illegal mining along the Ganga River. He died a few weeks ago.
INSKEEP: Commentator Sandip Roy. And you can comment at the opinion page at NPR.org. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.