September 6, 2011

WikiLeaks reveals corruption in India

Diplomatic cables shed light on deeply-entrenched corruption and raise fresh questions about the efficacy of India’s political system

In India, a regional minister is facing a chorus of criticism after a diplomatic cable surfaced claiming she sent an empty jet to Mumbai to fetch a pair of her favourite shoes, then shuttle them back. The report was made public through WikiLeaks, and the Uttar Pradesh chief in question Kumari Mayawati has announced that Julian Assange should be committed to an insane asylum for his part in making the “baseless” accusation against her. When Assange accused Mayawati of having “betrayed the Dalit,” Mayawati returned fire by calling WikiLeaks “anti-Dalit.”

Mayawati, who self-identifies as Dalit (or “untouchable”) and belongs to the semi-socialist Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), says the allegations against her are part of a conspiracy to disgrace her and her party ahead of 2012 assembly elections.

The leaked cables, dated 2007 to 2009, additionally allege that she is an “egomaniac”, employs food tasters to guard against poisoning, and receives millions of dollars in cash gifts every year for her birthday. The cables also claim that she has a “penchant for corruption,” despite her intention, according to the documents, to become Prime Minister of India.

The Indian Twitterverse has responded by angrily attacking Mayawati for corruption. The hashtag #tweetlikemayawati encourages users to write 140-character missives that sarcastically mock her alleged abuse of power. “I want some chaat from Kolkata,” writes one angry Tweep, “is there a chopper free?”

The leaked cables appear to highlight American diplomats’ interest in keeping India’s corruption in check, particularly as the country continues to develop into an economic superpower and regional security partner.

The Mayawati allegations have also energized a broader anti-corruption movement taking place in India. Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has led a multi-party social movement to stamp out vote-rigging, misappropriation of funds, and other scandals that have surfaced in India.

These are some of the social media elements featured in this episode of The Stream.