Team Anna – The Genie’s Back In The Bottle
On the evening of August 2 Team Anna (TA) decided to end their fast and confirmed their option of going political. So on prime time TV all the channels were discussing, debating, kicking and screaming over the decision, the nature and the contours of such a new political party. I have a very simple answer and willing to bet on this: There is going to be no TA political party of any kind. Period! Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption activist, never was and never will be a politician. Not because of some arithmetical outcome but because of his own choice. Throughout his life as an activist Anna has been confronting corruption, corrupt politicians or some social evil and that is the mission he has chosen for himself. This has been mostly as a lone ranger. I doubt he ever wanted a large national stage but yet he found himself in one. Perhaps this wasn’t of his own choice or making. The mystery remains over how he got into this JanLokpal (JLP) mess with a Rag, Tag and Bobtail outfit. Having gotten into it, pulling out was never easy even if one assumes it had crossed his mind sometimes. So whose movement was this really? Who were the real actors? And why were they doing this?
Like everyone else I was supportive of the fight against corruption and applauded TA’s efforts. In April 2011 after the govt blinked I wrote the post “Lokpal Bill: Why The Congress Blinked..”. The April 2011 round of fasts and agitation were followed by another huge one in August 2011 which appeared to be even more successful. But since August 2011 it has been downhill for TA. I had reasoned why in another post “TeamAnna-Goodwill Blunting”. Turns out the bloopers of TA go far beyond their media obsession. This is my final post on the saga of TA.
In a season of scams by the Congress-UPA govt any anti-corruption movement would naturally receive huge public support. Even Subramanian Swamy, who was almost in a political exile, came back to the mainstream with a flurry of court cases and was back in the limelight with a massive following. He is now part of the NDA. But we did have a very unlikely character launching an anti-corruption movement. In March 2010 Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru, launched Bharat Swabhiman. He called it a non-political movement against corruption and black-money. Er.. Totally unacceptable! Guy clad in saffron, strong Hindutva connections and a mass following threatens to take on the govt over corruption. He went on a yatra to many towns with his campaign. Before he got very far he was put down very savagely in June 2011 at Ram Lila by the govt. The media, of course, played their part in the mud-slinging against him as explained in this post. But even before the attack at Ramlila in June 2011 the Genie was popped out of the bottle. In comes Arvind Kejriwal (AK) to organise another anti-corruption movement demanding the JLP and the movement he decided would be headed by brand ‘Anna Hazare’.
Reports suggest Anna Hazare was not AK’s first brand choice. The pic shows a buzz in the Sunday Guardian (December 28, 2011) by Nora Chopra and explains how AK first approached former president APJ Abdul Kalam and then Infosys chief Narayana Murthy. Both seem to have declined. So the choice finally fell on Anna Hazare. The rest (and the unrest), as they tiredly say, is now history. AK wanted a JLP bill different from the one proposed by his former RTI campaign partner, Aruna Roy, through the NAC (Sonia Gandhi’s private club). Well, nobody cared if AK’s proposal was very different from Aruna Roy. But hey, he did offer more drama. Then the motley crew of Kiran Bedi, Manoj Sisodia, Kumar Vishwas, Shazia Ilmi and some more is assembled.
So in April 2011 Anna Hazare goes on a hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to demand a Lokpal Bill. Govt holds talks with his team and agrees to a JLP. That’s when the term ‘TeamAnna’ (TA) was coined. The dais for the agitation was decked with symbols of national pride, patriotic songs were being sung, chants of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata. All very moving! All, except that picture of Bharat Mata as we know. That was communal. Then that Imam Bukhari called for muslims to boycott the movement as it doesn’t give voice for Muslims. Not done! So Kiran Bedi and co. rush to placate the mullah, in vain. Team Anna promised their movement was non-political, no politicians will be entertained, no communal forces would be allowed. Anna Hazare hardly bothered much as long as there was forward movement. Nothing to worry, corrections will be made in the next bout.
The straight-talking, honest Anna Hazare made a deadly mistake though. He praised Narendra Modi and Gujarat. That was that! The secular credentials of the movement were questioned and the world came down on him. Modi immediately even warned him of the consequences of praising him in a personal letter. TA must have advised Anna to make amends. So Anna visits Gujarat and screams “Ghotala hi Ghotala” and there was corruption everywhere in Gujarat; that there were rivers of alcohol and hooch flowing in Gujarat. Okay, credibility restored!
In between TA, particularly AK and Kiran Bedi, go on a media-spree mouthing shrill dialogues. They called every politician corrupt, called everyone against TA corrupt. The applause was deafening. This post will deliberately ignore allegations of tax evasion by AK, his Trust being funded by Ford Foundation, fudging and swindling through travel bills by Kiran Bedi and other financial allegations against TA. These are not really relevant in politics, are they? So the govt doesn’t make much progress and there’s another round of fasts in August 2011. This time it’s even bigger with campaigns in various parts of the country. Add to the drama the arrest and immediate release of Anna. Then there was Om Puri’s speech, KB’s Ghoongat dance. Heady cocktail! Of course, gone was the pic of Bharat Mata, now replaced by that of Mahatma Gandhi, all saffron guys were evicted. It was now truly secular. The govt eventually gives in and Anna’s fast ends. This time the juice comes from Dalit and Muslim kids. Secular TA was complete.
Then around October KB and TA come out strongly against the arrest of anti-Modi cop Sanjiv Bhatt. What exactly did TA have to do with the cop? Nothing! But well, more secular points scored. There are more foolish points to score. Carried away with the public adoration both, AK and AH, accept sham awards from NDTV and CNN-IBN. What do they call it… Umm.. Indian of the year awards! You should know you are finished when the media starts giving out awards that are deceptively political in nature. But why complain about more recognition? And in the end even the figment of victory ends in the parliament with the “Fleedom at Midnight” moment on December 29, 2011. The Congress had achieved what it wanted to and TA were left holding the baby… er.. I mean Anna Hazare.
So AK comes up with charge-sheets against 15 ministers, including the PM but excluding Sonia Gandhi. Of course, he had called MPs corrupt, murderers and rapists. A sweeping generalisation by a losing man! And so it came to July 2012 with AK himself leading the charge and going on a fast. He took the opportunity again to condemn Narendra Modi, calling him corrupt and a communalist. Let’s see, Modi has been called a lot of names but surely corrupt has hardly been one of them. Even Wikileaks revealed that a US Diplomat mentioned that Modi is “not only NOT corrupt, but incorruptible”. If AK wanted to score Congress points like a Teesta, Shabnam, Mallika, Sanjiv Bhatt, Harsh Mander or the entire media by abusing Modi, he was a bit too late for that. AK’s political ambitions, though not explicit, were slowly being revealed in bits and pieces by Anna himself.
So after 9 days of fasting in July-August and no end in sight, the stalemate was evident and visible to everyone. The Congress sat happily over the reality that TA had alienated not only their opponents and Congress but also BJP, their own supporters, the media and were left with indecisive crowds at JantarMantar. No way out! Suddenly, on August 2 a letter with 22 signatures pops up requesting TA to end the fast. How these 22 people got together, communicated with each other and how the letter was organised, written and signatures obtained (not in hand) is best left to imagination. But it was a handy exit. The other handy exit, as Congress pointed out, was to announce a full-fledged political party. This move, so that that TA could fight corruption from within the system and not without. Nothing wrong with that! When I hinted at such a happy-ending there were many who pounced on me.
Even the best laid plans can terribly go wrong. AK didn’t provide for that. In his political quest he alienated not just supporters but many of his own team members. This list of bloopers and blunders are too long but here are some lessons:
… In a movement like this the media was already paying enough attention. There was no need for AK or for TA or Anna to constantly be in the media and suck up to them with interviews, sound bites and turning panellists. TA was too naïve to see the media is a puppet there to destroy them. Never accept sham awards from the media.
… Never criticise anyone to merely score silly points. Narendra Modi was all praise for Anna and has never criticised TA or any of their members. Yet turning an anti-corruption movement to also one against Modi is a fatal mistake. TA simply had no idea how many Modi supporters had initially supported them.
… Never lose focus. If it was JLP why turn it into a demand for SIT against some ministers? Never abuse by generalisation like AK and TA did with all MPs and govt workers.
… Never antagonise and side-line your own team members in an individual quest for glory.
… Most of all, the JLP movement never had to be secular or communal. It wasn’t a pre-requisite. It should have been just open to all citizens. By constantly catering to muslims and minorities TA became another Congress party. They forgot that a huge majority of their supporters were actually anti-Congress and anti-Fake-Secularism. Stay away from unrelated cases and issues (like those of Sanjiv Bhatt). You end up being terribly stupid.
Didn’t the Bhagwad Gita say: “Now I am become death..”? TeamAnna, after calling politicians corrupt, murderers, rapists and everything else now want to become a political party. They want to become THEM. Frankly, nobody gives a damn about their political party. It was good fun for the media crooks on TV to discuss a Fourth Front right through the night on August 2. Team Anna must find solace in the fact that they haven’t been defeated or disgraced. They have definitely delivered a greater consciousness to fight corruption among the masses. But it is really too naïve to cloak a political agenda with mighty moral stands.
In the end nobody stunted TA, not the Congress, not the govt but their own team did. Though TA has stated they will seek a referendum from their supporters on forming a political alternative I don’t think that is going to happen. There is going to be no political party by TA, regardless of any silly referendum. I don’t think people were desperate for another political alternative. I cannot say who but I can definitely say there has to be one person or a group or an entity that popped the genie out of the bottle in early 2011. On August 2, 2012 the Genie went back into the bottle and will stay there for a long time.