Why should Team Anna be forced into politics?
It is singularly unfortunate that Team Anna has been pushed into contemplating a political party. Whether they finally take that call or decline it might depend upon their reading of the public mood. But it bodes ill for civil society in India. Team Anna has a fan following as much as it has its critics. But none can dispute their constitutional right to campaign, agitate and mobilize public opinion within the bounds of law. Non-prejudicial civil activism like politically unbiased media is not merely desirable but necessary. A vibrant civil society is a sign of civilized nation. But the government wants to deny them this privilege of modern democracy. It has been compelling Team Anna either to be a political entity or non-entity. The government has found many fellow travelers from amidst the Opposition. They claim they are the sole representatives of the public, with authority to legislate. Team Anna does not carry people’s mandate.
What they overlook is that democracy did not develop in India through representative bodies alone. It also developed through voluntary societies and associations who organised public meetings, passed resolutions and sent petitions to the government. The Landholders Society (estd. 1838), the British Indian Association (estd. 1851), Bombay Association (estd. 1852), Poona Sarvajanik Sabha (estd. 1870) were all voluntary bodies. Yet they contributed no less than accredited representative institutions in building a modern public life in India. Indian National Congress (estd. 1885) was itself the mother of all voluntary organizations.
With passage of time these organizations became strident in their approach to the government. For instance, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha under Tilak adopted a militant stance towards government on Famine question in 1896-97. MG Ranade was gentler on the Famine issue in 1876-77, when he mentored the Sabha. Tilak was not content with mere petitioning the government or advising it on what to do. He was tightening the screw by building up mass pressure. He was rather dictating what the government should do.
Tilak went to the extent of instructing the government to distribute hundred copies of a booklet, which Sarvajanik Sabha had published. It was priced publication that government should pay to procure but must distribute for free. The government flatly denied saying that it could not circulate a private publication even if it were on famine relief. British found Tilak more demanding than the UPA finds Anna.
The government’s advice to form political party appears targeted at Team Anna. There are other civil society groups that the government has outsourced legislation to. Its best example is the National Advisory Council attached to the Prime Minister’s Office. Its utopian legislations like the NREGA and proposed Food Security Bill have given a leeway for corruption to flourish. The Communal and Targeted Violence Bill opposes the fundamental premises of IPC that all are equal before the law. In Nalanda University’s case, the government has nurtured a group of mentors who live outside India and have no experience of institution building. The university, though funded by the government of India, wants to escape all legal obligations applicable to other universities in India. And the government is only helping them.
Team Anna’s path to politics is unlikely to be easy. To begin with it is a diffused movement (India Against Corruption) and not even a registered group. It is largely product of satellite television and social media era like voluntary organizations were products of early newspaper era. Team Anna’s supporters are mostly drawn from urban educated class. Its key personalities have different ideological leanings. Anna, an Indo-Pak war veteran, strongly criticised Prashant Bhushan’s suggestion of plebiscite in Kashmir. Bhushan had tried to prove the Batla House Encounter (September 19, 2008) false. His writ filed on the behalf of an NGO was dismissed by the Supreme Court. Team Anna’s relationship with Baba Ramdev remains uncertain. Baba Ramdev had expressed his intention of launching a political party in 2010. He has not worked upon it since then. Can Team Anna be able to escape vices of the system by becoming a part of the system? Its focus is likely to be blurred by entering the opportunistic and populist world of politics. It might end up breaking breads with those it opposed. The fate of the Socialists in India might be sufficient to forewarn them.