Setback for fight against graft as Team Anna loses nerve

Poor political backing to the cause doesn’t portend well for the future


Prasanna Mohanty | August 3, 2012

If this round of indefinite fast by Anna Hazare and his associates failed to achieve anything, it was not entirely unexpected. Governance Now had expressed doubts a day after Team Anna members Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and others began their fast on July 25 (Read link).

Several things went against them this time.

Poor timing: The fast began on July 25. The monsoon session of parliament was to begin on August 8, a good 14 days away. Since the demand was about passing the Lokpal bill and setting up an SIT to probe corruption charges against more than a dozen ministers, the forum which could have been used to build pressure on the government was not available. Given the doubts about their health conditions it was doubtful if Anna and Kejriwal could have sustained fasting until parliament met.

The timing was also wrong on another count. The Lokpal bill, after its passage in Lok Sabha, is pending with Rajya Sabha’s select committee. Chairman of this committee, Satyabrat Chaturvedi, had declared that its report would be ready for the winter session, not the monsoon session. The government was unlikely to move until this report was tabled.

As for the demand for SIT, no government will ever announce a probe against 16 of its ministers and yet continue to hold office. It was doomed to be rejected.

Poor strategy: The decision to hold yet another indefinite fast when there was little chance of forcing the government’s hands was imprudent. They were completely at government’s mercy. Quite apparently, there was no back-up plan. Once the government refused to respond, Anna had no choice but to back out without gaining anything. Worse, Anna said he would move towards finding a political alternative, without explaining what he meant while announcing withdrawal of the fasting. The government seized the opportunity to say that this meant Team Anna had political ambitions. Fed up with corrupt and manipulative politicians, that was the last thing his supporters wanted to hear and hence, the immediate backlash against him.

Lack of support system: JP had realised early in his fight against the corrupt Indira Gandhi government in 1970s that he needed organizational support for his movement to succeed. That is why he agreed to RSS and Bharatiya Jan Sangh to join hands.

Anna had full support of RSS last year. The BJP, RSS’ political arm, also pitched in. But sustained propaganda by the government to discredit Anna’s movement as a proxy for the “communal” forces broke the alliance. Repeated fasting had its diminishing return too so far as people’s support goes. There was no parallel fasting or rallies in other cities, something that had forced the government’s hand last year. Baba Ramdev too had been sidelined this time. The net result was a dwindling show of strength, which encouraged the government to ignore Anna and his men.

The Left Front, which was sympathetic to Team Anna earlier, distanced itself for unknown reasons. But the writing was on the wall. It held a parallel dharna at Jantar Mantar to press for the food security law and shunned any association with Anna’s movement.

Where is Anna’s movement headed now? Even Team Anna doesn’t know. In sheer frustration it may have decided to try the electoral politics. But it knows how marginalised and insignificant it is in the electoral field. The electoral system is heavily skewed in favour of organised political parties, money power, caste and religious considerations etc. Corruption is not limited to the Congress. That is why an anti-corruption mechanism like Lokpal has been pending in parliament for more than four decades. What chance does it have to influence the electoral politics? Besides, any hint of a political ambition of any team member will only reduce popular support.

The road ahead is dark. Relevance of Team Anna’s movement now depends on how it reinvents itself. Its cause may have people’s support, but until that support acquires a national character and a momentum that can impact electoral politics significantly, the fight against corruption seems to have been lost, even if the war may still be on.




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