Column : Rise and fall of Anna Hazare

Written by MK Venu | MK VENU | Updated: Dec 30 2011, 08:33am hrs
Anna Hazares transformationfrom a social activist with considerable moral force to being a catalyst in the rough and tumble of Indias party politicswas nearly complete when he tragically declared before the thinning crowds at Mumbais MMRDA grounds that Team Anna will campaign against the Congress party in the forthcoming assembly elections as well as in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Anna Hazare displayed uncharacteristic hatred for the Congress when he described the ruling party as a bunch of gaddars(traitors) for not getting the Jan Lokpal Bill cleared in Parliament. After the Lok Sabha vote was concluded, television reporters asked Anna what he thought of the BJP, which too had not endorsed the essential features of the Jan Lokpal inside Parliament. When journos forced him to take a position on the BJPs double standards, Anna simply got up and walked away, to the utter astonishment of the mediapersons. Even Arvind Kejriwal, sitting next to Anna, seemed a bit startled at the way Hazare walked away from the impromptu press conference.

Arvind Kejriwal also painstakingly refrained from commenting on why the BJP was clearly falling short of accepting the fundamental features of the Jan Lokpal proposed by Hazare. After all, the leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, clearly spoke against the CBI being entirely brought under the Lokpal as demanded by Team Anna. Swaraj also spoke against a central Lokpal Bill mandating the legal structure and working of state Lokayuktas as this would go against the spirit of the federal structure of our Constitution.

In fact, it was clear from the very beginning that Team Annas super-Ombudsman with powers to investigate and prosecute 65 lakh employees across the Centre and states would not pass the test of Indias federal framework of politics as well as the Constitution.

Indeed, it was Team Annas absolutist stance that has resulted in some of its popularity dwindling since Hazares successful August agitation. Hazare squandered some of the goodwill and moral force he had acquired by being too rigid on his stance of either Jan Lokpal or nothing, by publicly denigrating the parliamentary process and finally by openly getting associated with party politics.

Hazare had retained his credibility and purity, as it were, by keeping away from politicians of any hue during his April and August agitations when he got massive support from the urban middle class. That purity got significantly diluted when he shared a platform with the Opposition parties at Jantar Mantar sometime ago. In my view, that was the biggest mistake committed by Team Anna.

That mistake is being compounded by Anna Hazare and his advisers who have announced a sustained campaign against the Congress until the 2014 elections. The movement is now about removing the Congress from power.

This position is unsustainable simply because it is now clear no political party, not least the BJP, is in favour of altering the basic structure of the Indian Constitution to create an all powerful fourth pillar with a similar status as the Legislature, Executive or Judiciary. This issue is long settled among all political parties and it reflected in the Lok Sabha debate. If anything, the entire Lok Sabha debate simply served to reinforce some of the critical features of the Indian Constitution, such as inviolability of federalism, which may not have been music to Annas ears.

Instead of going into deeper introspection on tactics and strategy in regard to the agitation, and indeed the content of their maximalist position, Anna Hazare has committed the cardinal mistake of declaring a sort of election campaign against the Congress. This will completely destroy their movement, which needs to be preserved to drive other important institutional changes at various levels that India needs. In a sense, Anna is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Particularly appalling were Arvind Kejriwals fulminations after the Lok Sabha vote on the Lokpal Bill. He came onto the stage as Anna was still fasting in Mumbai and declared the outcome of Lok Sabha proceedings as a fraud and handiwork of the Congress High Command. We have to free the country from the High Command. The High Command cannot dictate laws for us citizens, Kejriwal said. The implicit attack on the Gandhi family was quite visceral, and this seemed to give away some of Team Annas latent political predilections too. The only other political formation that has such deep dislike for the Gandhi-Nehru family is the Sangh Parivar. Kejriwal also told a prominent television anchor that his mission in life was to uproot the Congress from power permanently.

All these tendencies create a sort of suspicion as to whether there are multiple motives hiding behind the agitation for Jan Lokpal. Team Annas pledge to campaign against the Congress is problematic on other counts too. For instance, will they not campaign against the gargantuan corruption charges against Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. It would seem odd if Team Anna campaigned against the Congress which is a small player in Uttar Pradesh and left Mayawati alone. Incidentally, the BSP is dead opposed to Jan Lokpal. The NDA has also enacted what Team Anna considers very weak Lokayuktas in states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Narendra Modi is refusing to accept one in Gujarat. Will Anna spare them simply because they are part of a non-Congress formation.

Team Annas overall vision and strategy are riddled with many contradictions. It will only destroy their core branding in the longer run.