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Failing to beat the politicians at their game, former officials campaigning against corruption at high places decided last week to join them. They are conjuring up a political party to contest the parliamentary elections due in 2014.
The officials were part of the team led by Anna Hazare, a former army truck driver who had earned a Gandhian image through dedicated rural service. He began a crusade against corruption in his state of Maharashtra two decades ago. City folks like Arvind Kejriwal, an income-tax officer who had opted out of government service and campaigned in favour of the citizens’ right to information, and Kiran Bedi, the first woman officer of the Indian Police Service, brought him to the national stage last year, hoping his image will be an asset in their anti-corruption campaign.
Team Anna, which included legal luminaries like former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, his son Prashant Bhushan and former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, drafted a tough anti-corruption measure and demanded that the government push it through Parliament.
Anna Hazare began an indefinite fast in New Delhi in April last year to press the demand. Continuous live coverage by the news channels boosted the campaign. An Internet community under the banner of India Against Corruption received much support from the urban middle class. The Hindutva powerhouse, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its political vehicle, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, backed the agitation.
Anna ended the fast on a victorious note as the government, sensing the national mood in favour of a strong law, agreed to constitute a committee with civil society representation to examine its draft and theirs and come up with one that is acceptable to all.
When the attempt to reconcile the two drafts failed, Anna Hazare returned to Delhi and fasted once again. After an ill-advised attempt to jail him backfired, the government mollified him once again. It got the Lok Sabha to adopt a resolution agreeing in principle to three key points in his team’s draft and he ended the fast.
Anna set the year-end as the deadline for adoption of the bill incorporating the points the Lok Sabha had agreed to. On December 28 the house passed a watered down bill and sent it to the upper house, which ended its session the following day without voting on it.
Two weeks ago Team Anna began another fast to press its demand. This time Kejriwal led the fast. There was distinct coolness in the television channels’ coverage, and the crowds were thin. Four days later Anna too began the fast. That led to some improvement in the size of the crowds but not enough to persuade the government to make any new gestures.
On Friday, Anna and his associates ended the fast with no gains to show. They sought to make up for this by announcing the decision to float a party of their own and contest the Lok Sabha elections. “We have to throw this government out,” said Kejriwal. “It is a long fight… Parliament has to be purified.” He invited young Congress and BJP leaders to join the campaign.
Kejriwal and some other members of the team, it appears, were working on the idea of a party for some time as they believe it is necessary to acquire political power to push through their agenda. Other members of the team have distanced themselves from the move as they believe entry into politics will throw them open to the nefarious influences that have corrupted the existing political parties.
Anna Hazare has adopted an ambivalent position. He has said he will not join any political party or contest the elections. However he will campaign for the new party.
Kejriwal and company may imagine that by casting Anna Hazare in the role of Gandhi, who led the Congress without being a member of the Congress party for many years, or of Jayaprakash Narayan, whose charisma enabled the Janata Party, a ramshackle coalition put together on election eve, to overthrow Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime, they can achieve a facile electoral victory. However, they are political babes in the wood whom wily electioneers can easily outsmart.
The sad part of the Anna story is that the urban middle class’s fond dream of a quick-fix solution to the problem of endemic corruption has come to an end. It is not through tweets and Facebook campaigns that India can find solutions to problems of this kind.
The author is a political analyst of reckoning