Like many middle-class Indians, I admire Anna Hazare for his courage, fortitude, simplicity, determination and self-belief – and unequivocally endorse his goal of a corruption-free India. I don’t think any patriotic Indian can quibble with that.
But in this country, it has been said, for everything that is true, the opposite is also true.
Let me confess: I also find Anna Hazare preachy, prickly, sanctimonious, dogmatic and dictatorial.
So, on the limited issue of the Lokpal Bill as well as the larger one of corruption in public life, I’m caught between the devil and the deep sea, or, in keeping with popular preferences, between the infinitely less elegant rock and a hard place.
I have no doubts in my mind: corruption, nepotism, crony capitalism – and the state-ism that encourages them – are practices whose time is up.
Merit, quality, competition – and the individual spark, the animal spirit, the atavistic sentiment that drives them – are ideas whose time has come.
Then why am I caught in two minds on Anna?
I didn’t have these doubts in April when Hazare, then still an obscure Gandhian, descended upon Jantar Mantar with his vision of a corruption-free India.
Ironically, I started having second thoughts about Hazare, his agitation and his team shortly after the government came out with the first draft of its version of the Lokpal Bill – which, to cut a long story short – fell way short of expectations.
The overwhelming show of public support for Hazare’s fast at Ramlila Maidan in August proved that the informal covenant between Team Anna and urban India was still intact.
He wanted our backing; in return, he would force the government to enact a law to eradicate, or at least reduce, corruption in public life.
But this was also a turning point in the agitation – some members of Team Anna, riding high on public adulation, began behaving like mavericks initially and megalomaniacs later.
It was almost as if three Team Anna members in particular – Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi – had abrogated to themselves the right to decide what was, and what wasn’t, right for the country, its people – and for me, you, everyone.
Their wishes, they implied, was superior even to the will of Parliament. Politicians, they told us, with a broad sweep of the brush, were venal, corrupt and the root of all society’s ills.
Their version of the Jan Lokpal Bill, they insisted, was superior to all other versions and had to be accepted in full, right down to the last comma.
And the people of this country, they assumed, had given them the right to speak on their behalf.
I don’t know about you, but I find such a mindset dictatorial, arrogant and patronising and so, disagree with all of the above. I greatly treasure my democratic rights as a citizen of free India.
And I strongly object to people – especially unelected ones – taking upon themselves the right to speak on my behalf on any subject that takes their fancy.
As far as I’m concerned, Anna Hazare and his team have a very limited mandate: to act as a pressure group to force the government to come up with a meaningful anti-corruption bill. Any demand beyond that would need a fresh mandate, a new covenant.
I have not authorised Team Anna to do any of the following:
* Call for plebiscite in J&K;
* Beat up people for drinking;
* Decide whether FDI in retail is good or bad for the country;
* Tar all politicians with the brush of venality and corruption;
* Launch poll campaigns for or against any political party; and
* Launch personal smear campaigns against individual politicians, in particular, against Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
By expanding its anti-corruption agenda to include these issues, Team Anna, I feel, has breached the trust the people of India had reposed in it.
It’s not that I’m upset because I support this or that party. It’s just that I feel very strongly about Messrs Hazare, Bhushan, Kejriwal and Bedi exceeding their brief without so much as a by your leave.
So, why are they shooting off their mouths on any and every issue, and yet, not saying a word against corruption in BJP and other opposition-ruled states?
My feeling is that Team Anna is under siege.
There are very credible allegations of corruption against former supercop Bedi. Charges of professional misdemeanour and financial mismanagement (relating to his availing of study leave at the fag end of his career as an IAS officer) have dented Kejriwal’s image. And the younger Bhushan’s comments in favour of plebiscite in Kashmir have not gone down very well with large sections of society.
Because of these reasons, a significant section of Hazare supporters are now having second thoughts.
After all, it is fair to expect that:
* An anti-corruption crusader should be free from the taint of personal corruption. Let me clarify: I’m not suggesting even once that Bedi and Kejriwal are guilty. But the charges levelled against them are serious. And if they hold themselves to the same high standards they expect from everyone else, they should stand aside till their names are cleared.
* A group that wants a better India should at least be concerned about maintaining its territorial integrity. By questioning Kashmir’s status within the Indian Union, Bhushan was making common cause with those inimical to this country. I, for one, am very uncomfortable backing someone whose views are more in line with those across the border.
I’m writing this shortly before the public debate at Jantar Mantar.
What’s my stand on Team Anna and the next step(s) of his agitation? As I said at the beginning, I fully endorse his goal of a corruption-free India. I believe that his team, which should be reconstituted for the reasons given above, has a big role to play in the drafting of a new anti-corruption bill.
I also feel that Team Anna’s real relevance lies in its presence as one of several pressure groups, not as the arbiter of my destiny.
That’s why I will be praying that Anna – and many other civil society activists – succeeds in pushing through a strong anti-corruption law.
But because of the reasons given above, I will not wear an “I am Anna” cap anytime soon.