The way the Congress government is handling the Anna Hazare and lokpal episode shows how lack of political acumen can lead to political disaster. What was once Anna versus Parliament has now turned into Anna versus the Congress.
Even now, the situation can be salvaged partly if both the drafts of the lokpal bill are sent to the parliamentary standing committee.
From the beginning, Congress leaders misread the dynamics of the movement. The Ramdev episode was also a blunder but the government managed to salvage the situation because the yoga guru lacks political experience, strategic shrewdness and foresight.
But if he had been arrested then, perhaps things would have taken a different turn.
Team Anna has played its cards right: by getting arrested, it’s got the media on its side. Anna and his team knew very well that they will occupy a much larger political space post-arrest than they did before. The Congress’ antagonistic stance, on the other hand, provided the necessary impetus to Anna and the movement.
I fail to understand what is it that the Congress intended to gain by opposing Anna. On the contrary, the rate at which scams are emerging, keeping Anna on its side would have helped heal the damage caused by the scam-tainted ministers.
Miscalculations do happen in politics but this wasn’t the case here — it was simply a severe lack of political understanding of the movement. This lack of understanding was also laced with arrogance. Anna’s draft may have many flaws but it should have been left to Parliament to decide on it.
In India, people’s movement are not so much based on contents of drafts than on the bigger picture. In this case too, most people don’t know the draft details but are with Anna because they perceive him to be someone fighting corruption. Since there is a popular anti-corruption sentiment among the masses, people are predisposed to sympathise with any such movement.
Anna only chose the right time to exploit the popular discontent.
Even though it is true that in a country of 1.2 billion people, half a million activists (at the most) should not emotionally blackmail the government, that Anna’s movement is more a media creation than a reality, that middle class and the business communities have never been enchanted by the Gandhian school of thought in practice, that the media blitzkrieg alone cannot change the electoral mandate, yet managing popular perception is critical for any political party.
This is where political skills come into play. But the Congress mismanaged it so badly that it is now bearing the brunt of discontent when actually it was directed at the system.
The worse is yet to come as the government has already failed to utilise the last honourable lifeline. The more they indulge in anti-Anna bashing, the messier it will become. The government can still review its decision and send both drafts to the standing committee.
Though, it will set a wrong precedent but having come this far, there aren’t too many choices.
The other remarkable point is that these public issues are being handled either by Rajya Sabha MPs or inexperienced Lok Sabha MPs. The stalwarts and seasoned Lok Sabha MPs of the Congress and its allies are unusually silent.
This casual approach of the experienced and politically dexterous politicians raises a suspicion that these leaders know that they have been marginalised. Everyone knows that only certain people get precedence in the party.
It’s time the Congress introspects and reaches out for genuine talents beyond the coterie of yes-men.
(Ravindra Badgaiyan is a member of the Film Writers’ Association, Mumbai and an alumnus of London School of Economics. The views expressed by the author are personal)