The crowds, the hype and hoopla all seem to have vanished into the winter mist. The Anna Hazare movement was an idea whose time had come. But it seems to have now run out of steam just when it needed to cross the line. The only positive thing which has come of the whole movement is that corruption is probably now an issue that has come to dominate the public discourse. I watched with growing dismay how the Anna Gang seemed to have lost its moorings even as the first phase of its movement went like a dream. The prime minister himself and his top Cabinet leaders all felt called upon to discuss issues with Anna and his team members.
Now while the pronouncements of many in the team may not have been exactly democratic, the fact that we in India at last had a civil society movement worth its salt was noteworthy. We have never had such an orchestrated movement which has put the government on the mat after the one led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s. So, it was imperative that this one should have gone beyond just putting political parties in the dock.
There are many things wrong with our polity. Corruption is something that seems to be a red rag to most Indians, many of whom live with the deprivations and the accompanying humiliations of this phenomenon every day of their lives — even if most of us take this as part of everyday life. It was perhaps this refusal to see corruption as something ‘normal’ that the Anna team tapped into. This gathering around one issue saw the kind of support that was forthcoming in the first phase of the movement.
But then the government of the day is also as smart as they come. A relentless campaign from the UPA against the Anna Gang seemed to have caught the latter off-guard. The government rolled out it best and brightest (and most Chanakyan?) who seemed to have been more than a match for Anna and his colleagues.
The worrying issue, as I see it, is that the government of the day seems to have been able to shrug the whole thing off as if to suggest that the votaries of this anti-corruption movement were not very serious about this issue but were against the UPA government. The Anna Gang seemed to have played its cards all wrong by first going to Hisar and campaigning against the Congress, then making statements that it would campaign against the Congress, and then by climbing down and saying that it was not against the Congress. This was at odds with its earlier statements that it was indeed going to take on the government on the issue of corruption.
And why not? After all, there is no need to be even-handed on this issue. The government makes the laws and it makes sense to take issue with it. There is no dispute that all political parties share the blame for corruption. But Team Anna should have stuck to its core issue — that of getting the government to pass a strong Lokpal Bill. Instead, it frittered away its many advantages by raising several issues, one of which was prohibition and the need (articulated by Anna himself) that people given to drink must be publicly flogged. All this detracted from the core issue on which a strong civil society movement was built.
The fact that the other members of the team did not conduct themselves in a manner which would have continued to provide them the higher moral — and tactical — ground, also didn’t help. I hoped that this would be an ongoing battle. But it seems over even before it really began. The tussle between the government and ‘civil society’ has to be one which has to go on in any democracy worth the name. The unfortunate fact seems to be that even as the issue picked up momentum, the whole thing fell through. The political class must be accountable to the people — something a strong Lokpal Bill could have made it. In my book, the future institution of the Lokpal should look a bit more at the ‘big ticket’ items than the all-encompassing levels of corruption being sought by Anna and Co.
But let us come back to the issue of corruption. There is no doubt that it’s still very much an issue that bothers us everyday. A political class cannot be allowed to get away with the levels of corruption that have long infiltrated into our daily lives. The fight that Anna started was something we all empathised with. That should continue, whether Anna Hazare remains the movement’s totem pole or not. The energy may now be missing. But the friction between civil society and the government hasn’t vanished — and may indeed become visible in the upcoming assembly polls.