The attack on Prashant Bhushan, apparently because of his support for a plebiscite in Kashmir, shows up some of the fault-lines within the Anna Hazare movement.
Ironically, the attack occurred on a day when the Congress' Digvijaya Singh was producing letters which he said revealed a link between the RSS and the Anna movement. But the people who attacked Bhushan held views that most people would regard as right wing and indeed, at least one of the attackers was shown to have a Sangh Parivar background.
Almost from the time the Anna Hazare movement took off, there has been an inherent contradiction within its leadership. Kiran Bedi is the Sangh Parivar's ideal woman. She herself is open in her admiration of LK Advani. Arvind Kejriwal says he is apolitical but is certainly not left wing or overly hostile to the BJP. Prashant Bhushan, on the other hand, is a self-confessed socialist of sorts. He has supported Arundhati Roy, defends Maoists and Naxalites, is deeply suspicious of business and capitalism and is seen as a sympathiser by many Kashmiri separatists including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
These contradictions have surfaced before. For instance, while Arundhati Roy has been openly critical of the Anna movement, accusing it of being a World Bank-Western power front, she has stuck to attacking Arvind Kejriwal while reiterating her support for Prashant Bhushan. I don't know what Arundhati Roy makes of the hang-'em-high, right-wing style of Kiran Bedi but I would be surprised if she found it anything other than objectionable.
It was inevitable, therefore, that at some stage, these contradictions would spill out into the open. Bhushan's views on Kashmir are no secret. In fact, after he was attacked, the Mirwaiz went on television to explain how Bhushan had often visited the Valley and understood the Hurriyat's point of view. But it took a single act of violence to make these views centre-stage. Until Bhushan was assaulted, most of his admirers all over the country saw him only as an anti-corruption crusader. They had no idea of his pro-Maoist, pro-plebiscite background.
You could argue that it does not matter what views the Hazare movement's leaders hold. After all, as long as they agree on the need for a strong Lokpal who will investigate corruption, how is it relevant whether they support Maoists, separatists or the Sangh Parivar?
The problem with this position is that the Hazare movement now seeks to go beyond its initial limited agenda. While campaigning against the Congress in Hisar - a shrewd strategy as the Congress candidate was considered a sure loser anyway - Kejriwal told journalists that it was wrong to claim that the Anna camp was now entering politics. "We have always been in politics," he asserted. "But we are not in party politics."
Fair enough. But supporting one draft of a Bill does not make for a compelling political platform. It is legitimate to say, as Kejriwal does, that the Anna camp does not support any political party but it is not convincing to say that its agenda does not go beyond its draft of the Lokpal Bill. When you join politics in a country like India, you must expect the electorate to judge you on the basis of your views on a variety of issues. And if your movement has leaders who admire the BJP along with those who advocate a plebiscite in Kashmir, then it is clear that there is little ideological cohesion within your movement. You may get away for a couple of months or so, by going on and on about your version of a draft Bill but in the long run, people will expect to know what else you stand for.
There are parallels for this dilemma. In the 1970s, when Jayaprakash Narayan launched his movement for Total Revolution he enlisted the support of such fiery Socialists as George Fernandes while simultaneously welcoming the RSS. Eventually, the JP movement turned into the Janata Party, which took power in 1977. At first, the party seemed united by its hatred for Indira Gandhi and the Congress. But as this issue faded, the contradictions came to the fore. In less than a year, Janata was at war within itself and the RSS was in the centre of the battle. (Eventually, when the party broke up, it was over the issue of 'dual membership' of Janata and the RSS.)
Or take another parallel. In 1988, when VP Singh launched his Jan Morcha amidst widespread middle-class support, he welcomed both the Left and the RSS. Asked about the contradiction, VP Singh retorted that his sole agenda was to fight corruption. "When your house is on fire," he said, "you do not ask anybody who comes with a bucket of water for proof of identity." When this folksy wisdom failed to convince, VP Singh added that politics was the art of managing contradictions.
It worked - for a time. When the Congress lost the election in 1989, no party got anything like a majority. So, VP Singh became Prime Minister with the support of both the Left and the BJP (there was no other way to make up the numbers required for a parliamentary majority). This bizarre arrangement lasted for less than a year. The BJP re-launched its Ayodhya agitation, LK Advani went on a Rath Yatra, the Left objected and VP Singh's government collapsed.
In a sense, history is now being repeated. Whenever Indian politics has seen the emergence of a single-issue (usually corruption), anti-Congress force the middle class and the media have ignored the inherent contradictions within that force arguing that they don't really matter. That is precisely what we are doing again. Perhaps Prashant Bhushan is pro-Maoist. Perhaps Kiran Bedi has a soft spot for the BJP. Perhaps the RSS did help organise the Anna movement's rallies. But, we ask: how does it matter? After all, corruption is the only issue that counts. History tells us otherwise. It does matter. No single-issue movement can hold together. Eventually, its contradictions will become too strong to be managed.
As long as the Hazare movement's mission was limited to getting the Lokpal Bill through Parliament, the political contradictions seemed less crucial. But now that the movement seeks to become a larger political force, the fault-lines seem more glaring. And the dangers are more apparent.
As the cliché goes, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.