The crusade that Anna Hazare started had all the makings of bringing about a social revolution. The topic of corruption is one which strikes a chord in all of us. But some months down the line, the core issue seems to have been overshadowed by the personalities in Anna's group. And therein lies the vital flaw. It is when so much is seemingly invested in the so-called incorruptability of the core members of the Anna Gang that it moves into dangerous ground. And this probably explains why the Anna Gang is tilting at windmills today to explain away the foibles of its members.
It now seems that this paper has played its part in influencing Anna Hazare. Or, at any rate, in influencing Raju Parulekar, Hazare's Pune-based authorised blogger. When the term 'the Anna gang' was introduced in the media via an HT editorial some months ago, the idea was to a) describe Anna and Co. as a tight, dedicated bunch taking on the establishment and b) to get the ludicrous term 'Team Anna' (it's not a cricket team!) out of the system.
Now it turns out that Hazare-Parulekar has picked up the word 'gang' and turned it loose on four 'mysterious' members of the establishment who have made life difficult for the Anna Gang. In the blog, Hazare wrote earlier this week: "I do not blame all the ministers from the Congress party or the government as a whole. There are some righteous and committed people in the government but they cannot raise their voice because of this 'gang of four'."
While Congressman Rashid Alvi and much of the media have howled in protest about the usage of the 'derogatory' word to describe four upright members of our Parliament, Digvijaya Singh, tongue firmly in his tweet, said, "Anna has blogged against gang of four? Who are the lucky ones? I am curious!"
But this 'gang of four' business is the sideshow. I'm assuming the Fab Four - or whoever else are the gang members - will shrug off the description manfully. It's the Anna Gang that seems to be imploding. And this time, they can't just blame it on being victimised.
Santosh Hegde and Medha Patkar have increasingly made their discomfort with the Anna Gang's unfocused approach public. Another member of the group, Kumar Vishwas has written an open letter to Hazare, calling for the core committee to be 'broad-based'. What started off as a campaign against systemic corruption and for a strong lokpal law looks dangerously like becoming a wishy-washy, amorphous and squabbling rant against any critic.
Let's be clear about one thing. The Anna Gang was never going to be non-political. The core issue - pus-hing for a strong anti-corruption law at a time when the government has been bombarded with charges of corruption under its watch - is political. What has played against the Anna Gang is its no-holds-barred entry into the fringes of electoral politics, something it insisted it was too high-minded to get into.
If the Anna Gang was above politics, it is passing strange that its most prominent members went to Hisar where a very political process in the form of a by-poll was going on. And just in case there was any doubt that politics was very much on the agenda, Anna Gang member and political activist Arvind Kejriwal specifically asked people not to vote for the Congress, going further by asking people not to give the party a single vote in UP as well. If that is not politics, then what is? If such calls must be made, then it must come from those who are beyond reproach.
The charge of inflated bills against Kiran Bedi wouldn't have made any theoretical difference to the anti-corruption cause. A fat man can rage against cholesterol. But in the lean field of Indian politics, such a charge spells hypocrisy, something that more than anyone else, Hazare supporters outside the hardcore support base are unlikely to ignore. It certainly doesn't help matters when we get to see window panes shatter as some people throw stones from inside a glass house. It is simply not good enough to say that accounts were fudged in order to benefit her NGO. If she felt that her NGO was deserving of donations, then she could have said so upfront. It also does not wash when she says she has returned the money, the original sin was taking it under false pretexts in the first place. By this logic anyone caught with their hand in the till can claim that once the money is returned, no offence was committed.
Power corrupts; power without accountability corrupts with corrosive power. It isn't the end of the line for the Anna Gang. An emphatic, visible spring-cleaning with the focus back on the real job at hand - pushing for a strong Lokpal Bill - can rescue the campaign. And for that to happen, not only can we do without a divided house among the crusaders, but we can also do with a more focused political campaign which ensures that next month, Parliament passes a Bill that we all need, that we all want as one giant gang of Indians.