By Sanjay Jha
Civil society and political authority define our socio-political ecosystem, with the crucial differentiator that the latter manifests a broad popular public consensus. The fact is that a responsible, constructive social movement shorn of parochial interests and other amorphous objectives can make a significant contribution in legislation-making, through providing inputs and feedback, besides creating a nation-wide debate. Of course, the ultimate responsibility for creating laws must inevitably lie with those who are democratically elected. Unfortunately, the celebrated Team Anna forgot the fundamentals of it’s own role as civil society members. The consequences of its failed movement are for all to see. Time for some plain speak.
Repeated haranguing, incessant abuse, and mindless nonsense that was instantly Breaking News was meant to discombobulate an elected coalition government into adopting Team Anna’s rather claustrophobic version of the Lok Pal bill. Other alternatives, including obviously the GOI version, was considered sacrilege. Dialogue anyone??? Honestly, it was sickening, how India has suffered such self-created ignominy damaging Brand India even as paradoxically enough the end goal was the creation of a historic anti-corruption infrastructure in a country bedeviled by red tape and endless slush money. Belligerent hired mobs doing bizarre dance rituals does not a movement make. Finally, as its dismal failure at Jantar Mantar showed , there was less of spontaneous combustion of public anger on core issues of the Lok Pal, more of an orchestrated anti-establishment group on a frenetic tirade. It was political. It was as it was scripted to be. Did Team Anna take the country for a ride???
Team Anna’s immediate aim post-Ram Lila was to deliver collateral damage to the Congress at Hisar; it was a terrible miscalculation, exposing their subterranean goals. The downhill slide had begun. Love, measles and political ambitions cannot be concealed for long. Arvind Kejriwal had become a paragon of shrill rodomontade , “ bring down the Government” he screamed at every conceivable opportunity. But filibustering can be tiresome. An exasperated middle-class switched channels, then switched off the TV itself. Yawn! How much can you suffer the obstreperous and the obtuse?
Incidentally, Lok Pal bill is not the magic-bullet solution to corruption, just a monstrous administrative structure, reminiscent of Big Brother which would be an umbrella body on government services. Yet we stupidly behaved as if so. It is only pertinent that exactly a year ago in August , many disbelieved the affirmations of India’s Prime Minister speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort promising a strong legislation , instead embracing Anna Hazare. But as subsequent events have established, the average Indian’s intelligence must never be under-estimated. Hazare’s calamitous collapse this time round should make many do some self-introspection. The BJP, for instance; its flagrant shooting from Hazare’s shoulders gave Hazare the political ammunition from RSS. But such convenient arrangements are usually ephemeral. It has seriously eroded its political credibility as the main opposition party.
At Jantar Mantar 2012, Team Anna’s fabled fairy-tale riding on pure media trumpeting met its inevitable Waterloo. The arrogant rarely date common-sense, evident in the amusing, outrageous balderdash that the power-grid collapse in twenty states was a subterfuge to cripple crowds at Jantar Mantar, and divert media attention. It was profuse hubris combined with acute stupidity. Thank god they did not blame the Queen for the London Olympics !! Remember, it was with shrewd cunning that Jantar Mantar 2011 began , after end of cricket World Cup celebrations and before IPL. But you cannot sustain a national movement on media-support or immaculate timing alone, it needs intrinsic character, a well-encapsulated objective. Frequently, Team Anna members were vitriolic, foul-mouthed, and often made immature statements bordering on the bizarre. The fact that all of them have had corruption allegations against them as well ( The Week talked of hawala transactions for Anna’s NGO ) smashed that brittle façade equally.
What was unacceptable was that Team Anna were mendacious enough not to mention other related bills to anti-corruption legislation ( Judicial Standards and Accountability , Whistleblower’s, Public procurement, Citizen’s Charter etc) which were already before select panels in the Lok Sabha. It was blatant hypocrisy, and willful deception at its worst. Not on! Corruption became as Salman Khurshid’s says our “ McCarthy moment” ; an emotional subject capable of seducing the susceptible suffering common man , the vulnerable public sentiment was exploited for private political pitching. Team Anna’s decision to turn political was not an exit strategy as much as it was its predestined goal.
The exaggerated comparisons to Mahatma Gandhi no less, and the absurd hyperbole of the “second freedom struggle” were juvenile, but dangerously ambitious, high on craftily created mendacity. In the age of sound-byte journalism, all you need is shibboleths after all. Kejriwal ‘s Jokepal caught currency as a pliant media lapped up trite offerings with salacious satisfaction. It became at trend. Arvind Kejriwal was less a social activist bellwether , more an Agent Provocateur . He did not possess even a grain of verisimilitude. I was on a Face-Off with him on Headlines Today once; he just ducked and dithered, sticking to a pre-planned script, playing to the gallery. They are empty now.
In the UP elections, where Team Anna made its much touted campaigning debut, the two biggest winners were leaders being investigated for disproportionate assets; Mulayam Yadav and Mayawati. Of course, corruption is a monumental challenge, but so is unemployment, law and order, development, environment, poverty and education. The writing was on the wall, but there was collective dumbness by all and sundry in ignoring it. It suited everyone, you see.
The fact that a dubious Baba Ramdev is now Anna’s last man standing, their torch-bearer has serious consequences for the new political entity. The days of god-men politics is an anachronism in today’s times, albeit they may have a limited devout constituency.. But the fraud of fasts is thankfully over. The SIT probe against 15 ministers reflected paucity of intellectual depth in Team Anna, and a shocking disrespect for existing legal framework. Sure, getting cameras on cranes for Team Anna was always a cinch, but where was the substance? Week-end picnic revolutionaries doing the candle march was their delusional belief of a total revolution. India’s middle-class is as fickle as that candle- flame. The recent anshan was a bespoke recipe called boomeranged. It did.
As The Hunger Games concluded with its conventional fanfare amidst a self-satisfied bunch pontificating away , it was a fitting farewell to a failed movement that has done incalculable damage, when through an awful error the government had in fact given them equal status in drafting the Bill itself. Team Anna’s story is one of unalloyed hara-kiri. They deserve oblivion, despite some charitable commentators who will insist otherwise.
Crowds? That was always a mythical creation. Fact is, Team Anna had negligible pan-India impact. In a city of 14 million in Mumbai, the crowd at its peak was 400 odd in Azad Maidan. A movement? Popular? My left foot! Obsessed with deceptive numbers from Facebook and Twitter, the repeated calls for jail bharo sounded inane. Sure, all it takes the Facebooker to go to jail on his internet is a click of his mouse. Now just how did India take this synthetic ruse so seriously? Go figure! I am nonplussed as yet.
Last year’s Man of the Year should have been a no-choice unanimous MS Dhoni, but we saw the grandiose spectacle of Team Anna being anointed instead. Perhaps the media, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring expected to be co-partners in its afterglow in India. It was a myopic blunder; now they are hopefully licking their wounds too as Team Anna ungraciously piled on to them too.
Politics is beyond Delhi, folks. The former Union Territory sends 7 MPs into Parliament, the balance 538 come from 27 other states The big lesson is this flimsy belief that India is captured in a lens camera; a mere 5000 odd is considered a national uprising .If after post-independent India’s biggest electronic-channel support, Anna’s movement could muster up just a few thousands in the sacred heart of the capital city, it was an unmitigated disaster. Period!
Team Anna were finally a rag tag bunch of self-serving savvy raconteurs spinning endless yarns , each surviving on the lifeline of sound bytes. It was never a movement, it was just a few moments. Also, the Lok Pal draft was not their seminal concept, it had already been drafted earlier, they merely hijacked it. The list goes on.
But despite the flawed Team Anna movement, the portal to the future looks infinitely brighter. Civil society can make considerable difference if it adopts a co-operation-based rather than a confrontationist posture. After all, the RTI Act was passed without any mad brouhaha like we just witnessed. Above all, there has to be transparency, dialogue and debate. Pressure groups cannot become synonymous with intimidation, blackmail, and threats. India is a thriving democracy with substantially accountable governments and a vigilant media. There is hope. And optimism. Failure to adhere to basic principles, will however, lead to rapid obsolescence. That’s why I Am Anna, became I Was Anna. History.
The author can be followed on Twitter@JhaSanjay