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Between the line

Movement going astray
October 19, 2011


IT is always a problem for the people’s movement to stay within the contours of its original purpose. Too many hands join to bask in the glory and like too many cooks, they spoil the broth. I had such an apprehension when Anna Hazare’s stir against corruption, more specifically for the appointment of Lokpal (ombudsman) to eliminate it, began.

So many marches ended at the Jantar Mantar at New Delhi and so many people sat on hunger strike at the same place. But nothing happened beyond creating a ripple or two. Suddenly, Anna’s call brought thousands of people on the streets. He gave a face to the general resentment which needed ventilation. The nation got a cause.

I wish the movement had stayed on course. It was a call against corruption and was apolitical. In fact, intellectuals from different backgrounds and leaders from different movements came on one platform and they had just one purpose before them: to fight against corruption. A few dissenting voices were rudely brushed aside because they were seen raising doubts expressed about the movement. The government was forced to invite Anna to discuss his suggestions to curb corruption. After nine rounds of talks, the two found that they were not on the same page. Both went their own way but promised that the end result, elimination of corruption, would be met.

The government and the ruling Congress gave an undertaking that the Lokpal bill would be stricter than Anna’s demands. People stayed behind him because as a Gandhian he led an austere, simple life and spoke about values, an idiom which the political parties had forsaken. He did prick the nation’s conscience which was appalled over the system that seethed with corruption. Even when Anna praised Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, he was forgiven because the people’s eyes were fixed only on the agenda of eliminating corruption. He too realized his make and withdrew the remark. This once again underlined point that the movement was meant only for eliminating corruption.

The BJP-cum-RSS owned him and gave him all the support through its cadres and leaders. Liberals did not like it. The Congress indulged in “we-told-you-so” attitude. Still Anna’s candid statement that if the BJP or the RSS supported him, it did not mean that he had asked them for support allayed most fears on his tilt towards the saffron brigade. Both the BJP and the RSS did not like this but continued their support. Yet the movement stayed on course, more or less apolitical.

I think that the biggest mistake was made when Anna and his 26-member team announced that they would oppose the Congress candidate in the Hissar by-election. I did not know till then that Arvind Kejerwal, the right hand man of Anna, was from Hissar. There would have been some kind of defence if they had said that corrupt candidates should be defeated. In fact, the call was to defeat the Congress candidate. An apolitical body began to acquire political colour. The complexion changed from then onward.

Where it was said that the persons from different backgrounds had come together on one platform to fight against corruption, it began a trend of thought whether most of them were pursuing their own agenda. This impression got strengthened when Prashant Bhushan made certain remarks on Kashmir. I am not commenting on their merit but I am surprised that he made them when as Anna’s top man he had to be discreet.

This unnecessarily clouded the real purpose. I condemn the physical attacks on him. This only indicates how the society is increasingly taken over by lumpen elements. Yet his remarks were bound to take away attention from Anna’s original purpose to fight against corruption because they were political. It was not surprising the BJP jumping into the arena and pointing towards the L.K. Advani-lead rath yatra against corruption as if his was the real movement. Even former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa was mildly criticised.

I was not surprised to find the Congress making snide remarks. The party is so corrupt from top to bottom, to use its spokesman’s words against Anna that anything derisive against the movement is to its liking. I still hope that parliament’s Standing Committee, going through the exercise of drafting a Lokpal bill, may ultimately come out with a bill which would aim at silencing the critics and meet Anna’s aspirations.

The problem with the two main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, is that both of them are corrupt and raise dust all the time to cloud the real issue. Their dishonesty in governance and the scams during their regimes are before the people to see. My worry is that Anna’s platform which had opened a window of opportunity and hope is beginning to shake. And there are doubts about its credentials.

The two members, Rajinder Singh and P.V. Rajagopal, who have dissociated from Anna’s team, are well respected. They found the original purpose of fighting against corruption without being political going awry. This is where persons like Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh, however critical, have to intervene to reassemble the elements which met first under the leadership of Anna to draft the Lokpal bill. At that meeting, it was enunciated many a time that the movement would not resile from its determination to stay away from politics.

People are still awaiting the dust to settle down so that the campaign to eliminate corruption has the centre-stage once again. Anna or his team cannot change the goalpost because they got the public support on that understanding. Going to UP to oppose the Congress or to even cleanse politics will be a mistake. Politics cannot be cleaned if the platform constituted to cleanse it gets politicized itself.

An alternative to the Congress and the BJP is needed. But first thing’s first. Anna and his team have to have parliament pass the Lokpal bill which retains most of the things demanded: accountability of the judiciary, control over the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate and other vigilance bodies and the supervision of staff below the under secretary. As days go by, Anna and his shriveling team may be more and more vilified. Kejeriwal has been attacked. Such instances can increase to meet the anti-movement elements. The team has to adhere to the original purpose.

As for Anna, I draw his attention to the words recorded about Isaac Newton: “He lived the life of a solitary, and like all men who are occupied with profound meditation, he acted strangely. Sometimes, in getting out of bed, an idea would come to him, and he would sit on the edge of the bed, half dressed, for hours at a time.”

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