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The politics of ‘Team Anna’

August 5, 2012

Anna Hazare and his team recently called off their indefinite fast after 10 days with an announcement that they intend to form a political party. Though their announcement was sudden, events of the last 6-8 months leads one to believe that it was part of a larger but misdirected strategy. Whatever it may be, it has evoked different sentiments from people around the country. As a person associated with the anti-corruption movement, I felt that this decision might need more analysis before one can draw conclusions.

The country has seen many a relevant social movement fizzle out once it turned political. In our own backyard in Karnataka, we had two extraordinary movements that gave a voice to thousands of marginalized people. Whether it is the Dalit movement or the Farmers’ movement, one saw an opportunity for change; change that mainstream society was not willing to consider or be interested in. Despite this, so much momentum was created and both these movements made space for themselves and became established as the voices of the people that they represented. Unfortunately what began as a ‘social response’ gradually got politicized and lost much of its sheen.

While the context of these movements may be different from the ‘anti-corruption’ one, we need to place in perspective the ground support that the anti-corruption movement got in its early days. A large number of average citizens, disillusioned with the system, jumped into the bandwagon with the expectations that Anna would wave his magic wand and change would happen. Many of them were impatient, young, urban-based, middle-class people with no understanding of social processes, expecting that the system would respond to the ‘visible’ pressure that they were creating. For a weary Nation looking for the ‘magic pill’, Anna provided the ideal stage for one to express ones frustrations and build hopes of a better tomorrow. Little did people realize that emotional campaigns are difficult to sustain and a ‘system’ enmeshed with the desire to maintain status-quo would not let go that easily. The movement also did not see the engagement of rural and poor communities who are the silent and voiceless victims of the corruption that is prevalent in India. The media’s engagement with the movement was directly proportional to the extent that their readers and viewers engaged with the struggle. With their constituents losing interest, the media too moved away from the 24 x 7 coverage that they gave to the struggle. It is a moot point to debate whether the media aroused the masses or the aroused masses gave a reason for the media to engage in this movement. The fact is the lowered visibility of the campaign removed fighting corruption from the mainstream thought.

The Government with its share of seasoned politicians responded exactly as predicted. Why would any sensible, self-centered politician willingly turn off his pipeline and commit political suicide? It is not that all politicians are corrupt; but almost all that I have interacted with concede that one cannot survive in electoral politics by playing straight. They were experienced men and women who knew that the best way to fight this movement was to wear the opponents down. They also played their part to the script – they understood that ‘politics’ was their home ground and they needed to draw Anna into familiar territory in order to defeat him. The last many months saw many of them from all political parties bait ‘Team Anna’ into jumping into the political bandwagon. Anna and his men have not disappointed them and they have taken the bait.

Team Anna must realize that it does not have the Machiavellian abilities to think and act like politicians right now. They do not even have the capability to manage the politics that has crept into the movement. Many a supporter has withdrawn and moved away from them. They need to build the skill sets that make an enduring politician in order to take this battle to the turf of much-seasoned campaigners. Social mobilization is a different ball game from politics. What is needed is the shrewdness to understand and capitalize on people’s aspirations, build a financial base to sustain a long and enduring campaign and be willing to compromise and accommodate. Team Anna may be able to do this in the long run, but their present assets are not clearly enough to ensure this. Our politicians know very well that Team Anna does not have the political resources or the abilities to match them. This not only gives the politicians an edge, but also provides the ideal platform to fight this battle on their own terms. They realize that they could easily work the situation to their advantage and electorally defeat Team Anna.

We need to understand that this defeat will not just be for this handful of brave people or for the hundreds of activists across the country, but for the entire Nation itself. Never again may such an opportunity present itself. Not only for this movement, but all other ‘Social Movements’ will now suffer. Governments and our politicians will be quick to grasp that they can safely ignore and wear out the activists instead of responding to their demands. This is indeed ominous to activists who have fought many a battle successfully. Once Team Anna faces electoral defeat, our politicians will be quick to spread their inference that the common man has no support for the cause of ‘anti-corruption’. The system is indeed so corrupted that most of the so-called ‘common people’ have also become an integral part of the electoral corruption that sees crores of rupees being spent on each election. The few that have opted out of this corrupt process see all politicians as corrupt and would be inclined to paint the members of Anna’s political party too with the same brush. While the intent of Anna may be genuine, the timing or methodology is not right for such a move.

The members of India Against Corruption needed to plan and strategize before they took this key decision. They would have better served the cause by engaging with activists and organizations across the country. Instead of spewing venom on all politicians and political parties, they should have tried to engage with the good people in the system and build a coalition that would have stood by them at a later date. Engaging with parliament does not necessarily mean ‘entering’ Parliament. Team Anna needs to be realistic – how can they be reasonably sure of gaining enough seats to make a difference in Parliament and pass a strong Lokpal Bill? A mere 2-3 seats will not only make them a laughing-stock but will also put the movement behind by several decades. What has been painstakingly built over the last many decades cannot be squandered away by selfish egos that are unwilling to look at the larger picture. It would have better served the cause if Anna and his team had individually or collectively traveled around the country, engaging with like-minded people and groups and arousing the passion and imagination of the common man. They could have built a strong citizens’ group to exert pressure on the political system that could have built a semblance of accountability and transparency in the 2014 elections. If the system had not responded then, it would have been the right time for Team Anna to join the political fray, building on the sentiments of a country and populace disillusioned with a political system that was given its chance. He would have then seen enormous support critical enough to drive change.

Team Anna should learn from its errors and focus on building this coalition of concerned citizenry without worrying about labels, brands or TV time. They should set aside personal differences and keep ‘fighting corruption’ as the work at the center. They should not shy away from trying to understand the perspective of the average politician and his daily pressures of survival. Only when we are able to see the larger picture and work with the reality that exists today can we bring about any change. Team Anna needs to understand that people can only take losses at a rate that they can absorb. They first need to build the requisite social capital before venturing into a world that they do not fully comprehend as of now. Otherwise they will have only themselves to blame for squandering away such a wonderful social opportunity that comes possibly once in a lifetime.


Categories: Musings
  1. JS
    August 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Dear Dr Balu,

    I echo the points you have made, especially that which points to the fact that there have been many movements “that have fizzled out”. Whether converting from movement to political organisation or otherwise, there is one common thread – lack of an organisation that devolves initiatives to local groups and an organisational system that keeps the local units aligned to the super-ordinate goals.

    My blog one year ago said the same thing you say above: no involvement at all of the rural folks.

    In all these discussions, I’m amazed that no one (mostly “activists” involved in the campaign) think such a mass movement can be carried out in the 21st Century without the crucial inputs of a Management expert. It seems that Team Anna thought they had the acumen only to realise “it fizzled out”. Pity that popularity is equated to knowledge.

    I’m happy to read that you (being a key activist in Karnataka) have voiced the concern that many of us supporters have of forming yet another political party.

    Tapping the talent and willingness present amongst the rural and urban middle class, it appears, is not a strength of civic activists. No great movement can be successful without organisational expertise (and I don’t mean hierarchy).

    J Srinivasan

  2. Dr.Mythili
    August 7, 2012 at 6:50 am

    yes, i see your point fully. for team anna, even now it is not late to go back to people and start public debates, discussions to restart the movement. to begin the all India level – mass movement – was required. But now, it has to be taken to every door step. now, the movement has to continue silently but firmly. No change happens suddenly. More so with anti-corruption. All movements after gathering the mass appeal become institutionalized. this is true of Anna team also. it is important that they see this point. So, the core team which has a huge support even now should reconsider its decision and go back to people. it is important that it saves itself and saves others.

  3. Dr.T.S.Ramachandran
    August 7, 2012 at 6:12 am

    Excellent analysis. I was thinking on the same lines and pleasantly surprised to read my own thoughts.

  4. Srinivasan Sekar
    August 6, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Excellent analysis Dr. Balu. For a democratic organization, Team Anna would have been better off starting that process by organizing debates and brainstorms across India among like-minded volunteers and organizations on what the future course of action should be, get these grass-roots movements to conduct a poll on the top 3 to 5 ideas that come out of each of these debates at the local level, and then base their future course on the cumulative votes of such ideas. Instead, they did no different, by deciding for all of India sitting in N. Delhi (which the Congress calls as High Command and BJP calls its National Leadership). Where is grass roots democracy demonstrated in this abrupt decision?

  5. H.C.Madhusudhan
    August 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Dear Balu,
    I completely agree with your views. In the recent past we were hearing about the challenges that were thrown from political fraternity to Team Anna to contest election and the acceptance from Team Anna is now proving to be a reality. But one has to remember that accepting this challange has temporarily put off the demand for effective Janlokpal Bill, I am sure the government will not pass as of now. My worry is that If team Anna’s political party or Team Anna’s supported candidates loses the election, then they have to bite the dust. Politicians will point finger towards the mandate and just ask team Anna to be quiet. Dont you think so that we have lost a golden opportunity of making India Against Corruption a regulatory body to raise social issues….. Jai Hind.

  6. Nanjundaswamy.S
    August 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    A very sensible analysis. It is difficult to understand that an intelligent, pragmatic and responsible team can come to such a hasty conclusion. Let wisdom prevail upon them to think 1000 times before entering politics! Let them not play to the wishes of unscrupulous politicians!

  7. Nitin Desai
    August 6, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I agree to you. But somebody has to jump into this dirt and clean. If Aam Admi supports Team Anna in the elections then its a different story (this IF is critical). You are right when you say Team Anna should have engaged with ‘activists and organizations across the country’. I feel they should have got their support and then should have plunged. But now that they have plunged, can the reverse happen i.e people, activists and organizations support the new party?

  8. latha sundaram
    August 6, 2012 at 10:05 am

    This is a very comprehensive analysis ,,, taking the awareness to rural and working from the grass roots is what is needed … coz ppl have more pressing problems of making an everyday living for bread and battle all their life for basic amenities … they will be easily lured as they have no options now. people who have bn working for this are for the noble cause and have no thirst for power or popularity what so ever .. but now IAC might be forced to share platform wt ppl who have this thirst and the morale and the sincerity of the volunteers will be shattered.. They can no longer take pride in being an IAC volunteer.

  9. Anand Yadwad
    August 6, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I completely endorse your views Doctor. Only few people cannot take such drastic decision of a movement owned by millions of Indians.

  10. August 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Very precise and sensible analysis of Team Anna’s move. I sincerely hope that they back out from their decision to form political party.

  11. Prashant
    August 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Sir, Perfect Analysis

  12. chandra prakash.r
    August 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Dear Dr.R.B I concur with your analysis and the conclusions. Let us not forget that even JP movement started with fight against corruption. Laluprasad Yadav was one of the leading lights of that movement. See what he turned out to be. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if Anna team succeeds in selecting and getting elected the noble souls, there is no guarantee what so ever that once in power they will not turn out to be yet another Laluprasad.

    Anna Team should have continued to be only a pressure group. With this decision they have not only lost their moral high ground but also have let down a great opportunity to tame the politicians and cleans politics of this country. Further it is immature to presume that people, particularly the gullible rural and urban slum dwellers who are the real king makers in politics as other hardly vote, will not be lured by cash and caste during the voting.

    What will be the stand and future of MAC?

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