When Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal came together 17 months ago, the air throbbed with magic and hope, the response was sensational, and India seemed on the brink of heady, inspirational change. But like all transient curiosities, the pair that promised to banish corruption from public life has faded from memory even as the scams and scandals it fought against have attained a size and scale unimaginable in an earlier time. This is not all. In an ironic imitation of the politics that Team Anna relentlessly lampooned, it has split vertically, with one faction led by Mr. Kejriwal deciding to enter the electoral arena while Anna himself continues to be implacably opposed to politics, seeing it as a cesspool that only the irredeemably venal would plunge into. Why did the movement not reach its objective? Team Anna’s maximalist position on the Jan Lokpal Bill, which it projected as a one-stop cure for all problems, scared away even those committed to probity in public life. Political support which was forthcoming in the early stages of the Bill’s formulation, disappeared in part because of a genuine concern that the Jan Lokpal was designed to be structurally overarching and in part because of Team Anna’s vilification of politicians and even politics.
Over the following months, as Anna’s repetitive rallies and fasts began to attract fewer and fewer crowds, the veteran and his team found themselves hard pressed to answer a hostile counter question: If politics was so dirty, why not assume responsibility and clean it from inside instead of grandstanding from a safe distance? It is to Mr. Kejriwal’s credit that he did not resist the idea for too long. Anna’s estranged lieutenant has taken courage in his hand and floated a party with idealistic goals in an environment heavily contaminated by sleaze money and big corporate interests. As he ponders the next steps, Mr. Kerjriwal will surely experience for himself the challenge of practising politics without its attendant ills. He will also find the going tough in the absence of the charismatic Anna who drew his legitimacy from being seen as a selfless, modern-day savant. And yet Anna often failed to distinguish between sincere supporters who wanted a systemic overhaul and right-wing elements who infiltrated his campaign to further their divisive agenda. Though initially taken with the likes of the hugely popular Swami Ramdev, Mr. Kejriwal realised in time that neutrality was vital for his kind of politics. If he makes even a small difference to the popular perception of politics, he will have done a lot.