Their cause was always clear: fighting corruption. And now their target too is in focus: the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. As the 2014 general election draws near, the movement of civil society groups against corruption is turning into an electoral battle. When Team Anna announced its intention to enter practical politics and challenge all hitherto existing parties, the campaign for a Lokpal to eliminate corruption was effectively scaled up to a fight for political power. Not to be left behind, Baba Ramdev, whose original agenda was the repatriation of black money, began another agitation in New Delhi and declared an “all-out war” on the Congress. The Bharatiya Janata Party, far from leading the fight against the Congress, has lined up behind the yoga guru, seeking his approval in the guise of offering support. Indeed, among those hanging on to the Baba’s angavastram are some parties not exactly known for their commitment to probity in public life. Even the BJP, whose leader L.K. Advani was among the first to make the case for repatriation of black money at every available public forum, is tailing the Baba on this issue now. All of this despite growing evidence that popular support for Anna and Ramdev is nowhere near what it was earlier. Clearly, the BJP is low on confidence and is looking for every available crutch in the run-up to the general election. Unable to convert the public disaffection with the ruling establishment to its own advantage, and conscious of the limited purchase the Ram Mandir and Hindutva planks can offer, the BJP seems ready to court Ramdev for whatever he is worth. But this is a risky strategy. Although the sangh parivar did mobilise numbers for Ramdev’s agitation, if and when the flag-waving movement snowballs into a major political protest, the BJP might not be the one in control.
With Team Anna and Baba Ramdev going political, the Congress might feel vindicated in having stopped engaging the civil society groups in the drafting of an effective Lokpal Bill. But it would be suicidal to dismiss the growing public disenchantment with the corruption-laden governance system as politically-inspired from beginning to end. In the absence of a counter-strategy, and meaningful steps on the ground to reassure voters that corruption is being tackled effectively, the UPA could well turn into a lightning rod for public anger. But although corruption is a serious issue with great public resonance, there is no saying how it would play out in an election. With the BJP and its allies yielding the opposition space to sundry outfits, and many claimants for the leadership role in the campaign against corruption, all those votes cast in anger might not fall any one way.