Having announced its electoral ambitions, Team Anna now faces the gargantuan task of positioning itself in the political space
In hindsight, it can be said that the 2012 version of the Anna Hazare movement was designed to spectacularly fail in achieving its avowed goal. Not even the most incorrigible optimist believed the indefinite fast of Team Anna at Jantar Mantar could compel the UPA government to institute a probe into the corruption charges levelled against 14 Union Ministers and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In deliberately courting failure, Team Anna sought to expose the reluctance of the political class to enact a Jan Lokpal law, and create a spectacle before revealing to the nation its decision to provide a new political alternative to the people, as had been speculated though the week. In one way or another, Team Anna will now play a role in the general election of 2014.
Team Anna of 2012, both in its conduct and rhetoric, has been remarkably different from its 2011 avatar. After a lacklustre start on July 25, the tide at Jantar Mantar turned dramatically over the July 28-29 weekend, as Anna Hazare too joined the indefinite fast. People stormed Jantar Mantar in numbers sufficient to boost the sagging morale of Team Anna, illustrating the impact the anti-corruption movement has had on the popular consciousness in just a year. But the real significance of the crowds at Jantar Mantar was that it didn’t comprise people whom the Sangh Parivar had bussed to the venue, as was the case in 2011. This year’s daily assembly at Jantar Mantar decidedly belonged to Team Anna. (Perhaps their own understanding of the difference in the nature of crowds between 2011 and 2012 explains Team Anna’s recent hostility to the media, which weren’t willing to make such distinctions.)
More pertinently, Jantar Mantar marked the sundering of the Sangh-Team Anna link, evident for the first time in the absence of the Sangh from Hazare’s flop show in Mumbai last December. It was precisely why BJP leaders made it a point to declare earlier this week that they weren’t aware of the deteriorating health of Arvind Kejriwal, who has been popularly perceived to be playing the saffron brigade’s game. In this sense, Team Anna will emerge from the Jantar Mantar experiment as an anti-Congress, anti-BJP formation.
Even the relationship between Team Anna and the maverick Baba Ramdev survives tenuously only because one or two of Hazare’s advisors think it necessary to have a minimum understanding with groups campaigning against corruption. Yet Team Anna’s declaration of providing a political alternative militates against the possibility of the Hazare-Ramdev relationship turning into a unified anti-corruption platform, as some, particularly in the Sangh, had hoped for. In fact, the contradiction in the anti-corruption movement will become formal with time. Baba Ramdev will epitomise the Right; his pet project of bringing back to India the money stashed abroad mirrors the Sangh’s emphasis on this issue. The BJP will hitch itself to Ramdev’s bandwagon, hoping he would help fan the popular discontent against the UPA.
By contrast, Jantar Mantar testified to Team Anna’s attempt to broaden its agenda to include issues other than corruption. Right through last week, several speakers launched sallies against the appropriation of agriculture land, the brazen promotion of big businesses, and the brutal suppression of tribal rights, which was cited as the most important factor for the rise of Maoists. Such radical analyses, no doubt, were couched within the framework of political corruption to ensure the conservative middle class, arguably Team Anna’s most vocal support base, was not alienated.
It will take Team Anna members a few more days to spell out the contours of the political alternative they have in mind. Will it, for instance, support political parties that do not belong to the Congress or BJP-led alliances? Such a measure will necessarily dilute their agenda of ushering in clean politics, for they can scarcely hope to compel political parties in selecting candidates who have impeccable records. Or perhaps they can support parties till Team Anna itself metamorphoses into a political outfit. Or they can encourage those enjoying respect for their community work and clean image — the so-called small Annas of towns and blocks — to contest the 2014 election, and provide them support.
Yet there are many in Team Anna who believe they should directly participate in the 2014 election. Team Anna believes the depth of the popular disenchantment with the political class renders its anti-Congress, anti-BJP position extremely viable; and given the aura of Anna Hazare, they feel they can whip up a wave in 2014. It is a model V.P. Singh followed in 1989. He swept into power riding the wave of the anti-Congress sentiment over the Bofors controversy. However, Team Anna forgets that Singh inherited the organisational apparatus of the Janata Dal, and enjoyed the support of both the Left and the Right in his election campaign.
No doubt, rank outsiders have crafted victories within a year or two of joining politics, as N.T. Rama Rao did in Andhra Pradesh in 1983. But such electoral triumphs are mostly limited in their geographical sweep, or are built upon the legacy the political outsider inherits, as was the case with Navin Patnaik in Orissa. Again, new political formations emerge often on the support of at least one numerically dominant caste, to which is then stitched other social groups through policy pronouncements that have a broad appeal. Usually the leader of the new formation belongs to the numerically dominant group. Unfortunately for Team Anna, the dominant identity of its prominent members is class, not caste. Further, the politics of interests they seek to pursue will exclude those who define their identity in terms of caste.
Is Team Anna capable of providing a balance between both identities?
Perhaps the other model available to them is Kanshi Ram, who built the Bahujan Samaj Party over several years, and participated in successive elections only in the hope of notching incremental gains. Perhaps this was the model political scientist Yogendra Yadav had in mind during the speech he delivered at Jantar Mantar. He asked Team Anna and his followers to think of a building a remarkably different political party, transparent and democratic and in which leaders can be held accountable. This model demands a long haul.
It is debatable whether Team Anna is prepared for such a gargantuan task. Perhaps, you could say that unlike other fulltime politicians, they don’t have much at stake. They can always return to what they are adept at — organising street protests and becoming a pressure group.
(Ajaz Ashraf is a Delhi-based journalist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)