Anna Hazare and his team of civil society representative’s ongoing fight against corruption can on various levels be compared to the popular television show Bigg Boss. Let us assume the Bigg Boss house as a microcosm of democratic India. The lead actors in this house can be identified as the mainstream political parties being the Congress and BJP, with the smaller/regional political parties being the other housemates. Recently, the house saw a late entrant in the form of Team Anna. Playing on the sentimental quotient of Indians like myself, this new entrant made a well timed and calculated move of entering the house when the viewers were grappling with a series of corruption scandals that had disillusioned them about all the other housemates. The new entrant secured its entry and garnered considerable public support on the grounds that it would fight endemic corruption and was not linked to any of the other political housemates. This new housemate repeatedly feels that all others are conniving against it and its noble agenda. As a result, the new entrant forms and changes allegiance’s with almost the same regularity as sheets are perhaps changed in the Bigg Boss home and repeatedly asks other housemates to demonstrate their support by seeking letters from them. Dare if such letters be refused! The key motivation of the new entrant appears to do whatever it takes to ensure that it’s TRP’s don’t fall and it doesn’t fade from the memory of viewers. When the other inmates remind the new entrant of the rules of the house, the new entrant claims that it is above any rules. And the less said about the wild card entries of spiritual leaders, the better!
Whether we find the above analogy amusing or not, on various levels, the recent turn of events in the fight against corruption is similar to the infighting viewers witness on reality shows. It is therefore disheartening that the ongoing drama of a select few, with a personal agenda which is now more evident than ever before, seems to be making a mockery of what started as a legitimate fight against corruption.
For those, who may be as confused as I was when the drama of season 3 began, it all started when Anna requested the Congress to send him a letter reaffirming their commitment to the Jan LokPal Bill. The Congress, and notably correctly, did not feel the need for such letter, especially after the Prime Minister had sent a letter along similar lines back in August and definitely not after the Parliament had passed the resolution which Team Anna had wanted in return for him to call off his last hunger strike. At such time it was resolved that the Parliamentary Standing Committee will examine all the issues relating to the LokPal Bill, including the 3 major issues regarding inclusion of the Prime Minister, lower bureaucracy, the judiciary as raised by Team Anna. Time was given till the winter session of Parliament, which does not convene for sometime, to consider civil society’s demands. Then what triggered Team Anna’s latest round of threats and ultimatums of actively campaigning against the Congress in the Hisar by-poll elections? Is this sudden outburst a fear that Team Anna was slipping in its TRP’s and fading from the memory of the public? Why this sudden urge to step into the political process which Team Anna have vociferously ridiculed? Does Team Anna really feel that parliamentary process can be carried out by pointing a pistol to someone’s head?
As one has repeatedly maintained, the sincerity of Anna Hazare cannot be questioned. But the same cannot be said about his campaign despite the fact that it managed to strike a chord across India’s socio-economic strata and was able to provide a platform by which ordinary people could give vent to their frustrations. Both in season 1 and season 2 of the Hazare campaign, Team Anna managed to garner public support because they were believed to be above party politics. His supporters genuinely believed that Hazare was removed from the kind of personal rivalries and agendas one often encounters in politics.
I have maintained throughout that, regardless of the legitimacy of the cause, Team Anna’s real fight was a political battle being fought by undemocratic means and outside the normal political process. Team Anna has confirmed that niggle. By demonstrating their interest in the recent by-election in Hisar constituency and by making the ridiculous appeal to the voters that, “except the Congress, give your vote to any of the other 44 candidates in the fray. Do not worry excessively that there are corrupt individuals among the candidates. If they win, the Lokpal Bill will send them to jail”, is a clear indication that Team Anna wants to actively participate in the electoral process. Lets be clear – there’s nothing wrong with such desire. Except that one expects Anna to come out in the open, form a political party, contest against the Congress and other political party’s, consider fielding Arvind Kejriwal, a native of not far from Hisar, rather than take pot shots at trying to subvert democracy. There is merit in also questioning why Team Anna decided to choose Hisar, even otherwise not a Congress stronghold, and not one of the other constituencies including Khadakwasala in Maharashtra which is close to Anna’s native village. Was Congress just a softer target, or did they fear stepping on Shiv Sena’s turf? Somehow it seems that the new entrant has quickly mastered the tricks of surviving in the house and knows which housemate to play against whom and when!
Team Anna can claim Anna of being above the Parliament, but let us not forget that the Parliament reflects the collective will of the people of this country. Let us not get swept away by our emotions in trying to overturn a well established system that has worked for 64 years. Do we even know the consequences of such action or the mayhem that could follow from such impulsiveness? Whether we like it or not, let us be reminded that we are a representative democracy where the citizens elect their representatives and it is the sole prerogative of such elected representatives to make the law. This country has a written and fairly elaborate constitution, a parliamentary process and other systems of government functioning and cannot function on the dictates of a select few who run a well orchestrated campaign that resonates with the masses on account of its timing and media coverage.
By giving ultimatums and threats, pre-judging the outcome of negotiations, storming out of constructive discussions and holding the Parliament to ransom even some initial supporters of Anna have now turned cynical. A manifestation of this is the “Fed Up of Team Anna” page created on Facebook by senior IAS officer, Amitabha Pande. As Pande says “my dislike of Anna and what he stands for has been consistent and is implacable. While there is an element of a peasant’s deviousness in his approach, it is much more the trust he places in authoritarianism, the emphasis he gives to strong men with strong armed methods who are provided the legitimacy of law and who must remain unaccountable, that is truly dangerous. The anti-corruption movement led by him is the beginnings of overt support to the fascist leanings large sections of the Indian middle class have always had which our democracy (however imperfect it may be) has kept in check and which was always expressed in covert terms. The contempt he and his team members have for the Parliament and for Parliamentary democracy is shared by many in the Indian middle class- by the same elements who supported the emergency. If these elements now gain ground then Anna will have set in motion a trend which will damage our fragile democracy irretrievably. Hence, he deserves outright condemnation and opposition”.
Another page on Facebook “India Against Anna, I Love My India” has been created by one Gaurav Pandhi. Started on account of being disgruntled with Team Anna’s ‘my-way-or-highway-approach’, this page reminds us of Dr. B.R Ambedkar’s constituent assembly speech “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.”
There is no taking away that at some level this fight against corruption has eroded the moral consciousness of the elected. Add to that the Governments ineptness in handling the situation which helped the lot of Team Anna strike a greater chord with the public who were even otherwise feeling a disconnect with the Government. But is the desire today to overthrow the Government? If so, let us ask Anna about the alternatives and their practicality in the current socio-economic environment.
In any event, the recent back and forth in the stand of Team Anna, the almost daily distancing itself from select statements of its core members and the infighting between core members has compelled one to think that although Anna was depicted as the late entrant to the house of the famous television show narrated above, at some level he now seems to be behaving as though he is a Big Boss himself. Hazare appears to be puppeteering the political atmosphere by portraying the Jan LokPal Bill to be the panacea for corruption in India. Team Anna has raised the hopes and aspirations of citizens on a single piece of legislation that at best only puts a dent on the rampant corrupt practices in India. In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that a law student, Vibhor Anand, has issued a legal notice to Anna Hazare for criminal breach of trust alleging his team for “misguiding the youth” by not sticking to its fight against corruption and having shifted its focus only to a single political party. Anand states that she “supported the movement for a better India, but from the statements of Team Anna, their hidden political ambitions have come to light”. As a famous philosopher said “the desire for fame tempts even the noble mind.”
Regardless of whether there is merit in Anand’s claim that Team Anna are using the sentiments of people to reach the helm of political power, which also amounts to corruption, thus making all the members guilty of criminal breach of trust, one thing is for clear – the initial chord that Team Anna had managed to strike with the masses is eroding. But it would be a disaster if in all this drama we end up also eroding the common mans faith in the parliamentary process, and belief that his vote counts for something and that his voice is loud enough to introduce change. Thus, even though there may be a great deal of similarity between the drama in Indian politics and television theatrics, eventually reality takes over. And in the real world, the hope of the masses for a more representative government, better governance and corruption free India far outlives the histrionics of any television show or a noble crusaders political drama. When will we accept that we can no longer affront the intelligence of the Indian public or viewers.
First carried by GOVERNANCE NOW magazine.
Author’s previous articles on the Anna Hazare movement are titled “The Fight Has Begun”; “Fight Against Corruption Continues” and “Course set for correction or collision” all carried by Governance Now.