Anna Hazare killed the Lokpal

Posted on August 3, 2012


With the pitiful anticlimax of the latest edition of their fast-franchise and the subsequent announcement of their intent to create a political party, Anna and his team have killed the Lokpal.

It was nothing but the Lokpal that made an otherwise old-fashioned and lesser-known Anna a phenomenon last year. But today, it is a political party that is on their agenda. Of course, they can argue that they had no other option but to choose politics as their route to fighting for a Lokpal.

But given the long gestation period that a political party will take to obtain some form of influence, if it makes the cut at all, one can easily forget an effective fight for the Lokpal for at least another decade. In all likelihood the failure of their political party – extrapolating their miserable performance since last August – will take place earlier than a victory in their fight for a Lokpal.

Is this the end of the Lokpal? Anna Hazare in a file image. Reuters

The poor middle class, who poured out to Jantar Mantar, the streets of Delhi and the Ramlila Maidan in unprecedented numbers, probably thought Anna would be able convert all that public support into a force that could arm-twist the UPA government and politicians into submission and bring a reasonable legislation against corruption.

But in a year, he and his team squandered all the energy and trust of their constituency and stand completely exposed today. The wily politicians, not just the UPA and the Congress, have cleverly conned them. As Shiv Visvanathan pointed out in his Firstpost column, politics is indeed unforgiving to everyone except the professional politician.

This is where the decline of a partly emaciated Team Anna will begin. From what looked like a civil society movement with a purpose and immense public support to the dirty and crafty world of politics and taking on the likes of people who efficiently script and execute billion-dollar scams.

What went wrong?

The Anna movement has been non-strategic. It’s not without reason that people talk of strategic planning  – be it in business, politics or social development.

Anna and his team in fact began well on a single strategic focus – corruption. And they were more strategic in finding an efficient symbol in their fight against corruption as well: the Lokpal, or their version of the bill. A concrete legislative solution that can both prevent and punish.

They articulated it well, used all forms of media, and the idea went viral. That’s where the story should have begun. But unfortunately, for Team Anna, the story ended there.

In fact what undid the Anna phenomenon, which lost the strategic focus, was the public support itself. Anna and his team were in fact overwhelmed by the groundswell of support. They should have sat down and strategised on how to convert the inflammable or rather volatile social capital into measurable results. Instead, they went crazy and became scatter-brained. Perhaps a cursory glance of Freud’s “crowd behaviour theory” and Carl Jung’s idea of “collective unconscious” could have helped to get a sense of realism.

Instead of further aggregating Lokpal, they disaggregated it. From a working wholesale model, they went retail. They started naming people, picked on individual corruption charges and denounced the entire political class while expanding their agenda further.

This is exactly what the politicians had been looking for. And we know the rest of the story.

The story couldn’t have been any different for the reasons that Firspost had analysed before. Being avowedly apolitical, their decision to join politics betrays the inherent contradictions of Team Anna and its internal wiring to self-destroy. Here the fundamental flaw, once again, is the lack of strategy.

Now that they have decided to join politics, will they succeed?

Almost impossible because their constituency, which is mostly urban middle class, is dicey. Forming a political party and running it in a country like India is a huge enterprise. It’s sheer logistics, a lot of craft and a truly long term game. Sometimes, even violent.

With a small group of control freaks, who even vie for their ten minutes of fame on the stage or TV, is such a political party possible?

We have seen middle class attempts at politics – NRIs, retired civil servants, bankers and IITians trying it out and leaving the scene without a trace because they are inherently not political. The smart ones, who are really serious about politics join an existing formation and work their way up. Even they have to work really hard. Shashi Tharoor is a good example, despite all his mistakes.

Now, if at all Team Anna forms a political party and is capable of managing some organisational networks in some parts of the country, what exactly will they do? Spoil the chances of the Congress or the UPA partners? Will they also fight against the BJP?

Mulayam Singh just won a state election riding on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment in Uttar Pradesh. PTI

Chances are that they might get support from both the camps, if at all they are able to generate some presence in a constituency; perhaps more from the BJP because they had been patently anti-Congress and anti-UPA. In simple electoral terms, they are more likely to split the anti-UPA votes than the anti-BJP votes. Raja and company should be happy.

All this analysis makes sense only if Anna and his Team ultimately do what politics is meant for – participating in the democratic process of elections. If Team Anna thought corruption is a great political tool to fight elections, they are right. But unfortunately, that is exactly what political parties are doing. Unfortunately, even corruption is already their preserve. Mulayam fights and wins against Mayawati on corruption while the latter bides for her time accusing him of corruption; Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa alternate in office on account of their fight against corruption allegedly committed by the other.

Leave aside the energy, resources and the all important political craft; do Anna and his team even have any space at all?

This is in fact a blunder. Anna and his team should have continued with what they had begun as – a civil society movement, that was fighting the rot of corruption to achieve a measurable result. The support of the people and the media, in fact had this message clearly engraved in it.

Civil society movements and popular uprisings all over the world, from time immemorial, have a peculiar charm. A charm that inspires the underdogs and the victimised. One needs nothing but simple common sense to get it.

Our crafty politicians have a lot of common sense. One cannot fake it; one cannot manufacture it. If one doesn’t have it, it’s an impairment.

Now the last question. Does Team Anna have the temperament for politics?

This is what Nobel laureate Elias Canetti wrote in his seminal work ‘Crowds and  Power’: “The most blatant tyranny is the one which asks the most blatant questions.” Looking at the temperament of some of the Team Anna members, one cannot help but re-reading this line.



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