Millennium Post

Delicate, complex and painful choices

A visibly upset Anna Hazare supporter recently cried that she felt cheated. A slight nudge was sufficient for her to pour her heart out that her unflinching support was for the legitimate fight against corruption. She had signed-up to restore the people’s belief that their voice mattered and had taken time off her work for a movement – one that was apolitical and one that she believed its leader would see through the finish. She griped that, while she was familiar with political hyperbole, she never expected that the ‘political alternative’ Anna and his team thumped their chests about meant forming another political party. She asks who it was that told Team Anna to form a political party – the public that supported them or the political class this Team taunted. She wonders whether it is wise, strategic and prudent to form a political party when people’s support towards a public movement has run out of steam, is dwindling and when civil society activists are pushed to a corner. She questions the political wisdom of those she selflessly supported, even though she never probed their intentions, motives and objectives when they led the larger movement. She expresses anguish that giving-up on the much needed fight against corruption mid-way may give the impression that the mass frenzy and enormous support was perhaps just a short-lived public outrage against the ruling class. She hopes that the disbandment of Team Anna doesn’t take its toll on the fight against corruption and the milestones that have so far been achieved in bringing an anti-corruption statute. It is in the above vein that she enquires whether the agitation since last year has done the Indian democracy, political process and parliamentary procedures any good. But she is more concerned on whether the people’s movement has inadvertently caused harm to our democracy and, if so, who is responsible for such mischief and what may be its long-term consequences.

While answers to some of the above may not be immediately available, there is now clarity on a few other matters.
  1. Anna Hazare and his team still refuse to accept their tactical errors and accept that it was their totalitarian measures that lead to a break-down of communication with the government. There is still denial that it was their inflexibility which resulted in a loss of trust and their flip-flops distracted all about the message of their movement.

  2. Despite all that has happened, Anna Hazare would like to continue to lay all blame at the door of the government and would still like the public-at-large to believe that it was the government that was not willing to talk or maintain any relations with the civil society activists

  3. While we may potentially have a ‘Jan Lokpal Party’, named after the movement of which Anna became the symbol, Anna is distancing himself from any such party and may therefore have quickly disbanded ‘Team Anna’ so that he does not get associated in the political aspirations of others. Anna misses no opportunity to clarify that he has informed those who are keen to form the potential ‘Jan Lokpal Party’ that neither will he contest elections nor support any party in totality. Instead his support will be for individual candidates, who posses unblemished records and who contest outside of any of the mainstream/national parties.

  4. The announcement about forming a political party is an acknowledgment by those who tried to tarnish the entire political class and all things political, that, whether we like it or not, politics is, in fact, central to our lives in a democracy.

  5. By choosing to become politicians and shed the tag of civil society activists, these individuals have now voluntarily accepted to fight the big boys in the political arena or, shall we say, on a turf where all gloves come off and in an arena where one is no longer able to capitalise on public sympathy and derive mileage solely by holding up the altruistic banner. No one should mock Team Anna’s entry into politics, especially not when they have been welcomed by almost all political parties. But let political naivety not be the cover for practical realities.

  6. Good intentions do not always result in good politics, good legislation or good governance. In fact, it appears that in politics, sometimes intentions have no role to play in the final outcome. We may criticise the government’s intention to enact an anti-corruption statute but the reality is that a Lokpal Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and is currently pending before a select committee of the Rajya Sabha. By an acknowledgement of some Anna loyalists, the Bill so passed addresses 80 per cent of what was sought to be achieved, and had it not been for the sheer contempt of Team Anna, we could potentially have an anti-corruption legislation today.

  7. And lastly, whether it’s a public or a political movement, they both require strong institutional framework and work at the grassroots. Even the best intentioned movements can’t survive only on the strength of their appeal found through new media or amongst a select few of the middle-class. Such movements require working at the bottom of the pyramid, similar to the grassroots level work that Gandhiji consistently undertook, and a realisation that, unfortunately, there is no fast-lane to politics or political movements.
Also, while public movements can run on single ideas, politics requires an ideology, a vision, diplomatic pursuits, a clear-cut economic and financial policy, defence strategy and openness to debate. Unfortunately, so far we know nothing about the potential ‘Jan Lokpal Party’s’ views on any of these important matters of political functioning.

In conclusion, lets us take note that political activism is quite different from electoral politics. As India’s leading political scientist wrote, ‘Political choices are always very delicate, very complex and very painful.’ And if those who are keen to embark on the painful path of forming the potential ‘Jan Lokpal Party’ have taken it upon themselves to cleanse the political system, then more power to them. One only hopes that on this new journey, they stay focussed and determined, but are equally open and cooperative. And, while the Anna supporter, with whose outburst this article began, may be willing to give these so called well-intentioned civil-society activists a second chance, these individuals must take note that, going forward, they will be judged by the yardstick used to measure politicians. As Winston Churchill wrote, ‘Those who talk of revolution ought to be prepared for the guillotine.’

Satvik Varma is an advocate and corporate counsel based in New Delhi.
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