Breaking a Revolution
I supported Anna Hazare. I supported his movement against corruption. Anna represented spontaneous middle-class anger that was directed against a corrupt establishment. Anna represented the aspiration of making India a fair and transparent democracy. I was in Delhi in August 2011 and witnessed ordinary but conscientious citizens take to the streets because they believed that their rage against protracted corruption had finally been blessed with an incorruptible leader. Ordinary citizens felt that it was their duty to join Anna as he challenged corruption. Young students supported the movement because we believed that we were fighting for a better tomorrow.
And then all of a sudden, the movement in which ordinary citizens had invested their hopes and aspirations was torn asunder. On August 3, 2012, Anna Hazare called off his protest and announced the formation of a political party. A movement that was touted to be a revolution and which promised to bring monumental change in the administrative system had been crushed, ironically, by the same system it promised to change. To be sure, there may be many who do not agree with my analysis on the breakdown of the anti-corruption movement. My object however is not to reflect the majority view but to illustrate the inherent flaws in allowing a movement of this nature to engage in electoral politics.
To understand this, it is important to consider the origin of the movement. For most of us, this movement started with a simple, ex-serviceman, announcing a fast unto death unless the Central Government agreed to push a strong Lokpal legislation through Parliament. The legislation was not introduced. Anna Hazare had called off his fast. A joint committee consisting of members from the Central Government and members from civil society was constituted to draft an effective Lokpal Bill. During the days of Anna’s fast, the general public came to be sensitized against corruption like never before. At some point during that fast, vast sections of the public had questioned their own cynicism towards corruption when a septuagenarian was willing to die to eradicate it. This was the time during which Anna had been transformed into a movement.
It is ridiculous to suggest that the anti-corruption movement was merely about a Lokpal legislation. Truth be told, a lot of people including myself had serious issues with both versions of the Lokpal Bill i.e. the Government’s version and Team Anna’s version. Anna caught the public imagination because he appeared to genuinely want to end corruption. Anna drew popular support because he was more credible and forthright. So how did a movement that promised so much to the Indian people go wrong? One answer is to that question is to look at the bunch of self-appointed advisors that surround Anna Hazare. People such as Manish Sisodia and Arvind Kejriwal (who has carved a niche for himself as the most annoying person in Indian politics) emerged without any genuine popular backing.
They started off by removing an image of Bharat Mata from the protest venue for no reason other than the fact that Bharat Mata is a symbol of worship among RSS cadres. Did it occur to them that it was entirely possible for a lot of people to view corruption in the country akin to an onslaught on their mothers? But none of this mattered to the leaders of the anti-corruption movement. To them, top-down imposition was the best way to run the movement. Next, they forced a thorough gentleman like Ram Madhav to walk off the dais. Ram Madhav is respected across the political spectrum for being refreshingly reasonable and scholarly. What was Ram Madhav’s crime? He was an RSS office-bearer.
When Baba Ramdev launched his campaign to bring back black money stashed abroad, members of Team Anna had reservations aligning with him although Baba Ramdev had supported Anna Hazare’s movement to the hilt. In fact, much of the crowds that lined up at Anna’s protest venues are said to have come just because Baba Ramdev was present. What was Baba Ramdev’s crime? He shares a good equation with the RSS.
Prashant Bhushan took issue to Sadhvi Rithambara’s participation in the anti-corruption movement because she was associated with the Ayodhya movement in the early 90s. But no one seems to have had a problem with Prashant Bhushan’s views on Kashmir or with the fact that several far-left elements participated in the anti-corruption movement. The logic is self-defeating. When the country is united against corruption, why would anyone try and draw divisions on the basis of external issues?
Now they have launched a political outfit. They say that the political party will function on principles of decentralization and transparency – desirable aspirations no doubt. Team Anna is of the opinion that the best way to forward their agenda is through electoral politics. This line of thought begins from a logical premise: Most causes are politically tested to determine their acceptability (The Anti-Emergency Elections in 1977, Ram Janmabhoomi Elections in 1991, Mandal elections in 1991). But the movement against corruption is not like any other cause. The reason for this lies in the nature of corruption. Corruption has infiltrated all levels of governance. But the real fountainhead of corruption (as exemplified in the scams of 2G, Commonwealth and Adarsh) can be located in political power. Therefore, the movement against corruption must continue to challenge political power – not become associated with it.
Electoral politics poses at least three critical challenges to the movement against corruption. First, there is the problem of the political party failing to make a mark in Parliament or the state legislatures. How would the rank and file of the anti-corruption movement take such a failure? Will they continue to support the party or will they turn cynical and abandon it? Second, there is the much bigger problem of the new political party failing to achieve the core objectives that it has set out to achieve. When any party fails to fulfil its primary promises, it results in widespread disappointment, discontent, cynicism and frustration. The third problem is the most serious issue. It is the challenge of the new political party (that is seemingly premised on transparency) to refrain from indulging in acts of impropriety and corruption. Failing the third challenge would lead to unimaginable consequences in terms of the effect it will have on the aspirations of the Indian people to end corruption.
The revolution of 2011 raised hopes because it brought the political establishment to its knees and compelled political parties across the spectrum to contemplate measures to reduce corruption. The movement was unique because it affected change within the system from outside the system. Participating in the political system may have benefits but it would expose the movement to the dark side of democracy – caste, appeasement politics, monetary and muscle power. It would be fantastic to see the movement come unscathed but few movements have. Arvind Kejriwal might not realize it but if the movement should get tainted because of electoral politics, it would not only damage the credibility of leaders of the anti-corruption movement but also the credibility of the idea that corruption can be eradicated. That would be the greatest disservice to the men, women and children who joined the revolution in 2011. This is how the Revolution will break.
(Image Courtesy- IBN)