Down, but not out

Published : Jan 27, 2012 00:00 IST

Team Anna finds itself in total disarray following the Lokpal fiasco in Parliament.

in New Delhi

WHO is saying that the core committee is meeting on January 7? We have not decided on the date yet. Make that correction immediately. There is no need for us to announce everything to the media immediately, Arvind Kejriwal, a member of Team Anna and the mastermind of the Jan Lokpal movement, shouted over the phone. At the other end was someone probably trying to confirm whether the core committee of Team Anna was meeting on that day to decide its future course of action. The confusion cropped up because of a statement made by his colleague Kiran Bedi in Pune without consulting anyone else in the team after meeting Anna Hazare at Sancheti Hospital, where he had been admitted.

Going by the different, at times contradictory, voices in which Team Anna members speak, it can be surmised that it finds itself in total disarray after the political class, especially the Congress, ensured that the Lokpal Bill fell flat on its face in Parliament.

Adding to the disarray is Anna's fragile health. The 74-year-old has been advised total rest by doctors. On January 5, Kiran Bedi said Anna Hazare would not campaign in the five election-bound States as was planned earlier. This will be music to the ears of Congress leaders, but the fact remains that Team Anna is at a low right now, confused about the course it will have to take and unsure about the fate of the Jan Lokpal movement and the response it will generate.

If his close aides are to be believed, Anna is extremely hurt and disenchanted with what he sees as a betrayal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi. According to his aides, Anna was confident that a strong Lokpal Bill would be passed since the Prime Minister had personally assured him of it and that he felt cheated by what was finally passed by the Lok Sabha. If the country's Prime Minister and top political leader can cheat like this, whom then can we believe? he reportedly said.

Kejriwal, who has so far scripted the movement's journey, admits that its future course is uncertain. It is true we are at a crossroads today. We don't know how we are going to take the movement forward now and we don't know what our strategy will be. All this we have to sit together and decide. When will we hold that meeting is also not clear yet. It can only be done after Anna is discharged from hospital, he told this correspondent.

He said although different individuals were meeting at their own levels, the entire team had not yet sat together to discuss the issue at length. Frankly speaking, we do not know how we are going to take this issue forward now, Kejriwal said.

But does this mean the Lokpal movement, which had brought hordes of people on to the streets in support, will die out? Certainly not, he said vehemently. According to him, the lacklustre show in Mumbai, where only a handful of people had gathered to support Anna at the MMRDA grounds for his three-day fast from December 27, should not be taken as an indicator of the movement's popularity. The thin attendance, he said, was the result of many factors such as the inaccessibility of the venue, the festive season and the fact that the Parliament debate was already under way. The three-day programme was a symbolic one from our side, meant to be a message from us to Parliament that we too should be heard while it framed the law. At times symbolism does not excite people, he said. The way the debate on the Lokpal Bill was conducted in the Rajya Sabha is seen as an attempt by the government to do everything in its power to keep the issue at bay. The moot question now is whether the Lokpal Bill will meet the same fate as the Women's Reservation Bill, which too has the support in principle of all parties but nobody actually wants its passage.

Members of Team Anna, however, are unanimous that this will not be allowed. We have to keep the issue alive, keep up the pressure and we can only do that by taking to the streets, said Manish Sisodia, a close aide of Anna Hazare. According to him, the movement has to be made broad-based to make people aware that the Lokpal movement was defeated not by politicians with vested interests but by the bullying tactics of majoritarian politics which is totally remote-controlled by the high command. We had to explain to the people the dangers of bahumat ki dadagiri (the arm-twisting of majoritarian politics), he said. If people actually understood that the country's democracy had lost its participatory nature and had turned authoritarian, then they would once again associate themselves with the issues that the team was raising, Manish Sisodia said.

People's support

According to Nikhil Dey of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), the fight against corruption, by whatever name, will not die down whether Team Anna is there or not. I cannot say what the future course of that team will be, but they are not the only representatives of civil society. There are others who have been working on this issue for long, and people like us will keep the issue alive. Change does not come by revolution, it comes slowly, by persistent movements, by keeping up the pressure, and as our experience with RTI [right to information] has taught us, if you keep at it, it becomes a reality sooner or later whether those in power like it or not, he said.

Aware of the fact that corruption as an issue is not going to die down soon, Team Anna will, in all likelihood, make some course correction. While admitting that there were some tactical mistakes in the journey so far, its members are clear that they cannot and will not give up the fight. I am sure the Lokpal Bill will not go the way of the Women's Reservation Bill because this issue has mass support. The government was not forced by us to bring the Bill in Parliament, it was forced because of the massive upsurge of people's support for the movement, and as long as that support is there, we have nothing to worry, said Kejriwal.

The journey has been stretched by a few more years it seems. Till December we were confident it is going to be soon, but we are not so confident anymore. It is going to be a long journey, Kejriwal admitted.

Ajay Jadhav, an NGO activist from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, and Vinay, a second-year MBA student from Pune, and many others like them, however, appeared undaunted by the long road ahead for a strong anti-corruption law to become a reality. We have to do this for our children. After all, how long can we go on suffering corruption like this? said Jadhav, who has been associated with Anna Hazare for several years now.

So, even as the Congress can take solace from the fact that Team Anna does not look as determined and as strong as it did some months ago, this reprieve is believed to be a short one. It was people's support that propelled the movement so far. Since the issue has not yet been resolved, that support could re-emerge sooner or later.

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