With Ramdev joining hands with the NDA and Team Anna promising a political alternative, the anti-corruption crusade turns political.
As a scantily clad Baba Ramdev dangled from a Delhi Transport Corporation bus on August 13 urging his followers to get ready for a jail bharo (fill up the jail) agitation protesting against corruption and in the process choking the roads of Delhi with a sea of humanity, political observers got busy writing the epitaph for Team Annas political initiative. The yoga gurus agitation had, in his own words, the support of many political parties. He was perhaps referring to the support extended by the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Not surprising, because, starved of the kind of popular upsurge witnessed in August last year and ignored by the government, Team Anna had abruptly and almost unceremoniously called off its fast-unto-death agitation at Jantar Mantar on August 5. Four members of the Team Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Gopal Rai and Arvind Gaur started their indefinite fast on July 25 demanding an effective Lokpal Bill, the appointment of a special investigation team to probe the charges of corruption against 15 Ministers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and the establishment of fast-track courts to adjudicate cases of corruption against Members of Parliament. Anna Hazare had joined them on July 29 as he had given the government four days time to respond to the demands. But unlike in August last year, the government ignored the agitation this time, with the result that on August 5 the team announced its withdrawal with a resolve to take on the government politically.
The agitation was withdrawn in response to a call by 23 eminent citizens who expressed solidarity with Team Annas struggle. In a signed letter, they asked it not to waste its energy on a non-responsive and indifferent political establishment and instead focus on creating an alternative political force that is democratic, accountable, ethical and non-violent and capable of leading an electoral revolution to democratise and decentralise power and make the power structure of the country more accountable to the people.
The signatories included Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, retired Supreme Court judge; Admiral (retd) Ram Tahiliani, former naval chief; Gen (retd) V.K. Singh, former Army chief; J.M. Lyngdoh, former Chief Election Commissioner; Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist; E.A.S. Sarma, retired Secretary, Government of India; P.V. Rajgopal, founder of Ekta Parishad; and Yogendra Yadav, prominent political analyst from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). They urged Team Anna to call off the agitation because Indian democracy was at a crossroads and needed a new wind and energy to actualise the dream of swaraj. These brave and selfless volunteers must not sacrifice their health and risk their lives at the altar of an insensitive political establishment. Their energies are needed for reforming our political system to make it participatory, responsive and decentralised and forging a new instrument for reinvigorating Indian democracy, the letter said.
The most obvious question that emerged soon after was whether it was asking too much of Team Anna, given the fact that it had lost much of its popular support, which was evident from the dwindling numbers at Jantar Mantar. Again, there was the question whether a similar movement by Ramdev at the Ramlila Grounds from August 9, which came to a dramatic end on August 13, would mean the end of the road for Team Anna. For, Ramdevs campaign to fight corruption and bring back the black money stashed away abroad and his slogan Congress hatao, desh bachao, jo kaala dhan laye, usi ko satta mein laao (Dislodge Congress, save the nation, elect the party which will bring back the black money), seem to have drawn the political battle lines. Where does this leave Team Anna, which was planning to change the course of Indian politics through the same route: changing the system through popular agitation on the issue of corruption.
Team Anna is, however, undaunted by the fact that Ramdev has raised the anti-corruption pitch to high decibel levels. Political observers are of the opinion that there is a lot of political space outside the domains of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led grouping. They say that Team Anna will not lose its relevance as peoples anger against corruption in governance is real. With Ramdev joining hands with the NDA and Team Anna promising a political alternative by transforming its anti-corruption struggle into a political movement, the anti-corruption crusade has truly turned political. The general feeling is that while Ramdev will have to carry the baggage of the NDAs legacy, Team Anna promises infusion of fresh energy and ideas that are untried and untested in politics so far.
In a sense it is good that this separation between Annas movement and Ramdevs campaign has happened because their blow hot, blow cold association was leaving a lot of people confused. Initially, it could mean fewer numbers for Team Anna but it will be for the good in the long run, Yogendra Yadav said.
Sarma felt that the fight against corruption should be carried forward without associating it with any sort of emotive fervour, which would have been the case if it had sought any association with Ramdev. Shanti Bhushan, a key member of Team Anna, concurs with this opinion. Incidentally, he has the distinction of being associated with Jayaprakash Narayans (JP) movement against corruption in the 1970s. Shanti Bhushan, who was Law Minister in Morarji Desais Cabinet in 1977, said Team Anna was uneasy about its association with Ramdev. As far as the issue of corruption is concerned, we support it, but we dont support Ramdev per se because of his association with Narendra Modi, whom we hold responsible for the Gujarat riots, he said.
But is going political the right decision for Team Anna? Will it end up like any other group of people with hidden political ambitions, piggybacking on popular imaginations on some issue or the other? Yogendra Yadav said the decision to go in the political direction was the right one. Given the centrality and significance of the issue, this is a step in the right direction. It has been proved in the last one-and-a-half years that the mainstream political parties have failed to address the issue of corruption. Any serious struggle against corruption has to go in the political direction. There are no two views on this. But the question will remain whether they [Team Anna] will succeed. Yes, if they maintain their focus, join hands with other civil society organisations fighting for various issues on the ground, and keep the younger generation involved, they will certainly succeed. If they get the sort of popular support that was seen in August last year, they will definitely succeed, he said. He said there was a lot of scope for politics outside mainstream politics right now, provided the Team articulated the issues properly and carried the people along.
Shanti Bhushan, however, thinks a lot will depend on whether the Team can manage to have 100 per cent clean, tested, motivated, educated, incorruptible and inspired people working for it. If we can have this section, and there are many in this category, we will be successful, otherwise we will fail. Our aim is not to change the government only but to change the system, and for that we need people with vision, the younger generation which has a dream, those who are passionate about bringing about a change. But in this journey, he warns, personal ambitions will have to be totally set aside, will have to be reined in. None of us is in this for any personal gain, and this is the way it will have to be. We have to work selflessly for the people, he said.
On how the Team will go about finding such people, he said the search would begin at the gram sabha level. Even if one lakh youth from six lakh gram sabhas, who shared the teams vision, are mobilised, the purpose would be served. On being asked whether only educated, middle-class professionals could bring about a revolution in a country where 80 per cent of the population lived in villages, he said this is the section that drives change. Dont underestimate the power of educated youth, professionals such as lawyers, and students. They are the ones who can lead a revolution. It was the case with our freedom struggle also. He made it clear that they were not asking the youth to give up their education or profession, as had happened during the freedom struggle or during the JP-led movement. If they can give their time only during weekends, that will be enough. We dont want them to give up doing what they are doing at present, he said.
If we can get such people to join us and if we can generate the kind of support we saw last August, we will sweep, he said. This was not an impossible task because peoples anger against corruption was such that they would identify with the Teams vision in its fight against corruption, Shanti Bhushan said.A daunting task
Team Anna is at present engaged in forming a preparatory committee, which will have 70-80 members, who will comprise Team members and representatives of various civil society organisations. This preparatory committee will meet on August 26 for the first time and announce the contours of the political party that they want to launch on October 2. Team Anna members are conscious of the fact that this is a gigantic task, with a huge burden of expectations and several pitfalls, a daunting challenge in fact. Initially, we were a bit scared. What if we fail? But then we thought even if we fail, we will have the satisfaction of having done our best. We will not have the regret of not having tried enough, and we will not be guilty of having given up midway, said Manish Sisodia.
According to him, the Team members are not in this movement for personal gain but to bring about a change in the system so that it can be rid of corruption. We exhorted the political establishment to bring about this change, but it did not listen. Even if it says yes to our demands now and incorporates our demands in its agenda, we will abandon the idea of going political, he says. They were forced to take the political plunge because the political establishment had turned a deaf ear to their demands. But we have a very limited agenda to begin with. We have only four demands: bring an effective Lokpal Bill, along the lines of the Jan Lokpal Bill; bring in changes in the laws in order to give people the right to reject electoral candidates; give them the right to recall elected representatives; and introduce devolution of powers at the panchayat level.
Asked whether the Team would be able to sustain its performance or fizzle out like the erstwhile Janata Party experiment if it managed to have an effective representation in the Lok Sabha, Sisodia said that did not bother it much. Even if we manage to bring in this limited change, we will be happy. But here there is a difference between them and what we want to do. Unlike the Janata Party experiment, our aim is to change the system, not only the government. And if we get to this position, we will begin immediately, which they did not do. Shanti Bhushan said even if this limited agenda was fulfilled, it would have served its purpose because once institutional changes are brought in, it will be difficult to undo them. Sarma said even if political establishments born out of such movements were short-lived, they leave their footprints which are significant in the long run.
But doubts do remain, even within the Team. Core committee member Santosh Hegde, though a signatory to the letter sent to Team Anna urging it to end the hunger strike, has dissociated himself from its political plans. Similarly, Common Cause, an organisation founded by the late H.D. Shourie which is a part of Anna Hazares movement, has its reservations. Maj. Gen. (Retd) J.P. Gupta, vice-president of the organisation, said whether it was a good idea was debatable. Time is too short to gain any sizable strength in Parliament to try and change the system. There are big grey areas. It is not only politicians who are corrupt, but the entire bureaucracy, from top to bottom. How do we change that? Common Cause, which has senior retired bureaucrats and defence personnel as members, is meeting on August 24 to debate the issue.
There are also sniggering comments from the political class, especially from the Congress, about the entire Jan Andolan being a ruse to capture political power. Team Anna has clarified that it is not about capturing power but about changing the nature of state power. Our objective is to provide a political alternative that will be realised through an electoral revolution to democratise and decentralise power, and make the power structures more transparent and more accountable to the people.
But what is the constituency this political alternative is addressing, especially since Ramdev, too, has embarked on the same issue? For us, it is the issue which is important, not who is raising it to whom. It is good if more and more people are raising the issue of corruption because it will keep the issue alive and when it is time to vote, people will use their discretion to decide who is more serious about tackling the issue and they will vote accordingly. We are not talking to any particular class, caste, creed, community or religion because corruption affects all, cutting across all barriers, Manish Sisodia said. He said Team Anna was willing to step aside if the mainstream political parties wished to accommodate its demands in their manifestos.
If their conduct in Parliament is any indication, nobody is serious about bringing real structural changes and people can see through this ploy, he said. It boils down to carrying the people along and then honouring electoral promises. In short, the Team is selling dreams of a corruption-free India.