Since everyone seems to be writing about this topic, I think I should write one too! Different writers have given different reasons for the movement failing to draw the crowds in Mumbai. In my view, there are only two reasons for what happened. And given the serious nature of these reasons, I doubt if Anna’s movement can recover at all. Unless of course Anna makes a serious effort to correct what is wrong.
The first major reason why Anna’s Mumbai movement failed is that his movement has become totally political. Unquestionably, absolutely political. Worse, while everyone knows it has become political (and honeslty there is nothing wrong with that), Team Anna has constantly mislead (I find the word “lie” more appropriate but I will refrain from using that word for now) the nation into believing that it has not. Forget what Digvijay Singh accuses Anna of. Just look at the facts and decide for yourself.
Like frenzied illiterates, Anna’s team members have decided that the job of passing the Bill in Parliament is solely the Congress’s responsibility. So what if they don’t have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha? If they don’t have the numbers, they should somehow get the opposition parties on board, “somehow” being the operative word. And if getting the opposition on board means sacrificing some key demands of Anna himself, then that’s too bad. That would mean that the Congress didn’t try hard enough and actually didn’t want to pass the bill in the first place! Basically, what Team Anna wishes is that the Congress should find some sort of a cocktail of intoxicants it can give to the opposition so that they become honest and start supporting the bill. And while they are at it, maybe they should also consume the intoxicant themselves so that they lose their mental capabilities to question the draconian provisions of Anna’s Bill. It is this kind of logic that convinced people that Anna himself was more interested in attacking the Congress than in passing the Lokpal Bill.
Then when he failed to accuse the BJP of doing a u-turn on the Lok Ayukta issue, it convinced people even more than Anna was a mere sidekick of the BJP. It would have taken the Congress two minutes to jettison the Lok Ayukta provision. But they resisted it as much as they could. In the Lok Sabha, they made it optional – but for states that opted to have a Lok Ayukta, the State Act would have to be the same as the one passed in the Lok Sabha. That’s why the BJP didn’t like even this provision (nor did Mamata – but that was just a bonus for the BJP). They wanted the clause totally dropped. They wanted that the states should be totally free to draft their own laws from scratch – perhaps so that their states could make laws that were more palatable to them. Anna should have figured all this out – surrounded as he was with so many Magsaysay award winners and the like, right? But no…..Anna was forever forgiving of the BJP.
I think Kejriwal’s campaigning against the Congress in Hisar and Anna’s threat to campaign against the Congress in the five states where elections are coming up made all Congress supporters anti-Anna (while still being concerned about the issue of corruption). Remember the Congress is the biggest party in the country. In the 2009 elections, it got close to 29% of the votes – almost 10% more than what the BJP got (it got 19% or so). Most of these supporters have been traditional Congress supporters (even in 1999, Congress had got 29% votes). They felt really cheated. Why would Anna support corrupt opposition candidates? After all, corruption wasn’t the preserve of the Congress alone. Mayawati has recently sacked 17 of her ministers – many on charges of corruption – but Anna is likely to support her in the UP elections (directly or indirectly)? That’s bizarre.
So irrespective of Digvijay Singh’s allegations, it is clear that Anna is anti-Congress and pro-BJP.
The second big reason for Anna’s movement failing is that Anna’s team and Anna himself had become too arrogant. And too clever by half. They were openly threatening the duly elected government of the day as if it were a foreign government; claiming that only their version of the bill be passed – with every comma, every full stop intact. They were misleading the public. They said that their bill had undergone 14 amendments – but all those changes were at their own level right? How do we know what feedback from the public they took or what international reports they considered? Public life is all about being open and transparent; Anna was as opaque as possible. Parliament saw only the final copy of the bill. NCPRI had a different view on the Bill. Many other organizations had a different view. Most intelligentsia did not agree with the Bill. But no….as far as Anna was concerned; his team was the most intelligent team in the world. No….make that “only” intelligent team. All the others were nutcases who were either corrupt or supporters of corruption. This arrogance was too much for most people. Those who had the guts to speak against Anna spoke. Those who didn’t slinked away.
Anna’s arrogance then escalated to a different plane entirely. He became the last word on all things – politics, social reforms, prohibition, 2G scam, Kashmir, Manipur, Mining, industrialization – everything. He was happy to recommend coersive methods against those who consumed liquor. He was happy to “belt” them if they didn’t give up drinking. Anna propounded prohibition all across the country, forgetting that this is a modern, 21st century nation that he is grappling with. All the youth who come to his rallies got pissed off. Take his views on “banjh” women – spoken unintentionally of course – but the deep inner value systems come out in moments when the guard is down. Then justifying the slap on Sharad Pawar – when many like this author who are staunch opponents of Anna’s methods had also criticized a similar attack on Anna’s team mate Prashant Bhushan – really was too much. What message was Anna giving to his folks? Then when he made the most outrageous statement that Chidambaram would be in jail if a Lokpal was in place, the game became clear. This is the way the Lokpal would function. That’s why he wanted suo-motu powers. On personal bias and gut, he would investigate Chidambaram, prosecute him and even pronounce him guilty. After that, Chidambaram could go to the High Court as a guilty person in appeal and wait for five-ten years for relief. Shekhar Gupta called this akin to what happens in North Korea.
Then the nautanki act of Kiran Bedi which wasn’t slammed by Anna. Why would he slam her? He also believed that all parliamentarian (or most) were corrupt. They were nincompoops. For Anna, the only social workers were the ones who supported him. The rest were all thugs. The preamble to the Constitution was also twisted to suit his convenience – “we the people” became superior to those we elected. It was hinted that the MPs we elected should listen to Anna and his team. Anna was the fountainhead of wisdom and people’s opinions!
Rather than having the humility that his popularity demanded of him, Anna became arrogant. He started hectoring people. After August, he was losing more people every day than gaining. But he was blinded – he could hardly see what was happening. He was backing the wrong people. Politicians sidestep controversies by removing those who have been targeted. But Anna kept up his support for Kejriwal, Bedi and Bhushan – all of whom had failed to disclose the many skeletons they had in their cupboards. Anna was happy to be partisan – forgiving his team’s sins while preaching morals to the politicians.
Let’s be honest. There are many reasons for corruption to exist in India. It’s beyond the intellectual capacity of Anna’s team to comprehend all of them. What Anna failed to recognize was that what he had started was a good thing. The Lokpal would be one of the tools in the fight against corruption. He should have focused on that and left others to think of the other tools. For eg., a small sized government would lead to less corruption. Use of technology – automation, digitalization for instance – would reduce corruption. Lower taxes lead to lower corruption. Paying bureaucrats higher salaries would lead to lower corruption and attracting better people. But as far as Anna was concerned, he wanted to be the one and only person who could solve the corruption problem and the one and only one solution was the Lokpal.
It’s really sad that we didn’t get the Lokpal Bill yesterday. We should have got it. Even a usually strongly pro-Anna person like Chetan Bhagat has given the Lokpal 7 out of 10. But Anna has been so blinded by his anti-Congressism that he cannot appreciate this. The BJP is a party with no ideals (remember the flip that the party did on FDI in retail?) – it merrily fooled Anna into thinking that it was a poor bill. Rather than fasting outside Sonia Gandhi’s house, Anna would be advised to do so outside Jaitley and Advani’s houses.
The real truth is that India may yet again miss the Lokpal date. If it happens, Anna himself will be at least partially responsible. By failing to put pressure on the BJP; by failing to realize that legislation in India moves in fits and starts; by failing to be pragmatic; by letting his movement become political. He was the original architect of the Lokpal movement. I hope and pray that he regains that position…..