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The Emperor’s Frayed Clothes

One important chapter of the Anna movement has ended; a new one is set to begin. Time, perhaps, to pause and take stock of what went wrong, why the promise of August fizzled by December 2011.

The principal failure – for failure is what we are seeing, no matter how it is dressed up – was caused by the fact that Team Anna, and Anna himself, displayed the very faults that they were fighting against. The irony is that they did not see this. And when forced to confront it, they resorted to petulance or brazen denial.

Corruption was their main plank. And yet, all the principal members of the Team, and the most articulate ones for sure, were themselves exposed. What made things worse was that each time one or other individual was exposed, Anna condoned it. Not only did this expose the double standard that was being applied, but it also showed the arrogance of Anna who seemed to set himself up as the arbiter of right and wrong in these matters. Importantly, it raised the legitimate question: if these men and women were going to be tempted by the piffling amounts they swindled, how could they be expected to resist the much bigger temptations that power would surely bring?

Anna was also in the habit of calling the Government gaddars. No question about it, this Government has done very nearly all it can to hurt the country’s national interests, most notably on national security matters. They have left the country dangerously unprepared for any military challenge that may appear in the near term. Yet, here was Prashant Bhushan saying we should be prepared to let go of Kashmir. And again Anna set himself up as arbiter and declared that he disagreed but Bhushan would not be made to pay for this egregious betrayal of the country’s supreme interests.

As if all this was not enough, there was the question of protection for the whistle-blower. Anna’s own blogger, Parulekar, found that there was no protection for him if the whistle were blown against Anna. In a well-publicised case, Parulekar was sacked for bringing out the differences within Team Anna, and the unhealthy trends emerging within it. And again, Anna got away with it, because the media were giving him an easy time, for reasons of their own.

Anna’s own tendencies need to be understood too. Firstly, the inconsistency that has been remarked upon earlier, showed up again over the famous slapping incidents, one involving the self-same Prashant Bhushan, the other involving Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. The first incident attracted unbridled anger from Anna, and rightly so. But on the other, he went so far as to imply that one slap was not enough for Pawar. Again, this is not in defence of Pawar – God knows he has enough to atone for. But the inconsistency was glaring – and inexplicable. Further, when Anna was confronted with this inconsistency and asked to explain, he walked away from the interview.

The Team is also wont to make grand claims that their finances are all there for the country to see. And they are never challenged by the media, where they make such tall claims. Here is what happened to me, writing under a pseudonym. I sent an email to Anna on his feedback address asking for his financial statements; within minutes I got a reply, automated I suspect, from a Suresh saying that he would get back to me soon. That was in August 2011. Since then, I have sent two reminders, but there has been no response. This is not to suggest that there is any financial impropriety in Anna personally, but that the tall claims of transparency are definitely hollow. As to whether their finances are indeed clean, we need details in order to be able to judge. Again, for accuracy, it should be added that charges against Anna have been probed and nothing has incriminated him.

Then there is the issue of nepotism. There is a father and son team working as part of the core committee. No doubt, Anna considers them very competent lawyers, but was it really necessary to find a father and son team? If a Minister or a leader of any political party were to do this – as indeed most are doing – do we not criticise the nepotism implicit? And especially here we have charges of soft corruption against them, and of course, of being a gaddar against one of them.

These facts provide as good an explanation as any for the collapse of the movement started in April 2011, and received with such enthusiasm by the people of the entire country. By the time of the Mumbai fiasco, it was clear that the movement was dying down. Just as well: the actual draft of the Anna team for the Lokpal bill was really a power grab. It is a safe bet, borne out by many TV interviews of the people who gathered to support Anna at Ram Lila grounds in August 2011, that most of the people had not read the grandly-titled “Jan” Lokpal bill. The kind of power that it gave to the Lokpal would have effectively ended the separation of powers that is so important in a system like ours.

Anna has now recognised that one phase is over, and he has rid himself – so it seems – of Team Anna. Politically, there are very difficult times ahead for the country. The General Elections of 2014 have been likened by someone to the Fourth Battle of Panipat. Indeed, the future of our country as an independent country, no less, is at stake. Anna’s latest is that he is going to plunge into electoral politics, though he does not appear to have decided what precise form this will take. He must weigh his options very carefully, realising that Brand Anna is frying and he does not have the cushion to be able to get away with too many more mistakes. As a nationalist, he must clear away all the cobwebs in his mind, and the persons, that led him astray. The coming year-and-a-half will undoubtedly see very rough tactics, and the nationalist forces must be ready to confront them at all stages and at all levels.

August 2012

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