Will we ever see the return of ‘united’ Team Anna?



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“The time for change has come”. Anna Hazare’s comments in the backdrop of the protest march by Arvind Kejriwal and other members of India Against Corruption are laden with layers of meaning. Did he mean that corruption-free India is just around the corner or are these (protests) baby steps towards the ultimate seat of power?

Not long ago, Anna Hazare had disbanded his core team and gave a clarion call to his supporters for taking on the political parties. His call had stumped people, who had no idea that Team Anna was preparing to take a political plunge. Lakhs of people flocked to the historic Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Mantar last year, where Anna held his fast, to register their support.

2011 saw the rise of the cult of Anna, but the magic seems to have faded away a bit in 2012. After facing repeated failures in making his voice heard and get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed, Anna and his team decided to take their fight to the turf of the politicians. He said in very clear words that 2014 will see the surge of people’s power.

There were a number of indications suggesting that Parliament was the next destination for the disbanded Team Anna members. Meanwhile, Anna also disbanded his core team. Was it the result of utter frustration of Anna Hazare and his team in the wake of their failure to get the anti-corruption bill passed in Parliament or was it simply due to political dreams of some of his team players?

With the government mired in the coal blocks allocation scam, Kejriwal and the rest found an opportune issue. The protest march by Arvind Kejriwal and others like Manish Sisodia, Prashant Bhushan and Kumar Vishwas was the first sign that the erstwhile Team Anna has begun to pave way for 2014 elections. The ‘coalgate’ controversy, which has shaken the UPA government and for which the BJP has stalled Parliament, became the ground for the agitation by Kejriwal and the rest.

India Against Corruption (IAC) firmly took the advantage of the issue and attacked the government for such stupendous level of corruption. The IAC also tweaked its tactics this time around. While Team Anna was quite appreciative of the BJP for supporting the Jan Lokpal bill during the Ramlila Maidan protest, this time it took on the saffron party also. The IAC stated that all the parties are equally guilty of corruption, making it obvious that the organization doesn’t want to have any political leanings but is gearing up for the political plunge.

The IAC had planned to ‘gherao’ the residences of the Prime Minister, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and BJP president Nitin Gadkari. But the administration was all geared up to foil the attempts and arrested Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Sisodia. In the morning hours, though the protest was feeble in strength, numbers swelled up and took the administration by surprise later in the day.

Kejriwal told reporters that it was their intention to show to the people that "there is no opposition left in this country”. All parties are hand in glove with the Congress over coal blocks allocation. In fact, Jaipur, Bangalore and Bhopal also witnessed protests outside the residences of the respective states’ Chief Ministers, even if they were BJP-ruled states. It seemed as if Kejriwal was saying we are the new alternative, and that people should bring the change.

The police arrested Kejriwal, along with other top brass of the IAC, but released them soon. But the arrest did not have any kind of negative impact on the protests.

While Kejriwal and his fellow members have been critical of the UPA, their honeymoon with the BJP might have ended due to other reasons. Is Baba Ramdev syndrome the reason behind the fall-out? Is BJP’s open support to Baba and sharing the dais with the yoga guru (something which Team Anna failed to do) the reason behind the backlash?

The charges made against the BJP also brought out the hidden problems in the erstwhile Team Anna. It clearly brought two perspectives to the forefront - one which was political and the other which seemed to be firm with the movement remaining non-political. Though Anna gave the call for the groundwork of a political framework, he was found missing during the protests. Kiran Bedi and Santosh Hedge also decided to give it a miss. The cracks apparently became clearer during the protest and ‘gherao’ on August 26. Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi was clearly not comfortable with the BJP being cornered on the ‘coalgate’ issue. She felt the ruling party should be held responsible for the mess. The retired IPS cop has in veiled attempts hit out against the political machinations of Kejriwal. She once tweeted: “Ever since few have opted for the political route the movement has become suspect.” She has cut herself off from the IAC and decided to remain ‘apolitical’.

But the question Kejriwal posed was also on the mark, “Will replacing Congress with the BJP change the situation?” Kiran Bedi’s take on the entire issue has upset the equilibrium of the IAC, with many suggesting that fissures in the team are unmistakably visible.

Are Kejriwal and the rest harbouring political aspirations in the garb of anti-corruption movement? Was opposing the Congress and BJP part of a larger game plan? Their next few steps will slowly answer all these questions. If the IAC decides to field candidates in the next elections, 2014 elections will probably become one of the most sought-after elections.

But the climax is still ambiguous. The stand of Anna Hazare and his future role will be significant to watch. Anna Hazare has disclosed that the Jan Lokpal movement will be restarted in two months’ time. But this time around, he is on the lookout for selfless and non-political volunteers.

Was Anna used as a staircase to give flight to the aspirations of Arvind Kejriwal? Does Anna still have the fire within to fight against corruption and bring a strong Lokpal bill?

Will the SMSes sent by the public in support of the agitation by Anna Hazare get converted into votes? Will the decision to take the Parliamentary route turn bane for Arvind Kejriwal and the fellow members? Have they taken on more than they can chew? Or is it the most important step in the nation’s future? Answers to these questions in the 2014 general elections can throw up a surprise if a political party launched by Team Anna members stands tall with other political parties. The one essential part would be the return of a ‘united’ Team Anna.