Will Anna rise from the ashes?

Updated: Jan 17, 2012, 10:55 AM IST

Ritesh K Srivastava

The Lokpal Bill is dead as of now and the aggression with which Team Anna attacked the Congress-led UPA government for not bringing a strong anti-graft legislation, is also missing these days. The failure of Mumbai fast has cast a pall of gloom in the Ralegan-Siddhi village and everyone seems to be more concerned about Anna’s deteriorating health than the fate of Lokpal Bill.

The Lokpal movement, which saw the rise of an unlikely leader in Anna Hazare last year, is at crossroads, with its fate looking uncertain and people’s support waning fast. The suspension of vote in Rajya Sabha last year not only shattered the hopes of millions of our countrymen, hopeful of a competent anti-graft law, but also proved that our respected MPs were just doing lip service on the highly-vexed issue.

Throughout the year, both sides – the civil society-led by Anna Hazare and the government -targeted each other, clashed over the effectiveness, provisions and the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, which ultimately deprived the country of an excellent graft-control mechanism.

The showdown between the two sides caused a major dent to the credibility of the ruling alliance as well as the civil society, which kept claiming that “Jan Sansad” is above Parliament in Delhi and accused the government for suppressing the people’s voice. The intense politicisation of the issue pushed the Lokpal Bill to the backburner, and in the process, the Team Anna also lost its rhythm and the direction.

It failed to realize that public pressure can’t be built on the government through such loose non-political and directionless alliances. However, the biggest loser in the Lokpal war has been Anna Hazare, who put his reputation that was built through years of his struggle for a just society and his relentless fight against corruption, at stake.

Lack of support to Anna’s Mumbai agitation has taken everyone by surprise. Team Anna had made detailed preparations of the fast. Mumbai was preferred over Delhi as it enjoys a moderate weather than the bone chilling winter experienced in the national capital. Elaborate arrangements regarding food, accommodation and transportation were made at the MMRDA ground on the expectation of a large turnout. However, all these efforts failed to pull massive crowds.

Team Anna, later, admitting that the fast did not generate a good response, blamed the weather and the “work come first” attitude of the Mumbaikars for the poor show. Various contradictory statements made by Team Anna members further contributed to the problems. There were instances where Anna’s close aides appeared to be exchanging barbs with their political opponents in a manner akin to politicians.

In this scenario, it is quite valid to ask - Have the people grown weary of Anna’s agitation? Has Team Anna lost its acceptability or credibility? Or have the people accepted the government’s version of the Bill? Will Anna rise from the ashes again and be able to give a major thrust to the Lokpal movement? Will Anna’s health permit him to undertake more fasts in future and will he receive popular support, witnessed during his Ramlila Maidan fast in August last year? Or the most pertinent of all – Has Anna suffered due to his over-ambitious associates?

Unfazed by the poor turnout, the 74-year-old activist vowed to take the Lokpal battle forward reasoning that "Dilli ki Parliament ko laane wala hai Jan Parliament." Interestingly, the Gandhian’s strong words were met by a rather reconciliatory tone by Team Anna members as Kejriwal later sought to "appeal" to the Parliament to reject the government draft and accept a strong Lokpal bill.

The noted RTI activist also wrote an article suggesting that Team Anna appeared to be confused on how to take forward the fight for a strong Lokpal. Admitting that the Lokpal movement was at the "crossroads" and several wrong decisions had proved fatal, Kejriwal also sought suggestions from the public to take the campaign forward.

Anna brigade has been trying to stay relevant and has been groping in the dark to devise ways in which it could keep up the pressure without appearing to be targeting any political group. Anxiety over an uncertain future was palpable at Team Anna`s core committee deliberation recently in Ghaziabad for eight long hours. Many in the meeting voiced their opinion that it was time for Team Anna to revise its strategy of targeting a political party, which was later endorsed by Anna Hazare in Ralegan-Siddhi.

Faced with the lack of an obvious target and apparent public indifference, the group is now preparing itself to reinvigorate the Lokpal battle and campaign all five poll-bound states, albeit with a different strategy this time. Amid concerns whether Anna Hazare, who is yet to recover fully, will lend support to the Lokpal campaign in these states, the group has decided to establish a cadre of anti-corruption volunteers across the country.

Although, it appears to be an ambitious target at this juncture, the group aims to create systems and structures in rural areas upto the villages and in urban areas up to the ward to create awareness about Lokpal Bill.

Team Anna is also mulling to put forward a communication team including experts to connect well the masses. Team Anna recently committed a blunder when some India Against Corruption activists showed black flags to PM Manmohan Singh and his wife who were visiting the Golden Temple on New Year`s day. The incident attracted flak from people who felt that Team Anna’s protest was in poor taste.

There is no doubt that despite the flip-flops, a large section of our society still values Anna Hazare’s selfless fight for a competent anti-graft mechanism to fight the menace only Team Anna needs to respond to it positively. It needs to prove that Team Anna’s actions are non-political and demonstrate flexibility on such a vexed issue.

The failure of Mumbai fast should be an eye opener and a cause for reflection, not recrimination or celebration. The Lokpal movement will surely not die and it will continue even if Anna Hazare is gone, similarly, “the partial victory” of the UPA government or, shall I say, our political class in scuttling the sarkari Lokpal Bill will also not remain forever.

At this juncture, it is difficult to predict how things will unfold in 2012 and what will be the political equation after the assembly elections in March. So, it’s high time for Anna’s brigade to ponder over what worked, what didn’t, and what could happen in the months ahead.

Until and unless Team Anna learns from its past mistakes, the phenomenal success achieved by the Lokpal movement in the beginning will remain elusive and the anti-graft campaign will continue to flounder.