Anna`s political move face-saver or inevitable?

Was Team Anna`s announcement of foraying into politics a face saving arrangement?

Updated: Aug 05, 2012, 15:45 PM IST

New Delhi: Was Team Anna`s announcement of foraying into politics a face saving arrangement, a sign of a failed movement or was it always political, choosing the right moment with 2014 in mind to convert into votes the support it holds amongst the urban populace?

The answers are as diverse as the response to the anti-corruption movement, which stepped into a new phase Friday with Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and others calling off their hunger strike at Jantar Mantar by declaring that they would enter the political mainstream.

While some experts feel that Anna Hazare and his team were "itching" to get into politics and shifted strategy because they failed to get the expected response from the crowd and government this time, others feel they could put into use their resources - their ability to raise funds and gain media coverage - and might even win a few big "scalps" at the next hustings.

"Team Anna had really no choice but to call off their fast as it was not going anywhere," Mridula Mukherjee, professor of modern Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said.

Terming their latest move a sign of failure, Mukherjee said this time the response from the crowd was "weak" and there was no response from the government and the opposition parties. "These factors last year were important in keeping the momentum going, and were missing this year."

In her view, Team Anna had to give a credible reason for calling off the fast, "and the decision to go into politics was their reason".

"They have to have a reason for forming a political party; fighting against corruption is just one aspect, it can`t be a single issue platform," Mukherjee, former director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, added.

Nisar-ul-Haq, head of department political science at Jamia Millia Islamia, agreed with her that the movement was a "complete failure".

"They have moved from fighting corruption to other issues, to that of 15 ministers, and are going on to ask for something else every day. Their entire movement is a complete failure," Haq said.

"People have not accepted them at large, and they are trying to challenge institutions that are near and dear to the Indian people, like the parliamentary system, democracy," he said.

"Even among the character of the civilian people in the movement, individual integrity has not been achieved. If one is not honest, how does one expect the movement will bring an end to corruption?"

According to N. Bhaskara Rao of the Centre for Media Studies, Team Anna`s political alternative is "more a face saving arrangement to wriggle out of a dead end".

"They made a tactical mistake of changing course - from starting with Lokpal, to corruption, and then to ministers, and along the way they have alienated more people. As of today, people don`t know what is Team Anna," Rao said.

"There are some elements in Team Anna who wanted to get into politics, and two or three were itching to get into politics..."

"From today onwards, Anna Hazare is not part of Team Anna, they are looking for another mascot, a political mascot," added Rao.

Taking a different view, author and academic Mukul Kesavan said Team Anna is an organisation that "raises many issues quite well and has shown considerable fund raising ability".

He feels the political party Team Anna floats would in 2014 contest seats "in large urban constituencies where their message is saturated, and it is not out of bounds of possibility that they will do well in them."

"I think even if they win, at least half a dozen seats at the national level it would be a satisfactory debut," he said.

And if they "gain a few scalps" by defeating heavyweights like P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal "they could demonstrate that their movement could be politically successful", said Kesavan, a professor of social history at Jamia Millia Islamia.

"Hazare and his team have tapped very well into the surge of feeling - of genuine rage" among people against what they perceive as a corrupt political establishment, added Kesavan.

Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar said Team Anna`s earlier movement against corruption has changed and "now a different movement is there".

"Now it is political in content and I wish it should take lots of other activists and NGOs with them, and become a bigger platform."

The debate is on.