Was it right for Anna Hazare — or Team Anna, as his thick band of counselors and supporters are fated to be called — to join politics? TV channels and their dial-a-quote panelists have been animated and agitated over the issue for reasons not quite clear.
Their concerns revolve not around the fact that Anna may not be able to do much in the political arena, given his lack of political grooming or an organisational base. Rather, their anguish stems purely from his volte face after his original declaration of never joining politics. If you had heard them speak on the evening the declaration was made, you couldn’t help but feel Anna was letting down the country in a most perfidious way.
People have the right to change their mind, especially when they are not endangering anybody else by such an act. Mahatma Gandhi was known to change his mind as he learned and unlearned through his unique experiments with a non-violent way of living. The public space is replete with a legion of instances that would fill a book. The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exubery had said, ‘I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.’
Anna is not quite proclaiming his resolve to slaughter or butcher politicians or commit any illegal activity and is well within his right to change his mind again, though such an act will demonstrate a faint-heartedness that could prove to be self-defeating.
There is no doubt that delivering on his decision will be a tall order. Anna’s first obstacle is his nature. Anna is naïve. He takes politicians at face value time and again. Witness his latest fracas with Salman Khurshid, the same man who had played politics with him in negotiations over the Lokpal bill a year ago. He has had similar bad experiences with Maharashtra politicians but gets taken in by them each time.
Second, Anna can be too democratic. There is some degree of friction between his organisation, the Bhrastachaar Virdodhi Jan Andolan, and the newly spun India Against Corruption, with its iPad savvy architects. This was first pointed out in this column several months before it became public. Anna doesn’t believe in cracking the whip and shutting them up. He expects them to arrive at their own middle ground which may be fine but this does not work so smoothly in politics where the stakes are high.
Third, political parties in the country are way different from what they were during Gandhi’s time. Mumbai has been witnessing a surge of well-meaning professionals entering the electoral fray as independents and losing badly to established parties with money and muscle power.
There is no way to beat the party workers’ nocturnal visit to the slums on election eve with booze and money or the promise of regularising a voter’s illegal extension or even a whole illegal factory or colony. Even if you steer clear of the regular modes of appeasement, a moral challenge to such electoral practices may not withstand the quicksand of resource scarcity. It is difficult to generate the kind of money you need to win an election these days. It is equally difficult to rustle up the kind of volunteer base you need to run a pan-Indian election. If intelligence reports are to be believed, we are due for early elections. Anna has only a year to raise and galvanise a nationwide network of workers, a formidable job by all accounts.
The Indian voter is too smart to waste his vote. That explains the poor showing of independents from Mumbai 227 and other public-spirited organisations despite their reasonable public support.
The slightest inkling that Anna may not be strong enough to hold his own at the hustings will have the sympathisers petering out.
Then, there are the usual question marks over his ability to carry out his promise of good governance. This is not to say that the task is unattainable. If it is, it is still possible. No party starts out strong and perfect. Anna’s winning cachets are his personal integrity, a proven record of social service and his earnest willingness to take on the job of eliminating corruption — an ogre that everyone wants to drive away but without getting behind the wheel. If his supporters are serious, they will have to be as determined to strap him into the driver’s seat as Anna will have to be to overcome the obvious pitfalls. Now, if only the chattering classes give him a break and some breathing space.
The writer is senior Mumbai-based journalist