Crafty activist, cunning politician

When Anna Hazare broke his fast at Ramlila Maidan around this time last year after Parliament adopted a Sense of the House Resolution (which frankly means nothing and serves no purpose other than recording a particular view shared by MPs), there was a collective sigh of relief. Thanks to the Government’s crass mishandling of Anna’s planned anashan – fast – against corruption in high places, what might have been no more than yet another protest turned out to be a mammoth jamboree. ‘Mai bhi Anna’ became a fashion statement among Delhi’s easily persuaded youth given to passing fads.

The crowds, the upsurge of support for Anna, the non-stop 24x7 media coverage, the popular mood turning nasty with each passing day, were overwhelming. The Government, in fact the Congress, decided discretion was the better part of valour and struck a deal with ‘Team Anna’. A Lokpal Bill, incorporating the three major demands of Anna Hazare and his cabal of advisors, would be introduced and adopted during the Winter Session of Parliament.

Anna broke his fast, the crowds went home, ‘Team Anna’ claimed it had won a splendid victory and a besieged and beleaguered Government heaved a sigh of relief. Everybody was happy, if that’s the right word to use, barring one person: Arvind Kejriwal. He stayed away from all discussions with the Government, the Opposition and other intermediaries. He made it abundantly clear that cutting a deal on the Lokpal Bill and giving up the ‘my way or highway’ maximalist position did not enjoy either his approval or endorsement.

Some days later, a darkly sulking Arvind Kejriwal met a person in Delhi ostensibly to discuss strategy. He was incandescent with rage over his colleagues agreeing to the Government’s offer and convincing Anna to call off his fast. “The time has come to set up a political party. I must start working on the structure and organisation,” he told this person.

Wary of where all this was leading to, the person told Arvind Kejriwal: “But there’s little I can do to help you. I am not involved in politics, I am not a member of a political party and I have no idea of how a political organisation is structured, leave alone how it works.” To which Arvind Kejriwal replied, “I have begun my homework, see?” And he took out copies of the party constitutions of the Congress and the BJP – probably also that of the CPI(M).

What he wanted this person to do was to help him devise a structure based on the existing party structures. The person excused himself. The meeting ended that day without being resumed another day.

This story, related to me by a friend who was told about the meeting by the person in whom Arvind Kejriwal had confided his plan to set up a political party, didn’t seem very relevant then. After all, Anna was absolutely clear that he was not interested in politics and ‘Team Anna’ had sworn to steer clear of all things political. Recall the crude and cruel lampooning of politicians as a class by Kiran Bedi from the dais at Ramlila Maidan.

It doesn’t seem irrelevant any more and merits to be placed in the public domain if only to make the point that the latest indefinite anashan at Jantar Mantar which ended way ahead of the August 8 deadline set by Delhi Police had little to do with either the stalled Lokpal Bill or corruption charges against UPA Ministers. This was Arvind Kejriwal’s coming out ball, his taking centre-stage and emerging from the background to lead from the front.

Nobody was pleading with Anna to end his fast. None of the 22 so-called stalwarts of civil society (most of them retired employees of the Government of India who continue to live off taxpayers’ money) expressed concern over Anna’s health. All attention was on Arvind Kejriwal for he had planned it so. Even the indomitable Kiran Bedi got sidelined.

And how did the Jantar Mantar show end? With Anna unveiling Arvind Kejriwal’s political project and the latter promising a ‘political alternative’. He also spoke of the various virtues with which his MPs would be endowed, making it abundantly clear that he would be joining the race for power in 2014.

At one level, by ending the farce of being ‘apolitical’ and deciding to tread the path of electoral politics, Arvind Kejriwal has done the right thing. It makes little sense to be a camel outside the tent. At another level, the much-planned move comes as a blessing in disguise for the Congress. Which ruling party weighed down by crushing anti-incumbency would not relish having a ‘spoiler’ with the potential of splitting opposition votes in an election it’s all set to lose?

— The writer is a journalist, political analyst & activist  

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