Perhaps Anna Hazare finally realised that he had been used as a pawn in a larger game, a puppet set up as a front for people who had other agendas. And that is why, on his return to his village of Ralegan Siddhi, Hazare has disbanded what was known as “Team Anna”. This committee was constituted, he said, to fight for the Jan Lokpal Bill. But the government ignored the last fast and scuttled the passage of the bill through Parliament. There was no need for a core committee any more therefore.
Hazare has been outspoken in his contempt for politicians. His work as a social activist saw him pitted against government and politicians. In the last days of the recent fast in New Delhi he obviously twigged on that he was being manoeuvred into what for him was an untenable position — the political arena.
Power without responsibility is a formidable weapon. It can be wielded to great effect if used sensibly. But once you accept responsibility you are tied down, “cabined, cribbed, confined”. The first uprising in April last year and the way the government initially scrambled to understand what was happened demonstrated how exhilarating this power can be. There is no doubt that in its early stages, this anti-corruption movement enthused people. Nor is there any doubt that corruption is a problem.
But the death of the movement was apparent in those early days themselves. The obstinacy of members of this “core committee” on their Jan Lokpal bill, the fact that other NGOs with similar agendas and enviable track records could not communicate with them, their inability to consider other points of view all slowly chipped away at the movement’s strengths.
The first foray into politics came in the Hisar by-election last year, with Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi at their shrill best. Dissensions within the team emerged. The association with yoga teacher Baba Ramdev brought in people but also opprobrium. And slowly, the idea of fighting corruption got diluted — too many fronts had opened up.
The idea of fasting to get your way in a democracy is not straightforward. Mahatma Gandhi fasted against an oppressive, colonial force where the oppressed had no voice. The appeal was to the human conscience.
And even then people questioned the wisdom of his actions. But in a democracy, the emotional traction of a fast gets confused. You may not like the government in power, but someone voted for them. You may disagree that they are truly representative of the people but how are you to prove that you represent the people?
The propensity to fast was likened to blackmail and last week, it had all become a farce. No one was interested.
In all this of course, the hope that was provided to people in a fight against corruption has been betrayed. By deciding to jump into the fight for power, Kejriwal and his cohorts have embraced the idea of responsibility. It could be argued that there was no other way: if you are too stubborn you cannot be a successful pressure group. A political party which exists only to fight corruption is an intriguing proposition. What happens if it actually wins? Governance demands much more than being anti-corruption. This Team Anna has been demanding that the judiciary and investigating agencies should be outside the government as should the Lokpal. How does that work? And will this be part of their election manifesto?
Hazare’s reluctance to be a vote catcher seems to be a sign of wisdom at last from an old campaigner. It is possible that he got carried away by the initial outpourings of popular support and the enormous media attention but today he says the crowds at Jantar Mantar do not represent the whole of India.
The Kejriwal-Bedi Vikas Party may also find that out quite soon…
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona