Congress waiting for split in ranks

Anna fumbles with diverse pulls

By Amulya Ganguli

Anna Hazare must have realized by now that it is easier to start a movement than to sustain it. Even if his team was not such a motley group as it is, the Gandhian might have found it difficult to retain the initial momentum. For one, a democracy allows so much of free space to both supporters and opponents of a cause that neither is able to completely out-argue the other. For another, a movement targeting virtually the entire political class and even the system itself requires a level of intellectual sophistication which was absent in the team.

In fact, this lacuna was its Achilles heel. Driven by hubris about the righteousness of the cause, the claim by a member of the team that Anna was above parliament was a faux pas, which the team will not find it easy to live down. It was even more damaging than Kiran Bedi’s “distasteful”, to quote Harish Salve, jig on the public stage at the Ramlila grounds, or Om Puri’s inebriated diatribes against politicians from the same stage.

Not surprisingly, aware of the damage which the comment about his superior status had caused, Anna has decided to observe a ‘maun vrat’. Before the vow of silence was taken, however, justice Santosh Hegde, perhaps the most mature member of the team, had said that a comment like the one about Anna was only possible in a situation where people tended to speak ‘too much’. Hegde had also opposed the anti-Congress campaign being conducted by the team in Hisar even before the Lokpal bill was taken up by Parliament.

A former member, Swami Agnivesh, ascribed such developments to the movement acquiring a brahminical character. Agnivesh himself lost his place in the team after he was suspected of being in touch with the government. Now, another member, Prashant Bhushan, is in danger of being evicted for advocating a plebiscite in Kashmir.

Differences of this nature were inevitable in view of the diverse nature of the group which had gathered round Anna. For instance, While Prashant Bhushan’s father, former Law minister Shanti Bhushan, had a saffron background, Prashant himself was seen as a Maoist sympathizer, like Agnivesh. Of the others, the stridency of Kiran Bedi’ anti-government stance can perhaps be explained by her resentment over the denial of the Delhi police commissioner’s post to her when she was in service.

It would have required a person of exceptional organizational ability and celebral acumen to keep such a disparate bunch together. But Anna evidently is too simple-minded a man with the limited experience of a village society to be able to perform such a task. If his and his team’s earlier castigation of politicians as ‘liars, cheats’ etc and the description of the voters as “BIKAAU” or purchasable pointed to a lack of awareness of the parameters of a public debate, the same uncertainty marks the retreat evident in the despatch of a team of Ralegan Siddhi elders to confer with Rahul Gandhi.

Such incidents of blowing hot and cold are, of course, a godsend to the government. Having bungled its initial responses, the government was perhaps waiting for Anna to slip up. Before the latter’s latest bloomers, the Congress was banking on Anna’s subterranean contacts with the RSS to corner the civil activists. Digvijay Singh was the party’s pointsman for the purpose. Ever ready to oblige the first family, whether by calling P. Chidambaram “Intellectually arrogant” or defending Rahul’s Friend Omar Abdullah’s comment that he was not the Centre’s “Puppet”, Singh was insistent on Anna’s Hindutva links.

On its part, the RSS, too, has been sticking to its stand that it is helping Anna’s movement. The compulsions of both are understandable. While the RSS wants to remain with Anna so as to erase, to some extent, the taint of “Hindu terror”, the Gandhian realizes that such a connection will drive away the Minorities and the liberal Hindus, thereby robbing his agitation of its sheen. Anna seems wary of the BJP, too. hence, his disparaging comments about L.K. Advani’s rath yatra.

Even as the various imperatives guide the actors, the end Game is still unclear. There is no certainty, for instance, as to what kind of a Lokpal bill will be presented by the Congress before parliament. It is not impossible that if Anna is perceived to be losing ground, then the Congress might present a diluted version, not least because that is exactly what the politicians (including those of the BJP) want. it is no secret that a powerful ombudsman, who can call them to account, is a nightmarish prospect for them.

Or, instead of acting so brazenly, the Congress may delay proceedings on the plea that it is considering Rahul’s proposal for a Lokpal modelled on the Election Commission. Since Rahul’s word is law to the Congress, it cannot brush aside the Crown prince’s advice. It’s a long haul, therefore, before the Lokpal comes into existence. (IPA Service)

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